Cooking with fresh tomatoes during their fleeting harvest is like caring for a newborn. “You’ve got to keep them safe, dry, and give them lots of attention,” explains Bar Avignon’s Eric Joppie (Update: Joppie is now executive chef at Olympia Provisions NW). “It’s an operation.” Indeed, Joppie and his staff coddle their fruit from birth: seeding, staking, and pruning at their quarter-acre garden 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 dishes. Joppie shared 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
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. Serves 4.
Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato & Frikeh Salad
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. Serves 4.
*Frikeh is available at local farmers markets and World Foods Pearl.
Charred Tomato & Fennel Soup
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. Serves 4.