Come July, the centerpiece on Kentucky chef Levon Wallace’s kitchen table is a bowl of fresh-picked black cherry heirloom tomatoes. He tucks in a spoon so the entire family can snack away. Even his kids, who are eight and five, eat them like candy. “I’ll never forget the first time I ate an heirloom tomato,” says Wallace, executive chef at Louisville’s Proof on Main. “My mind was blown.” The dark-burgundy variety has a sweet yet slightly smoky flavor and is usually one of the first tomatoes to ripen. “As soon as black cherries start showing up, I know the avalanche of tomato varieties is on its way,” Wallace says. At the restaurant, he lightly roasts them to concentrate the flavor—perfect on striped bass. At home he recommends halving them and tossing with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, and torn basil. “Put it on top of a crusty baguette with a little fresh cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese.” Look for black cherries at farmers’ markets throughout the South, or plant your own (seed packets are sold at rareseeds.com). Just be warned: If you follow Wallace’s lead and put out a community bowl, you’d best not venture far from the table. They won’t last long.
What’s Also in Season: Sweet and mild peppers
With a barely there hint of heat, this “thin-walled” variety is ideal for quick roasting and frying. Eat them straight out of the oven or pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Alternatively, try stuffing them with meat or cheese—at about five inches long they are perfect appetizer portions. Cubanelles are most often green at the market, though occasionally you’ll see riper red peppers. Neither trumps the other, so grab a handful either way.
Mellow Star Peppers
Use this shishito-style variety in a summer stir-fry packed with fresh-from-the-ground veggies, or in a green salsa. It has thin, tender skin and flesh, and lives up to its name with a laid-back sweetness that makes for easy eating. Like the Cubanelle, the Mellow Star ripens from green to red, but you’ll most often find it in the green stage. A wrinkly appearance is normal, but avoid soft spots or blemishes.