My daughter is a passionate Creole tomato fan who has been disappointed the last few years in the quality of Creoles. When she heard Ben Becnel was scheduled for the show she wanted me to ask him how our legendary fruit was ruined. Ben called into the show today to talk Creole tomatoes.
The Becnels have been farming in Plaquemines Parish for five generations. He talked about how hard it is for the next generation to take up the business. His children have not been interested, but lately they have started to soften on the idea.
It was heartbreaking to think that this beautiful thing we love so much could become extinct. When I explained this to our daughter she realized she had gotten her answer, but it’s not the one she was looking for.
I had my own question for Ben. Why is it so hard to find the culls? I used to drive down there to one of his many stands along Highway 23 and buy boxes of culls, which are tomatoes that are not pretty enough to be sold to markets.They have the characteristic trademark cracking on the tomato skin, and the lumpy shape. But the flavor of the Creole tomato is nonpareil.
We celebrate this special tomato each year at this time, but the Creole Tomato Festival 2020 is of course not happening. Too bad. Ben says it’s a good crop this year. If the batch we got over the weekend at his stand by the Industrial Canal is any indication, it is indeed a good crop.
We went to get some Creoles after hearing Frank Brigtsen talk about the Creole Tomato sandwiches he’d be making with his wife. I remember my mother making them by slicing tomatoes, salting each slice, and assembling them on white bread slices with a thin layer of mayo on one side of the bread.
Ben isn’t a fan of the ubiquitous tomato sandwich, but he did offer another simple recipe. He cores the Creoles, and fills them with mozzarella cheese, baking them until the cheese is melted. Tony Chacerie’s sprinkled on top and drizzled with olive oil. This simple preparation doesn’t change the inherent goodness of this simple and delicious fruit.
I’m not a fan of the Caprese salad because of the buffalo milk mozzarella. I made a revision. A tomato stack of purple onions, Creole tomato slices, and basil separated by mozzarella crisps. A drizzle of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar made for quite the presentation.
But Tom and Ben Becnel agree that the best recipe for eating a Creole tomato is this: Pick it up. Take a bite.
Creole Tomato Stack
8 oz pkg Mozzarella cheese grated
1 Creole tomato sliced
1 small purple onion sliced thin
⅓ cup chopped basil or basil leaves
Preheat oven to 350.
On a cookie sheet, pile grated cheese into circles about 3 inches in diameter. These should be no higher than ⅛ inch high. Bake, checking frequently. When cheese is melted and a little brown, take it out. These will cool into a cracker.
After the crisps have cooled, assemble a stack with first a crisp, then onion, then tomato, topped by basil.
Repeat until the stack is high but not in danger of falling over.
Drizzle with olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar.
Garnish with basil on top.