September 4, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Freshly harvested vine-ripened tomatoes.
Sunday was a special day at the Neyers household. We harvested and enjoyed our first vine-ripened tomatoes of the year. Barbara has a series of elevated beds that she gardens, and while I often think that her greatest success is with those exotic baby lettuces that I learned to love during her years at Chez Panisse, it’s hard to argue with a freshly picked, vine-ripened tomato.
This year she planted about 20 vines — all from greenhouse plants. She doesn’t restrict herself to heirloom selections though, as some of them don’t ripen evenly. The Early Girls are the first to come in, then the Aces and Better Boys, followed by the Green Zebras. The cherry tomatoes — Sun Golds and Sweet 100s — ripen throughout the season, so when working in the garden you can snack on them at will.
At Sunday dinner we sat down to a platter of sliced tomatoes, and I remarked that it was hard to imagine that I’d ever eaten anything better. She slices them just before service — about 1/4” in thickness — dresses them lightly with olive oil — she’s using the Ligurian oil that Kermit imports from Punta Crena in Varigotti — then sprinkles them with some kosher salt. At Corti Brothers in Sacramento, she discovered Phu Quoc black peppercorns from Vietnam. Freshly ground, this is a great addition. As a final touch, she shreds a few leaves of fresh basil. It’s a simple dish, but as demanding on the gardener as it is on the shopper.
Barbara insists that the high natural acid level of vine-ripened tomatoes works best with a crisp, fresh Chardonnay. We especially like the currently available 2017 Carneros District Chardonnay from Neyers. Try it. You might also.