After a recent pilgrimage to Block Island, I can still hear the lovely sisters at the Darius Inn chiming, “There’s a reason for every season.” It’s a refrain that won’t seem to quiet in the back of my mind. They’re right – certain activities and flavors are best left to certain times of the year.
In August, fresh tomatoes speak for themselves, and I′m getting ready to harvest, slice, crush, can, and – yes – drink my weight in tomatoes. Fresh tomato juice may, in fact, be one of the reasons I was put on this planet. It′s silky, savory, and mysteriously light compared to off-the-shelf bottled varieties. Sure, a tomato from the grocery store will do the trick, but not during the late summer months.
Gold Rush, Green Zebras, Black Krim – heirloom tomatoes are an exceptionally poetic lot. In winter, I dream about their peculiar shades and organic shapes, deeply creased and delightfully blotched with color. Ask me in February what varieties of tomato I’ll be growing later that year and I′ll spout off the lyrical list: Early Girl, Brandywine, Purple Cherokee. I deeply look forward to August and its fruitful bounty. And all those tomatoes, of course, mean Bloody Marys.
The drink was purportedly invented by Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris after World War I, when canned tomato juice first hit the market. Pete added vodka, a dash of lemon, and a few spicy seasonings, and the rest is history. And here we are today, still swizzling boozy tomato drinks with a stick of celery, bacon, blue cheese, lobster tails, olives, and everything but the kitchen sink. And with good reason – to cheer on the weekend, a good brunch, or a sweltering afternoon, all with the famously (and perhaps falsely) restorative properties of a good hair-of-the-dog libation.
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The Spicy Tomato is my favorite savory drink. It’s my version of a culinarily-minded Virgin Mary, made with fresh tomatoes, salt, pepper and a wily headdress of grilled garnish veggies. A touch sweet and a bit savory, you could almost think of this as a light sipping soup. Perfect for expecting mamas or anyone seeking supremely nutritious hydration, the Spicy Tomato is summertime at its best.
Should you prefer a bit more kick, this combination only improves with a couple of ounces of good vodka. Add a touch of jalapeño for heat and a bit of salt and pepper, and you’ve got a real situation on your hands. You may even begin restricting your Bloody Mary consumption to summertime, when the tomatoes are ripest.
So get out there and find a farm stand, a friendly neighbor with a garden, or a farmers′ market – just please promise me you’ll eat a fresh, and I mean REALLY FRESH tomato this summer. You might never reach for that bottled tomato juice in the cupboard again.
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The Spicy Tomato Virgin Bloody Mary
1 large ripe tomato
1 small pinch of salt
3 turns of the pepper mill
1 splash Bragg Liquid Aminos (Worcestershire sauce or fresh lemon will also do the trick; it’s the acidity we’re going for.)
1 sliver of jalapeño (optional for adding heat)
vegetables of your choice (for garnish)
Dice fresh ripe tomatoes and add them to the blender with salt, fresh cracked pepper, Bragg’s, and 1 ice cube. (To make a batch, use 1 tomato and 1 ice cube per drink.) Pulse the blender for 10 seconds and pour into chilled glasses. If you prefer to muddle (perhaps you don′t have a blender or maybe you′re at the beach), make the drinks one glass at a time. For a drink with a kick, add two ounces of vodka after blending, and stir.
To prepare garnish
Rinse whatever produce your choose to include. I love to use my remaining garlic scapes, tiny eggplants, jalapeños, sweet peppers, green beans, and even sliced fresh pineapple if I’m feeling wild. The sky’s the limit for grilled garnish.
As you wait for the grill or charcoal to preheat, slice veggies and drizzle with olive oil. Grill and lightly scorch the vegetables on each side in deliciously picturesque manor. Don’t worry if you burn it; it will still look really badass. Skewer and add to glass. Extra style points for adding grilled shrimp. Cheers!
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Photos by Willa Van Nostrand of Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails.
Thanks to Jungil Hong for being the beautiful model mama and Isabel Mattia and Adam for your keen vegetable curation and beautiful farm. And a toast to the ever-inspiring Walker’s Roadside Stand for your beautiful ″ugly″ tomatoes. They never disappoint.