All Hail the Tomato! Jaleo’s Annual Tomatino Festival

Every August, thousands of Spaniards and thrill-seeking tourists descend upon the small town of Buñol to take part in what can only be described as the world’s largest food fight. Ripe tomatoes are launched into the sky like missiles, and when the air finally clears, you’re left with the type of mess that would send your mother into shock. It’s not an experience for the faint or white-shirted. So for those of us who’d rather not paint the town red, Jaleo’s Eighth Annual Tomatina Festival provides an alternative palate-pleasing opportunity to appreciate this juicy red fruit.

The two-week festival, which began on September 19th and continues through October 2nd, showcases the versatility of the tomato. José Andrés and his culinary team have crafted a variety of exquisite tomato-based dishes—many of which include ingredients from the Penn Quarter farmers’ market—that will grace the menus of all three Jaleo locations. For anyone who’s considered the convenience of canned tomatoes, here’s an incentive to stay fresh.

Plymouth Gin, tomato water, lemon and opal basil

Sopa fría de tomates y fresas con yogur y pistachios
Cold tomato and strawberry soup with yogurt and pistachios

Ensalada de tomates heirloom y chicharrones
A salad of heirloom tomatoes with pork cracklings

Tomates rellenos de ajo blanco con granizado de tomate
Campari tomatoes stuffed with ajo blanco mousse and tomatoe granitée

Lata de tomates marinados con sandía y queso de cabra
A can of marinated tomatoes with watermelon and goat cheese

Tomates heirloom al natural con ensalada y anchoas
Heirloom tomatoes with Spanish anchovies

Tomate heirloom, ventresca de atún y huevo 63
Heirloom tomatoes with Spanish tuna belly and slow cooked egg

Pinchitos de sandía con caviar de tomate
Watermelon and tomato caviar skewers

Tomates verdes fritos con queso Malden
Fried green tomatoes with Valdeón cheese

Cordero con tomate confitado
Grilled lamb with tomato confit

Bizcocho de aceite de oliva con tomates y fresas
Olive oil cake with strawberry, tomato sorbet and yogurt mousse

Each dish takes a different approach to the tomato, and the meal was as epicurean as it was educational. I’ve never quite warmed to the idea of cold soup, but the chilled tomato and strawberry soup was a revelation. The sweetness of the strawberries balanced the acidity of both fruits, and the creamy bit of yogurt at the bottom of the bowl provided a savory finish to a light and refreshing dish. The heirloom tomatoes with Spanish tuna belly gave me a chance to feast up the “perfect egg,” which is slow-cooked for an hour in a 63 degree Celsius water bath. (Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais was a fan of such culinary tricks.) It was a tasty dish, but the paper-thin tomato had the appearance of a lackluster garnish.

The best, as always, was saved for last. The olive oil cake with strawberries, tomato sorbet and yogurt mousse ended the meal on a high note. The mild cake was the perfect base for the rich flavor of the tomato sorbet, which seemed to encompass a variety of red fruit flavors, including raspberries and pomegranates. I’ve never licked a dessert bowl–in public–but now I understand the desire.