Looking across the field at the ruby dots suspended amongst tangles of vine, my eyes find inspiration. Especially in the late afternoon when the sun is hitting the field just right, casting a haze on the landscape as I look through my camera lens. I think of cherry tomatoes like most kinds of berries: radiant jewels in the garden. Harvesting them is a treasure hunt. When ripe, they release into your hand with ease. So do the larger tomatoes, but let’s face it: little things are cute.
Picking them is a pleasure and if you are inclined, you can eat as you go. Kids are supposedly more likely to eat a vegetable they’ve had a hand in growing themselves. I would say that’s true for adults too. Our crop of Sakura cherries has become my obsession these past two months.
Pan-seared is my favorite way to eat them. I love the way little tomatoes pop and roll around in a hot pan. With enough heat and space in the pan, the petite varieties will blister immediately and begin to wilt. Less than a minute or so later, the tomatoes can be finished in endless ways: deglazed with a favorite spirit or fresh citrus juice or just a pinch of salt, for example. Then use them everywhere, from a garnish where vibrant color is desperately needed to full-on side dish status.
Where I wouldn’t even consider buying a regular fresh tomato any time but the heat of summer, I have become more open to the cherry and grape varieties in the grocery store year round. With their higher sugar concentration, they tend to taste more like themselves even in the cold months. And my tendency to pan-sear them anyway makes the season irrelevant. Aside from a full sized August heirloom, I don’t eat raw tomatoes. I feel good about my tomato tendencies since common research shows that cooking tomatoes releases more of their antioxidant qualities.
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
1 ounce of silver tequila or juice of one lime
1 tablespoon or so of fresh mint, chopped
Pinch of salt
One half tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil, grape seed or other high heat oil
Heat a sauté pan on medium high heat. Add the oil and allow it to heat for a few seconds. Cool oil won’t produce that immediate sear you are looking for. Throw the little tomatoes into the hot pan and wait about 15 seconds. Don’t move them just yet.
Then start rolling them around in the pan and watch their skins blister. About a minute later, move the pan away from the flame if you are using tequila and pour it in. Carefully return the pan to the burner. If the flame catches a vapor of the alcohol, it will flare in the pan. That’s not a bad thing. As the flame dies down, you know the alcohol has burned off. Just watch that you don’t set yourself on fire in the process.
Fresh lime juice or any other citrus will work fine, without the fear of fire.
Finish the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and the chopped mint.
Variations: other spirits will work fine here as well as your choice of herbs. Play around with infinite combinations. Another favorite of mine: bourbon finished with honey, fresh orange juice and fresh basil.