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Local Chefs Who Revel in Tomato Season

Local Chefs Who Revel in Tomato Season

Karen Herzog | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Nothing beats the intensely fresh flavor of a tomato still warm from the vine.

You can slice it for a simple salad or sandwich with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. Or you can go wild by experimenting and building an entire meal around it. This is a great way to use up all those tomatoes ripe in gardens now – especially if you’re lucky enough to have heirlooms.

Heirloom tomatoes, those offbeat orbs of funky shapes and colors, offer a wide range of tantalizing flavors from sweet and earthy to sharp and tangy, noted chef David Swanson of Milwaukee. He showcases heirloom tomatoes each year as part of his Braise on the Go traveling culinary school.

The heirloom flavor range gives cooks plenty of options, from grilling or roasting to smoking, said Swanson, who especially likes to roast heirloom tomatoes for an intensely flavored soup.

“Before, a tomato was just a tomato,” Swanson said. “Now it’s something to be showcased on a plate.”

All four fine-dining Bartolotta restaurants – Lake Park Bistro, Bacchus, Ristorante Bartolotta and Mr. B’s – are wrapping up a weeklong heirloom tomato festival Sunday, featuring tomatoes in three- or four-course fixed-price menus. Some heirloom tomato dishes will remain on menus longer, depending on the tomato supply.

Racine-based Milaeger’s is selling its entire crop of heirloom tomatoes to the Bartolotta restaurants.

“We’re taking full advantage of the season’s best,” said John Wise, general manager for Bartolotta. “Milaeger’s produces dozens of heirloom varieties, and they come to us by size – small, medium and large – all different colors in the mix.”

The chefs at each restaurant have done their own menus. “It’s a chance to be creative,” Wise said.

Tomatoes are easy to pair with other flavors, said Adam Siegel, executive chef for Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus.

They complement most meats, fish and poultry, cheeses, vegetables and fruits, including citrus and melon, Siegel said.

Next Page: Adam Siegel’s favorite heirloom tomatoes>>