SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Time for another Taste of Summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME")

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) Hot fun in the summertime. Hot fun in the...

SIMON: Late July is peak tomato season in much of the country, and for some fresh and inventive twists on the fruit - wait, isn't a tomato a vegetable? We're going to head to the Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Missouri. Cassy Vires is the owner and executive chef. She's also an award-winning food columnist.

Ms. Vires, thanks for being with us.

CASSY VIRES: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So is there anything wrong with just picking up a tomato and maybe putting a little salt on it and biting in?

VIRES: Absolutely not. I think that's one of the best ways to enjoy a tomato, especially picked fresh from the garden.

SIMON: Any other ways you want to bring to our attention while we're here?

VIRES: We've been doing some great things with tomatoes here at Home Wine Kitchen. One of the things we've been doing is a tomato terrine, where we use baby heirloom tomatoes, set them in basil aspic and then slice them. It creates a really beautiful, fresh bite of summer tomato appetizer.

SIMON: That's kind of like a Jell-O mold.

VIRES: Yeah, it is. My brother actually called it the savory tomato Jell-O.

SIMON: Can you give us a working recipe for that terrine?

VIRES: I sure can. It's actually very simple to make. You know, just take some heirloom tomatoes and cook them in some water with some basil. You can throw a little garlic there, a little bit of gelatin, not too much, not too little. It's got to be the precise amount. And then you just set those in a terrine pan with some sliced baby heirloom tomatoes, let that set up overnight, season it with a little bit of salt and pepper. And we serve it with a little micro basil salad and some balsamic vinegar.

SIMON: And the nice thing - first thing, often terrines just look great. And some terrines it's almost like you're seeing various layers of sediment as you go through it.

VIRES: And that's one of the beautiful things about this, is that there's so many different colors of these heirloom tomatoes that you can layer those different colors in the terrine so you get like, you know, red, then orange, then yellow. It's a really striking dish.

SIMON: I understand that you folks make tomato jam.

VIRES: We do. I love making jam. Jam is one of my passions. And we do both a sweet and a savory tomato jam here. We use them on our cheese and charcuterie boards. But tomato has such great natural sugars - as you mentioned, it is a fruit - so it makes wonderful, wonderful jam.

SIMON: Ever pair it with a peanut butter in a sandwich?

VIRES: No. No. But I might try that now. I think that's what I'm going to have for dinner.

SIMON: OK. Please don't hold me personally responsible.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And, of course, as we mentioned, it's actually not much of a mystery. A tomato is a pretty well-advertised fruit, it just is often found in the vegetable section, because it's often found in salads. You folks there at the Home Wine Kitchen make tomato sorbet.

VIRES: Yeah, that was something that one of my cooks kind of challenged me to do. We were wondering if we could do it. And we did. We juiced the tomatoes. And, you know, sorbet is a pretty simple thing. You take fruit juice, sugar, add a little water if you don't get enough juice, and freeze it and put it through your ice cream machine. And so we did tomatoes.

And it was a wonderful surprise. You know, you take your first bite, and at first it's sweet, it's eating dessert. And then on the finish it's that wonderful citrus and acid you get from a fresh tomato, 'cause we didn't cook the tomatoes at all. It was so bright and fresh. And then we paired it with a basil shortbread cookie. So that had a little sweet and savory aspect to it as well. And it's one of the desserts we're most proud of around here.

SIMON: I would offhand I think be inclined to make it one of those, I want to say palate cleanser, but one of those between course sorbets.

VIRES: An intermezzo? It would make a wonderful intermezzo.

SIMON: I'm not sure I want to say intermezzo either, but you get the idea. Yes.

VIRES: Yeah. No, it would be great for that, because that bright acid really does cleanse the palate.

SIMON: A tomato question.

VIRES: Uh-huh.

SIMON: Just because you write about this kind of stuff, too. I mean, I read the other day where there was a prominent American, you know, who was traveling overseas and she got tomatoes thrown at her.

VIRES: Yes. When did the tomato become the projectile of vehemence?

I don't know. Somebody get on Wikipedia real quick and check for us. I think somebody just realized it made the best splat.

SIMON: Cassy Vires is executive chef and owner of the Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Missouri. May all your intermezzos be good ones.

VIRES: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME")

STONE: (Singing) Hot fun in the summertime.

SIMON: And Cassy's recipes can be found at our website. You can go to npr.org/tasteofsummer. And there you can find tips and cooking techniques from our entire series.

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