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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!


Tomato Recipe on

Southern Panzanella

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American, Italian, Southern
Servings: 6
Author: Virginia Willis


  • 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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Copyright © 2020 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. (That means I make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.)

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has made chocolate chip cookies with Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and beguiled celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Bill Clinton, and Julie Chrisley with her cooking -- but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Virginia is a chef instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen and author of Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South, Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra, and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence. 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, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, 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 and approachable spirit. Learn more about Virginia and follow her traveling exploits at

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