By Phil Scarfone
“You need an entire life just to know about tomatoes.” -Ferran Adria
From a chef's perspective, tomato season is the absolute best time of the year.
In early August, when the relatively short Pacific Northwest growing season is in full swing and the sun rises early and sets late, tomatoes are the talk of the town. They slowly start to pop up on local chefs’ Instagram stories as the first deliveries make their way into our restaurants.
Faithful tomato connoisseurs will line up for 45 minutes at the Trout Lake Farmers Market just for the chance to savour the fruits of Milan Djorjevich’s labour. The legendary “Tomato Man” owns and operates Stoney Paradise Farm on the outskirts of Kelowna, and has been growing his exquisite tomatoes since the early 1990s.
At Savio Volpe, we source our tomatoes from Milan, as well as from several organic farms in the Lower Mainland, to keep up with our guests’ demand for fresh and in-season tomatoes. Cropthorne Farm on Westham Island, Crescent Island Farm in Delta, Baker Breeze Farm in Abbotsford, and Glorious Organics in Aldergrove all contribute their fair share to our tomato supply.
As soon as the tomatoes arrive, we carefully transfer them from their transport vessels to a parchment-lined sheet tray to make sure their integrity is preserved (and that they don’t squish each other). These tomatoes will never see a fridge; tomatoes will start to leech their volatile aroma compounds into the cold air as soon as they’re refrigerated.
We use tomatoes to the fullest at both Osteria Savio Volpe and Caffe La Tana. For example, we take delicately-marinated orange sungold tomatoes and put them surrounding a beautiful Murgella burrata, which is itself studded with purple basil and finished with Volpi (our new private-label Sicilian extra virgin olive oil). In addition, larger heirloom varietals such as the brandywine, green tiger, and Cherokee purples are slow-cooked with shallot, garlic, olive oil, basil, and sherry vinegar to produce a beautiful ragu. This ragu is served with freshly extruded rigatoni, which readily absorbs the delicate flavour of the tomatoes and provides a satisfying flood of ragu when the guest bites into the noodles.
The key to cooking tomatoes is to keep it simple. The texture of the tomato should be showcased; a seasoning of salt, pepper, and olive oil is usually all that is needed to really flex its balanced umami, sweetness, and acidity.
My simple go-to at-home recipe is a classic sliced heirloom tomato on toasted and (heavily) buttered sourdough bread. Some beautiful olive oil, basil, and cracked pepper round out the flavours. Like I said, simplicity is the best when it comes to our beautiful tomatoes.
Phil Scarfone is culinary director of Savio Volpe, Pepino’s Spaghetti House, and Caffe La Tana. On September 6, Caffe La Tana is partnering with Milan Djordjevic to present the first-annual Milan’s Big Night seasonal tomato six-course dinner. Tickets are available for two seatings (5pm and 8pm) in limited quantities.