When I was traveling to research Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland, I fell in love with tomatoes all over again. As a child, late summer meant toasted mayo-smeared tomato sandwiches on Spatz Bread, the Saginaw, Michigan bakery that is still around, and still so local that it doesn’t have a website. I never forgot that backyard tomato flavor, but my tasting tour opened my eyes to a new portfolio of tomato experiences.
On my road trip, I inhaled the flavors and aromas of so many varieties, and delighted at the presentation of creative farmers, like Abra and Jess of Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, Michigan, who assembled the charming display (in the photo below) at a market outside the stone train depot with a breathtaking view of the bay. I also learned that tomatoes are a boon to small-scale producers – one farmer told me that he sells more tomatoes than all other vegetables combined.
A fresh use for the juicer
And August is tomato season for sure, particularly in the Midwest when the season can take its sweet time getting going. But by now our vines are groaning with juicy orbs just waiting to tempt us in new innovative ways. So I was beyond thrilled to hear from the good people at Williams-Sonoma, who invited me to get out my juicer and create a bloody mary recipe using fresh-juiced tomatoes. What a great twist for that classic brunch beverage that sets the tone for a perfect Sunday. And it gives my juicer a rest from kale, which is great, particularly mixed with apple and carrot, but seriously, people, who would turn down a fresh-juiced bloody?
For this recipe, I juiced chubby beefsteak tomatoes, but if you have an abundance of yellow, orange of even Cherokee Purple, by all means give it a try. I find the nuances so interesting that I’m even tempted to scale back on celery salt and pepper to let the tomato flavors sing.
In my experiment phase I even juiced blackened tomatoes that I roasted on the hottest part of the grill – definitely put this on your list! That’s the beauty of juicing yourself, you can experiment with different foods to come up with a personalized flavor concoction.
It’s all about the pour
I try to make my welcome cocktail memorable in some fashion. For example, my Midwest Manhattan uses regional ingredients and inspiration from my Uncle Tom. This time around, it’s all about the presentation, where you’ll pour a smidge of cilantro oil down a chute formed by a lemon slice and a grape tomato. It makes a fun presentation, people can pour as much or a little as they like, and your drink has a bold punctuation point.
Freshest-ever bloody mary with cilantro oil
Serves six to eight, depending on your proportions
3 cups fresh-juiced tomato juice
Juice of one onion (optional)
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-5 shakes Tabasco or other hot sauce, or to taste
Cilantro oil (recipe follows)
To make the bloody mary mix, stir together tomato, onion and lemon juices with celery salt, pepper and Tabasco. Let rest in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, assemble the garnish “chute” by skewering the lemon slices and grape tomatoes with toothpicks.
To pour the drinks, fill a glass with ice, followed by one or two ounces of vodka. Top with tomato juice mixture and the lemon slice and tiny tomato on toothpicks. When guest arrive, invite your guests to pour a tablespoon or more of cilantro oil over the grape tomato.
Whirl up 1/2 cup flavorful olive oil and 1/2 cup cilantro (trim the longer part of the stems but don’t bother peeling the leaves off). Let steep, for a few minutes or up to an hour, then pour into a small decorative pitcher. Just prior to serving, give it a stir.