Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. I swear, I’m up to my neck in these ripe, juicy fruits that I’m beginning to doubt I’ll ever be able to use them all. Yes, I could share the wealth and leave baskets of goodies at my neighbors’ doorsteps, but if you know me and how often (or not) I speak to my neighbors, you would know this would not be a smart idea. I could can them for future use throughout the year, but that would mean actual work. So when I recently discovered the tomato consommé martini at the wonderful Kelly Liken restaurant in Vail, Colorado, I knew I had found at least one solution for my surplus of fruit.
Though it might sound strange at first, this cocktail is very similar to one of my past faves, the dirty martini. It has the familiar savory, briny trademark of the olive-based drink, but with a light summery twist. The tomato consommé martini basically involves making a tomato water or consommé by puréeing ripe (preferably heirloom) tomatoes with garlic and optionally jalepeño pepper, and straining the liquid through a kitchen towel or cheesecloth. The process is a bit lengthy (the tomatoes need to strain overnight in the fridge) but is actually quite simple; definitely worth the trouble for a unique summer cocktail!
The original cocktail at Kelly Liken is made from Colorado favorite CapRock organic vodka, a beautifully clean and round spirit distilled from Chambourcin grapes. Highly recommended if you can get your hands on some. Recipe yields approximately 2 cups of tomato water.
Purée tomatoes, garlic, and jalepeño (if using) and a food processor or blender, working in batches if necessary. Place purée and basil in medium bowl, salt generously and add pepper to taste. Let sit for 1/2 hour to marinate.
Place kitchen towel or several layers of cheesecloth over a clean bowl. Add purée into towel, gather up four corners and using kitchen twine, tie a knot to secure bundle. Hang or suspend bundle over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
To make martini, combine 1 part consommé to 1 part vodka (more or less alcohol depending on your preference) in a shaker with ice. Shake well and serve with a garnish of cherry or grape tomatoes.
It was only a matter of time. Friends had warned me of these backyard bandits. For some strange reason I believed I would be immune to them. My secret garden would be impenetrable. There was no way they would make off with my shimmering emerald, citrine, and ruby jewels. And then one day it happened. The clusters of San Marzanos, just ripened Italian fruit, were gone. A few other plump, juicy heirlooms were freshly gouged — sweet tangy juice still dripping from open flesh. Yes, the critters had invaded, and they would be back for more.
I couldn’t believe it. After months of digging, preparing the soil, nuturing seed to seedling to overgrown jungle, and hours of watering, staking, and pruning. The raccoons and opposums had snuck in and pillaged my tomato village. It wasn’t bad enough that they would sit in my orange tree late at night and hollow out orange after orange, leaving empty rind shells behind on the lawn. They had to come after my prized summer fruit. I had encountered these intruders a handful of times before. Loud rustling in the bushes at ungodly hours (they were actually rummaging through the compost pile). Glowing eyes prowling the patio outside. I once had managed to thwart a single raccoon attack by desparately tossing whatever I could find at the masked bandit (which happened to be some pennies sitting on my nightstand). Though I had won that battle, I knew I wouldn’t win this war.
Short of enclosing everything in chicken wire, there would be no way I could keep them from enjoying the all-you-can-eat tomato smörgåsbord. My only saving grace, is that these animals are smart enough to only eat ripe fruit. Since indeterminate tomatoes flower throughout the season, staggering the maturation of the crop, I could possibly pick the ripe ones before the critters returned. I can only hope. The tomatoes above were picked this past weekend, and some of them were enjoyed sliced and dressed simply with sea salt, cracked pepper, and good olive oil, and topped with luscious milky slices of real buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden. Oh boy. Let’s just say the plate was cleared in an instant, with big silly grins on our faces.
I still have a few ideas for the remaining tomatoes, so stay tuned!