Singer/ songwriter Guy Clark swears there's only two things money can't buy: true love and homegrown tomatoes. He may well be right about the former, but this time of year, as the Cherokee Purples and the German Johnsons grow heavy on their vines, with a few dollars in your pocket you can come darn close to the latter at any of the Triangle's farmers' markets.
Markets in Durham and Carrboro held their celebrations of the nightshade family's juicy fruit earlier this month, and this weekend, the South Estes Farmers' Market joins the crowd. The two-year-old market hosts its inaugural Tomato Festival Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to noon, with tastings, chef demonstrations and live music (not Guy Clark, though). Vote for your favorite varieties to help farmers win prizes, and register to win gift certificates to Alfredo's, Spice Street and Weathervane, all located in University Mall, whose parking lot is home to the market (201 S. Estes Drive, Chapel Hill, www.southestesfarmersmarket.com).
For DIY ideas on using all those luscious, summertime tomatoes, Chef Sheri Castle is teaching a class, "Luscious Summertime Tomatoes" at Raleigh's Whole Foods Market (3540 Wade Ave., 828-5805, www.wholefoodsmarket.com) Aug. 6. The 6:30 p.m. class costs $20 per person and includes lessons on Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, No-Cook Cherry Tomato and Fresh Herb Pasta Sauce and Green Tomato Pie, as well as wine pairings.
However, if your idea of enjoying local tomatoes is to have someone else cook them, they are featured on plenty of local menus right now. One of the Indy's food writers reports a heavenly experience with a plate of heirlooms at Raleigh's 18 Seaboard (18 Seaboard, Suite 100, 861-4318, www.18seaboard.com) last week, while Chapel Hill's Crook's Corner (610 W. Franklin St., 929-7643, www.crookscorner.com) offers Chef Bill Smith's famous tomato-watermelon salad, as well as a tomato tart. At Durham's Piedmont Restaurant (401 Foster St., 683-1213, www.piedmontrestaurant.com), you can enjoy them in gazpacho, salad with olives and herb ricotta ravioli—or green and fried as part of a summer fritto misto dish.
Another Triangle pro, Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Seasonal Artisan Baking (489-9431, www.piefantasy.com), will work her magic with tomatoes and other local ingredients at a July 29 community dinner hosted by Panciuto (110 S. Churton St., Hillsborough, 732-6261, www.panciuto.com). Dinner starts at 7 p.m., and the $60 tab includes food, wine, tax and tip, as well as a talk by Lawless. On the menu: grilled focaccia with crushed tomatoes and almonds and Pasta alla Norma, with eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta, along with desserts that promise a happy ending to the meal.
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