Late summer’s small window of exquisitely ripe, local tomato apotheosis pretty much mirrors how many of us feel about summer itself: The whole shebang is sweet, but far too short. And who among us doesn’t feel an urgency to make the most of it before it’s all over?
Chef Carl Dooley takes that impulse and runs — no, make that sprints — with it. “The first thing I’m looking for right now is to talk to a farmer,” he says, walking into the Central Square Farmers’ Market. “Every kind of tomato ripens a little differently and is at its peak at a different time,” he says, “and farmers know exactly what’s best at this very moment.” Something else that’s ever-changing: Dooley’s menu at his North Cambridge restaurant, The Table at Season to Taste, for which he hunts down heirloom and field specimens at their apex to immediately get ambitious with. Witness dishes like grilled flank steak and a cooked salsa of bright, dried guajillo chile with raw, thick-sliced carbon tomatoes, an heirloom varietal that he describes as “a super deep, almost purple-red color, with extremely rich flavor.” Or sweet-tart green zebra tomatoes with nuoc cham sauce in a tangy Southeast Asian grilled shrimp salad. And if not, then maybe fruity pineapple tomatoes paired with Indian flavors like pickled mango, labneh, and toasted almonds.
All of the above can easily be made at home, and here Dooley shares his recipes — along with this morsel of inspiration: “When I pick a tomato, I want one that smells like the sun and tomato plant itself,” he says. “So you can taste the field and the soil and the sun all together. In New England there are so few opportunities in our food supply chain to eat a vegetable that hasn’t been refrigerated or stored, and is just right from the garden. This is the one time of year we can.”