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La Belle Cuisine
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans,
Thursday May 29, 2003
By Dale Curry, Food Editor
a true local shopper, you started asking your grocer a month ago when
Creole tomatoes would be here. And even when it's time, the illusive little
gift from God seems at times to be just out of our reach.
Well, the time is now, coinciding with soaring temperatures and summer
vacations. Just when we are gasping from high humidity, we get a special
whose peak of season is June 1 to mid-July. But most of the tomatoes
are from Florida, California, Alabama and Georgia, not picked
the Louisiana fields.
One way to assure you have real sweet and firm Creoles is to take a drive
to Plaquemines Parish, where roadside stands, most of which say
'Becnel,' are loading up with them. [We have some authentic Creoles in La
Place as well.]
The Becnels, including several farming families in Plaquemines Parish, are
first to tell you that all signs saying 'Creole' do not lead to the real
Becnel Sr. tells the story of when his brother Johnny Becnel
stopped at a road-
side stand advertising Creole tomatoes several weeks before
the crop was in to
inquire where the tomatoes came from. 'They came from
Johnny Becnel,' the
...And Becnel will bring part of his crop to the French Market Saturday and
Sunday for the 17th annual Creole Tomato Festival. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
both weekend days, the Creole tomato season will be celebrated with cooking
demonstrations, music and arts and crafts. Chefs' demonstrations will be
inside a French
Market building on the floor beneath Bella Luna
where Dumaine and Decatur streets meet the river. The chefs and
the times they
will cook are: chef Robert Iacovone of Cuvée, noon Saturday;
Gregg Collier of Redfish Grill, 1 p.m. Saturday; Andrea Apuzzo of Andrea's,
2 p.m. Saturday; a
chef from Cafe Sbisa, 3 p.m. Saturday; a chef from Bella
Luna, noon Sunday;
Austin Leslie of Jacques-Imo's,
1 p.m. Sunday; Darin
Nesbit of Palace Cafe,
2 p.m. Sunday and Jared Tees
of Bourbon House, 3 p.m.
For sale at booths will be tomatoes and tomato dishes such as jambalaya and
Becnel will sell tomatoes where farmers used to park their trucks full of
local vegetables, in the parking lot near the flea market.
'We pick tomatoes every day,' Becnel said, explaining why Creoles are a
more expensive than what he calls 'foreign' tomatoes from
out-of-state. The Louisiana tomato will run about 60 to 75 cents in peak of
season, he said.
Right now, Becnel said, the crop looks plentiful. 'The crop looks good,' he
'but we live from day to day because we live in God's country. A severe
can ruin a crop in 15 seconds.'
If you're a purist, all you need is a salt shaker to eat your Creoles.
a little olive oil and you've gone gourmet. But the natives
are restless in
New Orleans and creative chefs are going to find every way
possible to use the
firm tomato at its best. Here are two recipes
from restaurant chefs
participate in the festival this weekend:"
Jacques-Imo's Creole Stuffed Tomatoes
(8324 Oak Street, New
Orleans, Uptown, 504.861.0886)
2 cups dirty rice (recipe below)
Bell pepper strips for garnish
Preheat oven to
350 degrees F. Scoop out tomatoes; turn upside down
on paper towels to
drain. Fill each tomato with one-fourth cup dirty rice.
baking pan. Fill with water about halfway to the top of the
for 30 minutes. To serve, garnish with bell pepper strips.
your tomatoes won't stand up on their own, take a wafer thin
bottom to create a flat, even surface.
1 dozen chicken
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup day-old rice
Garlic, finely chopped
Parsley finely chopped
chicken livers and sauté with onion, bell pepper and
bay leaf, hot sauce and rice. Continue to cook
heated through. Garnish
with finely chopped garlic and parsley.
Recipe from "Creole Soul" by Austin Leslie and Marie
2000, De Simonin Publications
Out of Print, Used & Rare
Palace Cafe's Creole Tomato Basil Soup
(605 Canal Street, New
Orleans, French Quarter, 504.523.1661)
About 20 appetizer or 12 entree
4 pounds Creole
1/4 pound butter
3 cups diced onions
2 cups diced celery
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 cup dry vermouth
1/2 gallon [8 cups]
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
make your own]
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Core and halve
tomatoes. Score the skin of
each half with a sharp knife. Lay tomato halves
flesh side down on a sheet
pan and roast in oven for 15 minutes, or until
skins blister. Allow to cool,
then remove and discard skins. Remove seeds by
squeezing tomatoes over
a strainer into a mixing bowl. Retain all strained
juice and set aside with roasted tomatoes. Melt butter in a large pot and
sauté onion, celery and
garlic until tender. Add Creole tomatoes and tomato
paste. Cook for 10 to
15 minutes; then deglaze with vermouth. Add chicken
stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in cream, Creole
seasoning and sugar. Puree until smooth, then return soup to stove. Stir in
fresh basil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to
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