Top Tomato 2010 contest winners
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 4:01 PM
Rosemary Lawler and her husband, Thomas, are equal-opportunity tomato lovers. Early Girls, Big Boys or cherry, "I'll use any ones I have," the Leesburg resident says.
Thing is, they have so many at this time of year - growing a load of them on their 20-acre farm - that several of Lawler's recipes start with an old-fashioned basic: stewed tomatoes. "They are country food," she says.
Yet when she infuses a batch of them with corncobs, then adds a roux and local seafood, the dish becomes a sophisticated crowd pleaser. It impressed the Food section staff and testers as well, so we've crowned it king in this year's Top Tomato reader recipe contest.
We thought we had seen enough soups in years past, but two of them were good enough to land in the field of 10 finalists. An interesting mix of classic egg-and-tomato dishes, sides and new salad combinations made this year's total of 158 entries a pleasure to sample. Attempts at ice cream have come close; keep trying, and we'll keep testing them.
In the end, though, two of the three top recipes were standards done especially well, and the top three contestants all share a passion for eating what is local and in season.
Lawler's winning soup has family ties. Her Baltimore mom, she says, was always "big" into stewed tomatoes, simmered with clove and celery seed. Three or four times during the summer, Lawler, 54, will cook their home-grown tomatoes and freeze them, to be used year-round as a side dish and as a base for gumbo (with shrimp, Worcestershire sauce, fil powder, green bell pepper and okra), sauces and soup.
The stewed tomatoes travel well. Lawler packs frozen containers for family beach vacations in Rehoboth. One summer, her family tried just about every crab soup they came across.
"In the back of my mind, I wanted to make it with my own tomatoes," Lawler says. She came up with a creamy soup everybody loved. Then her older son suggested adding crabmeat and stirred up a new favorite.
The soup recipe wins a $75 gift certificate to LaTienda.com, a 2010 Top Tomato T-shirt and bragging rights for Lawler - not that she strikes us as the kind who would lord it over her neighbors.
Tomato pie is hardly a new concept, but Brian Lichorowic has put a lot of thought and local mojo into the one he submitted. That's why it earned second-place Top Tomato honors.
The 49-year-old Middleburg businessman describes himself as a locavore and "survivor" son in a long line of restaurateurs. He and his brothers spent hours prepping in his parents' Upstate New York restaurant kitchen. He paid attention to what was in season and found even greater bounty living in the more temperate mid-Atlantic region.
To build a better tomato pie, Lichorowic experimented with increasing amounts of vegetables, colors that appealed to him and cheese that would not go gooey.