Cooking with fresh tomatoes during their fleeting harvest season is akin to caring for a newborn. “You’ve got to keep them safe, dry, and give them lots of attention,” explains Bar Avignon’s Eric Joppie. “It’s an operation.” Joppie and his kitchen staff coddle their fruit from birth: seeding, staking, and pruning them at their quarter-acre nursery in Montavilla before ferrying the specimens to their restaurant/wine bar on SE Division Street to deploy in an array of deliciously simple yet unexpected tomato dishes. Joppie shared with us his three favorite ways to use Oregon’s heirloom abundance—from a raw tomato-watermelon twist on caprese salad to a chilled, caramelized tomato soup that will permanently replace gazpacho in your late-summer playlist.
Heirloom Tomato & Watermelon Salad (Serves 4)
Slice 1 lb heirloom tomatoes into large wedges and arrange them on a platter with 2 cups of chilled, 1-inch watermelon cubes. Pick the leaves from three branches of basil, tear them, and scatter over the fruit. Shave ricotta salata over the top with a vegetable peeler and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste.
Charred Tomato & Fennel Soup (Serves 4)
Heat 12 tbsp butter (1½ sticks) over medium-low and sweat 2 small fennel bulbs (stems removed, sliced thin, fronds reserved), covered, until softened, about 15 minutes. Heat a grill or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Halve 1 lb heirloom tomatoes and char, cut side down, for 3 minutes, or until blackened. Transfer tomato and fennel to a blender, add 2 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and purée until smooth. Season with salt to taste. Chill in refrigerator before serving, and garnish with fennel fronds.
Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato & Frikeh Salad (Serves 4)
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil, add 1 cup frikeh* or farro, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the grain is soft, up to 30 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Meanwhile, toss 2 pints cherry tomatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt and place on a sheet pan in the oven. Roast until the tomatoes have shriveled slightly, about 40 minutes. Transfer tomatoes and residual juice to a large salad bowl and let cool. To the tomatoes, add 4 oil-packed anchovies, finely chopped, with 1 tbsp of their oil; 2 tbsp fresh oregano, coarsely chopped; and ¼ cup pitted Niçoise olives, coarsely chopped. Add the warm frikeh, season with salt to taste, and cool to room temperature before serving.
SO, WHERE YA FROM? Go local if possible. If the fruit has traveled for days—from Mexico, for example—it won’t taste very good. Tomatoes are plucked prematurely to make the trip.
DO NOT REFRIGERATE! Cool temps cause irreversible flavor loss and lend a mealy texture.
FEEL ’EM OUT. Heirlooms should be heavy for their size, be supple but not soft, and have no blemishes. (Cracks? A-OK.)