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What’s in Season: Summer Tomato Recipes

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Fresh from the Garden

A garden-ripe, fresh tomato is the absolute ultimate in summer produce. Out of season tomatoes are flavorless rock-hard orbs shipped from some other hemisphere. Out of season tomatoes are nothing if not a pure disappointment. In season, tomatoes are bursting with flavor, juicy and luscious. Fresh tomatoes are only ever good in summer. There is nothing as wonderful as the full, rich, almost wine-like flavor of a vine ripe tomato. So, when it’s tomato season, I heartily endorse eating those glorious ripe ones as often as possible.

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Tomato Sandwich

There’s not a gardener that hasn’t been tempted to devour one fresh off the vine, still warm from the hot summer sun. Southerners for generations have basked in the spell-binding glory of a Tomato Sandwich, the magnificent sum that is far grander than its simple parts of cheap squishy white bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth, sliced beefsteak, and mayonnaise. (BTW I am convinced tomato sandwiches are served as a welcome snack at the Pearly Gates — or at least the Southern entrance.) Salads made of thickly sliced tomato with sweet rings of Vidalia onion have been a key element in many picnics and now, with better markets and cheese selections, sit side-by-side with platters filled with sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella and drizzled with Balsamic vinegar. A slice of ripe tomato on a grilled burger transforms it from a simple sandwich to something spectacular. The holy trinity BLT can be truly rapturous. The month of August is high season, the perfect time to celebrate summer.

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Tomatoes and Mayonnaise

In my opinion, there is nothing as wonderful as sliced tomato and mayonnaise with a simple sprinkling of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Undoubtedly, the star is the tomato, but the supporting actor that carries the show is mayonnaise. First of all, you have to recognize that mayonnaise is a food group in the South. And, let’s face it — Tomato Pie is mayonnaise and tomatoes topped with melted cheese. There’s a reason that heart attack on a plate tastes so good. While I now douse my tomatoes in olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle them with herbs, when I want that taste that instantly satisfies, I reach for a jar of mayonnaise. Just in case that’s not your thing here’s a smattering of other recipes for you to try:

Mashama Bailey’s Green Tomato Chowchow
Nathalie Dupree’s Tomato Conserve
Sandra Gutierrez Shrimp and Tomato Empanadas
Rebecca Lang’s Cathead Biscuits with Tomato Gravy 
Ronni Lundy’s Tomato Pie 
Anne Quatrano’s Tomato Toast

I’m sharing with you a recipe for panzanella. Panzanella is an Italian bread salad typically made with stale bread, chunks of tomatoes, and herbs. Some fancy Southern magazines and websites will try to make panzanella extra-Southern by making it out of cornbread. I like that fine, but I think we will all agree, there’s something magical about white bread and tomatoes — and you can’t get much more Southern than adding mayonnaise.  I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


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Southern Panzanella

Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American, Italian, Southern
Servings: 6


  • ½ loaf stale white country bread diced
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes diced
  • 1 cucumber halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 green onion sliced
  • 1 small sweet pepper seeded, cored, and diced
  • 4 slices very thinly sliced country ham or prosciutto chopped more for garnish
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise or to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, and chives
  • handful cherry tomatoes halved, for garnish
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Put everything in a bowl. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Top with some of the reserved ham and cherry tomatoes. Serve once the juices have been absorbed a bit, at least 30 minutes.

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I am not a doctor, RD, health professional, or WW representative. I am simply sharing what works for me. My blog is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals.


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Virginia Willis cookbooks

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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