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  • Oven roasting tomatoes concentrates their sugars, so they become a great flavour base for this sausage and swiss chard sauce
  • A serrated knife will bite into a tomato’s smooth skin and make excellent slices, thick or thin
  • Kendall-Jackson’s annual Heirloom Tomato Festival celebrates the broad spectrum of varieties available

Northern Comfort

Roasted tomatoes star in a delicious dish inspired by Sonoma County

The enjoyable and informative Heirloom Tomato Cookbook collects 40 recipes from northern California chefs who have participated in Kendall-Jackson’s annual Heirloom Tomato Festival over the years. The annual event, which runs at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Santa Rosa, California, started in 1997 as a small, informal celebration of the inaugural heirloom tomato harvest from the expansive on-site gardens. Today, it’s a major event that features a gourmet food fare, wine education seminars and a new chef’s challenge. The 13th edition runs September 12. For more information, visit kj.com/events/tomato-festival/.
For those of us unable to join in the fun in person, we can at least get in the spirit of the celebration with this delicious dish that makes the most of the bounty of tomatoes and swiss chard available right now.

Soft Polenta with Mushrooms, Oven-Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes, Chard and Sausage
From The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook, by Mimi Luebbermann (Chronicle Books/Raincoast Books, $18.95, ISBN-10: 0-8118-5355-1)

Chef’s Note: Long, gentle cooking of heirloom tomatoes caramelizes and concentrates their sugars. Begin cooking the tomatoes early in the day to simplify the preparation time for the recipe. Chef Skip Lott, Montibella Sausage Company. Serves 6

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
8 oz. heirloom plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise and seeded
Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chard and Sausage Sauce
1 lb. Swiss chard
12 oz. chicken sausages, cut into 1-inch lengths
12 oz. garlic sausage, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (30 mL)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
5 fresh sage leaves, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine (250 mL)
2 Tbsp tomato paste (30 mL)

Soft Polenta and Mushrooms
1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup hot water (250 mL)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (30 mL)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken broth (750 mL)
1 tsp sea salt (5 mL)
1 cup polenta (250 mL)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter (45 mL)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (3 oz.)
freshly ground pepper to taste

To roast the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 300º F. Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil and arrange the tomatoes on it in a single layer, cut side up. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then turn cut side down. Brush the tops of the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes until they are dry and shrivelled on top but juicy underneath, about 4 hours, reducing the heat if necessary so that they cook slowly without burning. Remove from the oven, let cool on the baking sheet, and cover with plastic wrap.

To make the chard and sausage sauce: Remove the Swiss chard leaves from the ribs, trim and discard the woody bottoms, and cut the ribs into 3/8-inch-wide pieces. Coarsely chop the leaves and set both aside separately.

In a large, heavy nonreactive sauté pan, cook the sausages in the olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until no trace of pink remains, about 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausages to a bowl, then pour off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Over medium heat, sauté the onion and carrot until the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Return the sausages to the pan, add the sage and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of the wine and 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste and cook until most of the wine has evaporated.

Cut the oven-roasted tomatoes in half lengthwise and then again crosswise. Add them to the pan. Add the remaining 1/2 cup wine, the remaining 1 tablespoon tomato paste and the Swiss chard ribs. Cover the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the Swiss chard leaves and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To make the soft polenta: Soak the mushrooms in the hot water for 30 minutes. Strain the soaking water through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl and reserve. Squeeze the mushrooms dry and chop fine. Set the mushrooms aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms to the pan and stir for a minute more. Add the chicken broth, reserved mushroom-soaking liquid and salt and increase the heat to high. When the liquid is simmering, gradually sprinkle the polenta over in a thin stream, whisking constantly until the polenta is incorporated and no lumps remain. Reduce the heat to very low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden paddle, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and the grains of polenta have softened, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the butter and Parmesan and season with pepper.

To serve, mound some of the polenta onto each of 6 warmed plates. Make a well in the centre and spoon the chard and sausages on top.


Wines to Match

Château Le Conseiller 2005
Bordeaux, France $26 (500322)
This wine from talented winemaker Jean-Philippe Janoueix (who is also responsible for Châteaux La Confession and La Croix Saint-Georges) shows how impressive Bordeaux Supérieur can be, particularly when you’re dealing with a quality producer and a strong vintage. Predominantly Merlot from a site located on the outskirts of Fronsac, this has an attention-getting aroma suggesting dark fruit, tobacco and toast.

Viña Concha y Toro 2006 Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Maipo Valley, Chile $19.95 (337238) The Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet consistently impresses. Produced solely from 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from a single vineyard, this concentrated and full-bodied red offers bold chocolate cherry and savoury/smoky notes. Its rich flavours make it a good match for the robust sauce served with this polenta dish.

Hester Creek Estate Winery 2005 Reserve Merlot Okanagan Valley $26 (077347) Hester Creek’s top-tier Merlot has fascinating savoury dried herb notes on the nose and a palate that mark it as a product of the Okanagan Valley. The softness of Merlot comes through on the palate, which reveals chocolate and dark fruit flavours. This would be an interesting match for our featured dish.