The Food Column: Savor tomatoes at food fests

It's Tomato Time at Food & Flavor (not to mention all over Southwestern Pennsylvania), and two upcoming events -- a dinner and a festival -- will put tomatoes in the spotlight.

This Sunday, Aug. 11, Slow Food Pittsburgh sponsors a "Tomatoes! Sunday Supper" at Legume Bistro and Butterjoint Bar in Oakland.

The dinner will feature local produce, local meat and a local cookbook author.

The menu will be comprised of dishes from "Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook" by Post-Gazette Columnist Miriam Rubin, who will be on hand that evening, having recently returned from speaking at the James Beard House in New York City.

Trevett Hooper, Legume's owner, said he bought and enjoyed Ms. Rubin's cookbook and had a passing thought, "It'd be really awesome to do a dinner with tomato season coming up." And then Slow Food Pittsburgh asked him to do just that.

The menu will include:

• Appetizers: Cherry tomatoes stuffed with two fillings (ham and pickles or crabmeat remoulade) and Cold Curried Tomato Soup with mini-biscuits.

• Main courses: Green Tomato and Pork Biscuit Pie (or vegetarian option of Spoonbread with Cherry Tomato Saute), Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Feta and Oregano, and Cornmeal-Crumbed Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk-Black Pepper Dressing.

• Dessert: Spiced Green Tomato Crumb Cake with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

Sous chefs Brian Wiltrout and Raf Valencio will take the helm Sunday night, and Mr. Hooper said the chefs will stay as true to Ms. Rubin's recipes as possible, although a few changes will be necessary. For instance, the Green Tomato and Pork Biscuit Pie recipe calls for pork tenderloin, but because Legume is expecting to serve 80, they'll need to switch to pork shoulder, which will require a change in cooking technique.

Ms. Rubin will discuss the cookbook during the appetizer course. Then she and the chefs will serve the main courses buffet-style to give guests a peek at the Legume kitchen.

Local ingredients on display will include pork from Kennedy Farm in Valencia, tomatoes and other produce from Who Cooks for You Farm in New Bethlehem, tomatoes from Ms. Rubin's garden, cornmeal from Clarion River Organics in Sligo, and Legume's house-smoked ham and house-made pickles.

Cost of $55 per person includes choice of two drinks (Bloody Marys, in keeping with the tomato theme, as well as wine and beer). Cocktails start at 4 p.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m. Registration is required; for an invitation, email

Meanwhile, just around the corner at Phipps Conservatory, they're gearing up for the ninth annual Red, Ripe and Roasted: Tomato and Garlic Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 25.

There's a veritable garden of activities planned, including:

• Cooking demos and book signings: Two Post-Gazette writers take the stage with cooking demos and signings of their tomato-related cookbooks. Ms. Rubin (see above) appears again, along with gardening columnist Doug Oster, author of "Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil." Cafe Phipps Executive Chef Stephanie Gelberd also will do cooking demos (see recipe).

• Tomato contest: Bring along the smallest, largest and ugliest tomatoes from your garden; the only requirement is that they be ripe. The winner in each category will get a gift basket that includes signed copies of the two featured authors' cookbooks and other prizes. Judging will happen around 3 p.m.

• Farmers market: Most of the farmers from Phipps' regular Wednesday farmers market will be on hand, along with specialty growers of tomatoes and garlic.

• Children's activities: Children will be able to pot garlic cloves ("It's the perfect time to plant garlic for next year," organizer Jordyn Melino noted) as well as try other activities.

• Special food: Cafe Phipps cooks up entrees featuring tomatoes and garlic.

It's a deal you can't refuse: Bring a bag of fresh produce (or buy some on-site) to donate to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, and you'll get free admission to both the festival and Phipps' Summer Flower Show, "Glass in the Gardens," which features the work of Pittsburgh-area glass artists. Information: Otherwise it's $15 for adults and $11 for children ages 2 to 18.

And speaking of tomatoes, there should be lots of tomatoes at several of the events below:

Outdoor meals

Brunch at the National Aviary: Dine on brunch prepared by Atria's Restaurant under the Rose Garden tent; finish with a stroll through the Aviary. 10:30 a.m. or noon this Sunday, Aug. 11 (register by Friday, Aug. 9), or Sept. 15 (reserve by Sept. 13). $30 per person; $15 for children ages 4 to 10; free for children ages 3 and under.

Alfresco Italian Garden Dinner: Dinner includes fresh fruit, vegetables and meats from the Sewickley Farmers Market, plus homemade pasta and a pasta-making demo. The meal is served outdoors and includes appetizers, two entrees, sides, pasta, dessert and espresso (BYOB). 6 p.m. Aug. 23 at Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley. $100 per person; reservations required.

Food and fitness

Lots of Green Bike and Bus Garden Tour: See a full-scale urban farm in Braddock, a city hop yard in Garfield, an 88-bed community garden on the South Side, a recycled play yard in East Liberty, and other projects, plus enjoy an after-party with local foods and beer. Guided bike and bus tours have varying start times this Saturday, Aug. 10. $10 per person.

Gazpacho Soup Hike: Three- to four-mile hike followed by a cold soup of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and bread. Noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 18 at Snyder's Farm in Chicora, Butler County. $20. Registration required: or 412-255-0564.


McKeesport International Village: Food booths from 21 different ethnic backgrounds, plus ethnic entertainment, workshops, crafts and children's area. 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 13-15, at Renziehausen Park, McKeesport. $2 at the gate.

Great American Banana Split Celebration: Celebrate the 109th anniversary of the banana split's creation in its birthplace of Latrobe. Festivities include a ceremony, historical marker unveiling, banana-themed art show, a Yellow-Tie Gala of banana dishes and cocktails, car rally, banana-themed street fair, sock hop, banana flash mob, banana-split bar and more. Aug. 23-25 in Latrobe.

Charitable event

Soup Takeout: Buy homemade Wedding Soup, Gumbo, and Roasted Corn & Tomato Soup for $5 per quart (preorders only). Pickup is 3 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 14, at the Sisters of St. Francis Motherhouse in Whitehall; place orders by today. 412-885-7232.

Someone say garlic?

Laurel Highland Garlic Festival: It's Aug. 17 and 18 at Faranda Farm in Hollsopple, Somerset County:

Pickled Organic Cherry Tomatoes

This is one of the recipes Stephanie Gelberd, executive chef of Cafe Phipps, will demonstrate at Red, Ripe & Roasted.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 3/4 cup water

  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon honey

  • Zest of 1/2 lemon

  • 12 ounces organic cherry tomatoes

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Pour vinegar and water into a saucepan. Add salt, honey and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve salt. Remove from heat. Let cool for 20 minutes.

Pierce each tomato 2 times with the tip of a sharp knife. Toss tomatoes, basil, garlic and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Add cooled vinegar mixture. Let stand at room temperature at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours. Store in a jar for up to a week.

-- Chef Stephanie Gelberd

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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