The Grower + Chef: Tomatoes with Jeff Taibe and Jess Bengtson
Peak summer means peak tomato and we couldn’t be happier that we’re right in the middle of the season now. To celebrate, we thought it’d be fun to chat with Jess Bengtson, our executive chef at the Terrain Cafe in Westport, CT and Jeff Taibe, owner of nearby Holbrook Farm, to hear their culinary musings on all things tomato. Read on for their expert tips on choosing tomatoes, how they prefer to eat them, and for a super simple recipe you can make at home.
Heirloom Tomato Snack
2-5 local heirloom tomatoes
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes or sungolds
1 tbs whipped ricotta (see below for recipe)
Sprinkling of almonds, hazelnuts, or pine nuts (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Assemble all ingredients onto a platter and enjoy!
Whipped Ricotta Spread
1 cup ricotta
1 tbs olive oil
3 tbs cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients into a food processor and mix until creamy.
terrain: Hi Jeff! Thanks for working with us and the Westport culinary team on this summery dish. Can you talk to us about Holbrook Farm? How do you hope to make an impact as one of its new owners?
Jeff: Holbrook Farm has acted as a hub that draws the two towns of Bethel and Redding CT together for the last 40 years and we took it over this past March to keep it alive for even longer. When I was building my restaurant, Taproot, I built it largely on what was supplied at Holbrook, so I had a vested interest in keeping the farm going. I own the farm with Erin and Shawn Reilly from the Redding Roadhouse and our farmer is Ian Johnson who runs to the day-to-day in the field. We hope to build on what a lot of local farms have started by giving local chefs the best possible product so everyone will continue to support the economy and create even better sustainable business practices within the community.
terrain: Good to see you, Jess! Summer tomato dishes are best when they’re simple and the one you created for us is a prime example! How did you come up with the flavors and components of this dish?
Jess: This dish is the brainchild of the terrain culinary team. We do tastings together every season and we all agreed the local tomatoes are so outrageously good this time of year that we had to showcase them in a very simple and raw dish with flavors that only enhanced what was already there.
Jeff: I have to agree that the best way to eat a tomato is RAW with a touch of sea salt and a splash of olive oil. If you do end up with too many or they start to over ripen, I love cooking them down into a sauce for pasta.
terrain: There’s nothing better than fresh farmers' market tomatoes at their peak. What’s your favorite part about tomato season?
Jess: Tomato everything! Tomato jam, tomato soup, tomato sandwiches, tomato with just a sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil. True home grown and local tomatoes are a true treasure and it has completely ruined my ability to eat tomatoes at any other time of year!
Jeff: The juiciness, the sweet but slightly acidic flavor. It’s a perfect balance and whether they’re raw or roasted, cold or hot, in a tart or in a sauce, the fruit lends itself to so many things. But as you mentioned, when you're tasting the difference between an out-of-season tomato and a fresh tomato straight from the vine, that question answers itself.
terrain: As the reigning tomato experts, can you both share any tips or tricks for the home chef when it comes to choosing tomatoes, storing, and cooking with farmers’ market tomatoes?
Jess: Do not get scared by ugly tomatoes! Go for colors and ripeness rather than shape! Look out for the whole spectrum, greens to yellows to reds to oranges, and you'll find the hidden gems at the market.
Jeff: My best advice? Do not refrigerate your tomatoes!!!! The cold temps stops the tomato’s natural sugar development and they'll taste woody and bland.
Feeling hungry? Click here to make a reservation at your local terrain cafe!