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July 2010 
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Events in Season
National Association of College & University Food Services Conference
San Jose, CA
July 7-10

Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo
Chicago, IL
July 17-20

Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival
Gilroy, CA
July 23-25

Produce Marketing Association Food Service Conference & Exposition
Monterey, CA
July 30-August 1

 A Primer on Tomatoes
The tomato's reputation has come a long way since American colonists believed the fruit was poisonous.

The tomato still suffers from an identity crisis. Botanically, it's a fruit. But cooks consider it a vegetable because it lacks the higher natural sugar content that typically characterizes fruits.
Tomatoes - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Tomatoes have nonetheless become ubiquitous in American cooking - as well as in Italian and Latin cuisines. Napa Valley chef Cindy Pawlcyn bakes fresh heirloom tomatoes into a goat cheese fondue. John Ash, our featured chef this month, slowly roasts Roma tomatoes and tops them on crunchy crostini.

Cooks use tomatoes raw in pasta sauces, salsas and gazpacho. And they're added to countless types of soups, pizzas, and gratins.

The tomato is actually native to the Americas. The Aztecs and Incas cultivated tomatoes as early as A.D. 700. They were unknown outside the New World until the 16th century, when the Spanish returned to Europe with them.

They range in size from grapes to grapefruit. The Big Beef variety is large and red, while red currant is tiny and ruby. The White Queen is, as its name suggests, white. Taxi is bright yellow, while the whimsically named Mr. Stripey is a mix of yellow and red. The peak season runs from July through October.

Family tree: Member of the nightshade family. Relatives include eggplants, peppers and potatoes - as well as poisonous plants (a fact that may have contributed to its early toxic reputation).

Health info: Good source of vitamin C and beta-carotene. Tomatoes are known for their high content of lycopene, a pigment linked to the prevention of many types of cancer.

Vital stats: Some 3.7 million pounds of commercial fresh-market tomatoes were produced in the United States in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And nearly 28 million pounds of tomatoes used for processing were produced last year. Among states, California is the leading producer of all tomatoes. The United States is the world's No. 2 tomato producer, behind China.

How to prepare: Wash in cool water. Remove core when slicing or dicing. Best eaten soon after picking or purchase. Store at room temperature. Don't refrigerate.

How to buy: Look for tomatoes that are firm but not hard. They should be fully colored. Avoid pale, mushy, and spotted tomatoes.

 Featured EVOO Tomato Recipes
Courtesy of Our Featured Chef  John Ash:

Gazpaho Salad

Tomato Toast with Spanish Ham

Crostini with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Additional Recipes:

Strickland Tomato RecipeBroiled Tomatoes with Goat's Milk Feta Cheese
Courtesy of Chef Gregory Strickland CEC CDM

Heirloom Tomato, Summer Peach, and Fresh Herb Gazpacho Salad
Recipe Credit: Susie Middleton, Fast, Fresh & Green (Chronicle Books, 2010)
Recipe courtesy of the publisher

Summer Vegetable and Tomato Tian with Parmesan Bread Crumbs
Recipe Credit: Susie Middleton, Fast, Fresh & Green (Chronicle Books, 2010)
Recipe courtesy of the publisher

Fletcher Spaghettini
Spaghettini with Red and Glory Tomatoes
Recipe Credit: Janet Fletcher, Fresh from the Farmer's Market (Chronicle Books, 2008)
Recipe courtesy of the publisher

Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes and Basil
Courtesy of Kalyn Denny
Kalyn's Kitchen

 Featured Chef
John Ash

Back when John Ash was first thinking about opening a restaurant in northern California, a friend took him to what was considered the best place in the town of Sonoma. Ash was stunned when he learned the restaurant served canned vegetables.
John Ash
"It was dead in the middle of summer," Ash, 68, recalls of that meal 30 years ago. He figured he could open a restaurant with the bit of professional experience he'd picked up in the U.S. and in France. "I could be a big fish in a small pond," he told himself.

John Ash opened John Ash & Co. in 1980. Located in Santa Rosa, it was the first restaurant in northern California wine country to focus on local, seasonal ingredients. The food complemented Sonoma's wines, and helped unleash the wine and food craze of today. The restaurant continues to win acclaim, although Ash no longer is an owner.

Today, he's an accomplished teacher, serving as an adjunct instructor at the Culinary Institute of America's Napa Valley campus. He also teaches cooking on his own. The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) named Ash "Cooking School Teacher of the Year" in 2008.

Ash got involved with food growing up on a mountain ranch in central Colorado. He lived with his grandparents. "We were poor mountain people," Ash says. "We had a big garden and canned everything. It was about survival for the winter."  

Chef John AshHe and his grandmother prepared meals for the field hands. She was a culinary influence. "She never used recipes. She was an intuitive cook and magical things happened," Ash says.

He headed to Arizona in the early 1960s to study fine art at the University of Arizona. After graduation, he landed a job as an artist with a big ad New York ad agency, McCann Erickson. That led him to accept a job offer in San Francisco with a McCann-Erickson client, Del Monte Foods.

"It was great fun," Ash recalls. "I learned about 'big food.'" He helped develop new products.  "We added basil to the stewed tomatoes," Ash recalls. "It was an exotic flavor and ingredient."

After half a dozen years, Ash quit and flew to Europe in the early 1970s. He studied at cooking schools in France and England. He worked a stint as a "kitchen slave" at a small inn in Burgundy. There, he learned to appreciate fresh, seasonal foods. Each morning he and colleagues visited the local market to shop. Every day was a new menu, depending on the available food.
Chef John Ash 2
Ash returned to San Francisco in the mid-1970s and worked as a medical illustrator.  But he continued to pursue his passion for cooking by running a weekend catering business with a friend. His periodic trips to Sonoma County, with its farms and vineyards, reminded him of the French countryside.

When he was ready to open his own business, he found a space large enough for a restaurant and a wine shop in the same building. Customers had to walk through the wine shop to get to the restaurant. The bonus: customers could buy a bottle to go with dinner without paying a corkage fee.

In the process, Ash helped revolutionize the food and wine experience. Wine was served not only by the bottle, but by the glass. The restaurant prepared special wine and food dinners and also hosted wine tastings.

The daily grind prompted Ash to sell the business in 2000. He devoted himself to being culinary director at Fetzer Vineyards. "We had this amazing five-acre organic garden we cooked out of," Ash says. He held culinary classes and cooked for guests from around the globe.

In add to teaching, Ash co-hosts a food and wine radio talk show on KSRO (1350 AM) in Northern California. He's also an award-winning cookbook author. Despite cookbook awards from the James Beard Foundation and the IACP, Ash says cooking comes more easily than writing. "It's torturous."

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