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It's Creole tomato time!



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It's Creole tomato time
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA
Thursday May 29, 2003
By Dale Curry, Food Editor

"If you're a true local shopper, you started asking your grocer a month ago when
the 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 treat
whose peak of season is June 1 to mid-July. But most of the tomatoes for sale
are from Florida, California, Alabama and Georgia, not picked yesterday from
the Louisiana fields.
One way to assure you have real sweet and firm Creoles is to take a drive down
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 the
first to tell you that all signs saying 'Creole' do not lead to the real thing. Ben
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
vendor said.
...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 held
inside a French Market building on the floor beneath Bella Luna restaurant
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. Sunday.
For sale at booths will be tomatoes and tomato dishes such as jambalaya and
stuffed tomatoes.
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 little
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
said, 'but we live from day to day because we live in God's country. A severe hailstorm can ruin a crop in 15 seconds.'
If you're a purist, all you need is a salt shaker to eat your Creoles. Sprinkle
with 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
sweet, firm tomato at its best. Here are two recipes from restaurant chefs
who will participate in the festival this weekend:"


Jacques-Imo's Creole Stuffed Tomatoes
(8324 Oak Street, New Orleans, Uptown, 504.861.0886)

Serves 4

4 Creole tomatoes
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.
Place in square baking pan. Fill with water about halfway to the top of the
tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes. To serve, garnish with bell pepper strips.

Hint: If your tomatoes won't stand up on their own, take a wafer thin
slice off the bottom to create a flat, even surface.

Dirty Rice

1 dozen chicken livers
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Bay leaf
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup day-old rice
Garlic, finely chopped
Parsley finely chopped

Finely chop chicken livers and sauté with onion, bell pepper and
celery. Mix in thyme, bay leaf, hot sauce and rice. Continue to cook
until heated through. Garnish with finely chopped garlic and parsley.
Recipe from "Creole Soul" by Austin Leslie and Marie Rudd Posey,
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 servings

4 pounds Creole tomatoes
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] chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
[purchased or 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 taste.

Featured Archive Recipes:
The Tantalizing Tomato
Aromatic Tomato Soup
Baked Tomatoes with Garlic and Basil
Creole Style Tomato Soup (Emeril)
Creole (Tomato) Lullabye
Fried Green Tomatoes
Gazpacho: The Quintessential
Summer Soup

How good does it get?
Tomatoes and corn...

Stewed Creole Tomatoes and Shrimp
(Commander's Palace)

More Lagniappe Recipes!
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to miss New Orleans?

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