One of the great joys of summer is a perfectly ripe tomato, served fresh from the garden, still warm from the sun.
In Berkeley gardeners are routinely disappointed by our inability to grow really good tomatoes. Our location due east of the mouth of San Francisco Bay allows a slender tongue of summer fog to snake through this gap in the coastal hills, blow across the Bay waters and blanket a swath of the East Bay in cool gray mist while the rest of the Bay to the north and south remains hot and sunny.
Typically gardeners in my neighborhood forego peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and other summer crops and console ourselves with fava beans and salad greens.
This year however, things are different. The unusually warm, dry weather has brought unanticipated change to my little garden. After re-grading a section of my back yard to improve drainage we temporarily piled the extra dirt in the front yard. Almost immediately, tomato sprouts appeared which by itself was not surprising as the spot we had dug up was where we used to keep the compost bin. The surprise came when, as the season progressed, the tomato seedlings actually thrived.
Having struggled and failed to grow tomatoes in the past I was initially skeptical, but once I saw that these volunteers were vigorously extending green leafy vines I was impressed. When they actually started flowering I rushed to the garden store and bought wire tomato cages to support this unanticipated growth.
At present the little pile of dirt is almost obscured by an unruly tangle of vines and furry green leaves. Rows of little green orbs are replacing the yellow flowers, and a few of these unripe fruits are starting to turn various shades of yellow, orange and red.
After years of disappointment it looks like this may be the summer that I actually harvest tomatoes from my garden.
So what do I do with this unexpected bounty? I’ll make a traditional snack from Catalunya called Pa Am Tomàquet, of course.
Coleman Andrews includes a version of this traditional preparation in his book Catalan Cuisine: Vivid Flavors From Spain’s Mediterranean Coast ($17.95).
Pa Am Tomàquet (Catalan Tomato Bread)
1-2 thick slices of country style French or Italian bread or sourdough bread (the better the bread, the better the final result).
1 small-medium sized fresh tomato at peak ripeness.
Mild extra virgin Olive Oil.
2-4 anchovy fillets and/or 1-2 slices of Jamón Serrano.
Grill bread lightly. Slice tomato in half and rub cut side on bread to coat with tomato pulp and juice (discard tomato skin). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Top with anchovy or Jamón and serve.
Pair this classic appetizer with a green salad and a glass of wine for a very satisfying lunch. What wine to serve here, you ask? Read on.
Muga Rosado 2006 $12.99 We’ve been waiting anxiously for this new vintage to arrive, and while we are happy to finally get a chance to enjoy one of the best rosado wines of the summer we know that it won’t last long due to its stellar reputation and high customer demand.
This pale salmon colored blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura makes a wonderful companion to lighter food as well as being supremely refreshing on a hot afternoon.
Vega Sindoa Rosado 2006 $9.99 The new vintage of this rosado from D.O. Navarra (the traditional home of Spanish rosado) is a blend of half Garnacha and half Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe berry aromas and flavors give this wine a bit of extra depth and boldness, making it a perfect wine for paella or other summer meals
Abad Dom Bueno Godello 2006 $16.99 D.O. Bierzo is known primarily as a red wine region, but this Bierzo region white wine is made from the local Godello grape that is more common in neighboring D.O. Valdeorras. This yellow gold colored wine is fermented in temperature controlled tanks that preserve all the fresh citrus and melon aromas that are typical of the Godello grape. Bright acidity adds to the refreshing quality that makes this such a perfect accompaniment to composed salads, pasta or poultry as well as a full range of seafood.
Broadbent Vinho Verde $10.99 An excellent example of top quality Vinho Verde. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Padernã it is light in color with lemon and grapefruit aromas. On the palate it offers more citrus as well as a bit of flinty minerality carried along by slight effervescence that makes the wine refreshing and easy to drink.
Soalheiro Vinho Verde 2006 $21.99 Typically, Vinho Verde is light, spritzy and simple non-vintage wine. These days, as people discover the joys of Vinho Verde we are seeing more and more higher priced wines from this region. Soalheiro is a vintage wine produced from the Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain = Alvarinho in Portugal) grape. Well known in Portugal as a top shelf Vinho Verde, this wine is just starting to find a market here in the USA. Flinty mineral background lays a foundation for light floral aroma and bright citrus fruit character. This finely detailed and multi-layered wine cries out for choriço and clams, salt cod and potatoes or other such traditional Portuguese fare.
Primi 2005 $9.99 One of our favorite wines to serve with paella has just arrived in the new 2005 vintage. This young un-aged Tempranillo from D.O.C. Rioja is juicy and bright. Ruby red color and fresh berry aroma form the basic picture with added complexity coming from the light grape skin tannins.
Cune Crianza 2004 $17.99 If you go to Rioja and walk into any small bar and request a glass of vino tinto, chances are you will be served this wine. This blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo is aged for two years (12 months in American oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle) before sale. The new 2004 vintage shows dark garnet color with black cherry fruit character and balanced oaky tannins that combine to create a picture perfect example of crianza Rioja.
Sergio Traverso Malbec/Syrah 2004 $10.99 A new Argentine wine from Sergio Traverso is now available in the 2004 vintage. Dark color is the first clue that this is a big wine, and the rich aroma and flavor backs up the initial perception, but with a bit of exposure to oxygen the more subtle characteristics of this wine emerge. The final impression is of a robust, well made red for serving with grilled meat and vegetables.