Tomato Mania (and Tomato Crimes), The Cookery Pigs Out, and Yummy Sweetbreads at Barcelona Wine Bar

Tomato Mania, yes, folks—tomato season is upon us when our fields are bursting with incredible summer tomatoes: fragrant, beautiful, delicious orbs of tart/sweet summer wonderfulness. It’s amazing to think that, when Columbus revealed this edible treasure from the New World, many of those Europeans figured that tomatoes must be poisonous— potatoes, too, the dopes. Funny, the same jerkin-and-tights crowd wasn’t so picky about Columbus’s gift of syphilis

Right now and for the next few weeks, local tomatoes will be at their peak, which means that, for the rest of the year, you will be served wan, pointless, hothouse versions (if not hard, orange, cube-shaped items spawned at Agri-Lab, Inc.). We suggest that you run to your local farmers’ market and buy as many tomatoes as you can eat. But, if you do, don’t be caught committing these common, tomato-related crimes:

•    Refrigeration
That’s right, refrigeration. Refrigeration is tomato Cryptonite: there’s no quicker way to narrow a tomato’s flavor spectrum than by putting it in the refrigerator. And the damage is permanent—they will never taste as delicious again, even if you warm the tomatoes before you eat them.
•    Ripening on window sill
This is how I was taught at home to ripen an under-ripe tomato. But I also smoked at age 11, so there are valid questions about the quality of my parents’ parenting. I finally learned, when cooking in restaurants, that ripening the tomatoes in a brown paper bag is much better: the tomatoes don’t cook and rot in the glaring summer sun, but gently redden within a few days. Sadly, even these tomatoes will never be as delicious as those that were ripened on the vine, but then ripe tomatoes will explode in seedy goo unless you treat them exactly as you would a water balloon. I make tomatoes the last purchase at the farmer’s market, and load only one or two into each bag.
•    Resting stem side up
The bottom of the tomato, the part opposite its stem, ripens first. Consequently, this is the fruit’s (yes, fruit’s) softest part. When you store tomatoes, you should rest them stem side down, so that the firmer core and “shoulders” can support the tomato’s watery weight without collapsing.

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Okay, so now you’re primed, but here’s one last piece of advice. If, inevitably, you’ve bought way more tomatoes than you can eat and find yourself tempted to stick them in the fridge to prevent rot, slice the tomatoes ½ inch thick and spread the discs onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet.  Drizzle the slices with olive oil, sprinkle on salt, pepper – and, if you feel like it – a dried herb like marjoram.  Put them in an oven dialed to the lowest possible temperature, 200 degrees or so, and leave the slices for an hour or three, flipping them once, until the slices are leathery but not yet crisp. This process dehydrates the tomatoes and concentrates their flavor – at this point, you can refrigerate the tomatoes without sacrificing their flavor.  Chop them with capers and olives for a quick tapenade.


Pigging Out With Chef David DiBari at The Cookery

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday Nights; Pre-Order Required
$65 per person (strictly limited to between six and eight diners), exclusive of drinks, tax, and tip. With wine-pairing, $80 per person, exclusive of tax and tip.

So, you’ve heard about these dinners at R.U.B. and Momofuku where hipsters order ahead and show up en masse for whole sucking pig or enough fried chicken (two ways!) to sink a navy. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ve probably been in the dining room when one of these orgies occurred: which means you sat holding your stupid regular menu as the table next to you was served a magnificent, totally unavailable-at-that-point feast. Arrgh…’

Well, recently, I chatted with Chef David DiBari of The Cookery, who is planning to torture his customers in the same way.  For those with the foresight to pre-order by the necessary four days, DiBari is offering a whole roasted sucking pig dinner, which includes a salad starter, contorni of vegetables and potatoes, and, if you like, paired wines. He’s serving these feasts at his grandmother’s table at the front of The Cookery’s dining room, which is guaranteed to make everyone else in the room quite envious of those savvy planners. And get this: if you book it, Rock-Star Chef DiBari will come to your table himself and dismantle your beastie for your delectation, and then he will leave the pig wreckage in his wake for you and your guests to pick at until everyone is sated. The inspiration for such carnal indulgence? According to DiBari, The Cookery’s whole-pig dinners are this restaurant’s latest tactic to “progressively seek simplicity.” Indeed.

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Sweetbreads at Barcelona Wine Bar

Look, let’s just get this out of the way first. Sweetbreads are glands, in this case, from an immature cow. They’re also creamy, fatty, sweet, and miraculously flavorful: meat custard, if you will. At Barcelona Wine Bar (which, not surprisingly, was recently named one of 2011’s “100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast), you’ll find crisp-crusted, pan-seared, veal sweetbreads served with fava beans and morels. One word for it: luxury.


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