AT BLUE HERON ORGANIC FARM in Lincoln, tomatoes are a specialty. The farm grows 33 varieties, in all shades, shapes, and sizes. The sweetest may be the smallest — the aptly named Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, little orange spheres that are low in acid. “They’re amazing,” says farm manager Ellery Kimball. “It’s rare to have a vegetable that tastes like candy.”
This year’s tomato season started out picture-perfect, with healthy, fast-growing plants and plenty of gorgeous fruit. It was hot, with the right amount of rain. Then blight struck, and about half of Blue Heron’s crops were hit hard. Many other organic farms have also encountered the problem. “We’re still getting a really good harvest,” Kimball says. “If I felt like I was the only farm with blight, I would have destroyed them at first sight.” But don’t worry. The season is still looking good, and there are plenty of tomatoes to go around.
Blue Heron provides produce to restaurants in Boston and Cambridge as well as to establishments closer to the farm. Here’s what the chefs are doing with their sweet Sun Golds.
AKA BISTRO executive sous-chef Shawn Cameron uses Sun Gold tomatoes in a salad that the French-Japanese restaurant in Lincoln runs as a special. He combines mizuna, cucumber ribbons, and Great Hill blue cheese with the cherry tomatoes and red wine vinaigrette. Specials are a good way to test new dishes, he says, and a version of this salad could move onto the regular menu at some point, adjusted according to what ingredients are in season. AKA Bistro initially used the Sun Gold tomatoes in a cod dish. “Sometimes we just get things in and play with them and see what works,” Cameron says.
> Distance traveled: 1 mile
145 Lincoln Road, Lincoln, 781-259-9920, akabistrolincoln.com
AT GREEN STREET, a neighborhood favorite in Central Square, executive chef Greg Reeves is a big fan of this particular tomato. “They have a more pronounced tomato flavor,” he says. “It’s what you think tomatoes should taste like in your head.” He plays with that flavor by making escabeche cherry tomatoes, “like a light Spanish pickle,” he explains. He sweats garlic with red onion and saffron, then deglazes the pan with sherry vinegar. The cherry tomatoes are marinated in the vinegar and olive oil; the liquid they leach serves as a broth. With it, he serves local summer fish such as striped bass or bluefish, whatever is available. The dish is garnished with baby fennel braised in saffron broth and shaved squash for crunch, then served with saffron aioli for a bit of richness.
> Distance traveled: 13 miles
280 Green Street, Cambridge, 617-876-1655, greenstreetgrill.com
LEXINGTON’S NOURISH pulls off the tricky balance of serving as much locally raised organic food as possible while still keeping prices low. One good example of this is the restaurant’s $10.50 falafel salad. Kitchen manager and chef Shakira Strothers says the pita is the only part of the dish that’s not made in-house. The plate features a scoop of hummus that starts with organic dried chickpeas cooked until very soft, pureed, and combined with lemon, olive oil, garlic, salt, and tahini. Falafel patties — made from ground, soaked chickpeas, garlic, onions, and spices such as cumin and coriander, then deep-fried — surround the hummus. The dish is served with a salad of local greens, cucumbers, tahini, and Blue Heron’s Sun Gold tomatoes.
> Distance traveled: 8 miles
1727 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington, 781-674-2400, nourishlexington.com
GAZPACHO IS A CONSUMMATE summer dish, but at Rialto in Harvard Square, chef de cuisine Brian Rae and sous-chef Peter McKenzie have created a more elegant take on cold tomato soup. They marinate peeled Sun Golds and other tomatoes from Blue Heron with cucumbers, red onions, and sauteed jalapenos in rice wine vinegar and salt overnight. The next day, they put the mixture through a ricer with herbs, creating a soup that has texture but is smoother than rustic gazpacho. It’s poured tableside into a bowl that contains fluke seviche. The vinegar in the soup continues to cure the fish as the diner eats. The dish also includes micro basil, harissa oil, Taggiasca olives (a black variety from Italy), and more tomatoes for garnish.
> Distance traveled: 13 miles
1 Bennett Street, Cambridge, 617-661-5050, rialto-restaurant.com
LOCATED ON THE WATER at Louis, Sam’s has one of the best views in town. On a hot night on the wraparound deck, one wants to eat something simple and summery while sipping a crisp, cold white. Head chef Asia Mei serves a salad that might be just the thing. She combines a mix of heirloom tomatoes with the Sun Golds and watermelon. They are tossed with red wine vinaigrette, salt and pepper, julienned basil, ricotta salata, and a balsamic reduction. The salad is garnished with edible flowers from Blue Heron or another local grower. In summer 2011, Sam’s served a similar dish. “It was so popular we had to bring it back,” Mei says. “The tomatoes, those are ones people wait for all year long. They don’t need anything else than to be displayed really simply, to let them speak for themselves.”
> Distance traveled: 19 miles
60 Northern Avenue, Boston, 617-295-0191, samsatlouis.com
NOT FAR FROM SAM’S IS TRADE, where specialties include chewy, crusty flatbreads blasted in a pizza oven. There are several combinations of toppings. One of executive chef Andrew Hebert’s favorites is a spread with brandade, a garlicky puree of salt cod and potatoes. On top of that is a tapenade of olives and preserved lemons. Then, of course, the Sun Golds. “The tomatoes I first put on for color,” Hebert says, “but they provide a freshness that works really well.” The Sun Golds from Blue Heron are very different from cherry tomatoes they might buy from a larger-scale purveyor, he says, with a nice tanginess. Like all of Trade’s flatbreads, the salt cod version is popular, but it doesn’t sell as well as ones topped with, say, lamb sausage or mushrooms and figs. “Sometimes I think it scares people,” Hebert says. “But when they try it, they end up loving it.”
> Distance traveled: 18 miles
540 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, 617-451-1234, trade-boston.comDevra First is the Globe’s restaurant critic. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.