Maters, maters, maters. Our July classes were all about tomatoes.

We made all sorts of dishes that left us with wonderful taste experiences and ideas for the future. Here’s a look.

Soup. Summer. Really? In certain circumstances, it’s absolutely perfect.

There’s the famous Vichyssoise – potato, leeks and cream. Borscht – beets, cabbage and other veggies. Cucumber soup – cream or yogurt too or an Asian base. Avocado. Peas. Looks like there’s a list that continues to grow as we become more adventurous.

The cold soup close to the top of most lists is Gazpacho. This one is most often tomato based. We made several versions in class. Each added to the flavor profile. It was fun and eye-opening as we progressed – and tasted – four bowls.

Cucumber and sweet peppers found their way in every time. Other spicy additions made things more interesting. Bread and olive oil are traditional. We used them in some form in every version. And don’t forget garlic.

After all of that, we were all cold soup fans.

Salad? Absolutely. We often see tomatoes in a salad. Sometimes we make a salad using only tomatoes. But what we made was a traditional Italian tomato salad known as Panzanella. Here's what we did.

Lots of the same ingredients that were used in Gazpacho also found their way enter this tomato salad. Sure, we had tomatoes with garlic, salt and pepper.

We added a touch of liquid like white wine or the soup base we made earlier. The same sweet peppers went in here with a few green onion tops.

Just like before, bread and olive oil are part of this salad.

Since we used croutons with the soup, we use them here rather than grilling the bread. You simply mix everything together and make sure there's liquid in the salad along with another dose of olive oil. Fresh herbs finished the task.

A great addition to both dishes was a touch of Sherry vinegar. It adds a great flavor plus smells wonderful. One group added capers to their salad. Those added a nice pop.

That's it. The salad is just as easy as the soup. Both are great summer dishes that we really enjoyed.

A tomato tart was on the list. We made ours like a Tart Tatin. One that’s served upside down.

In individual pans, they were so pretty and easy to eat. Perfect as a first course. Plus, just as at home as a side. Real tomato flavor in a simple form.

The dish everybody looked to was tomato pie.

Some had made one and most had eaten one in some form before. Nobody was really happy with their experience. Most complained of watery texture and not the flavor they expected. Here’s how we made ours.

The extra water issue can be solved. The simple addition of breadcrumbs sure helps. But the texture change is a little off putting.

Some recipes call for draining tomato slices. This solves some of the problem by letting them drip in a colander to let excess liquid out. This is a help, but it doesn't solve the problem very well. New Orleans TV presenter Kevin Belton does this but then stacks tomato slices for his pie. There is still some water buildup and the texture does not make for easy eating.

The way we went about it was to oven-dry some of our tomatoes and let the fresh ones drip too. We took the seeds and pulp to make the process more effective. This also made a better eating texture. We boosted the sweetness with caramelized onion.

We left in the concept of the cheese topping. Ours was a 3-cheese blend made easy to use with the addition of garlic mayo. We garnished the top with dried tomato slices before baking.

The result was really good and quite rich. Looked mighty good too. Oh, we made a cobbler version that we liked better than the pie.

Tomatoes were a great experience. Thanks to Harman Family Farms for growing such great ones. We used over 50 pounds for the classes.

Next month we are exploring artichokes. Come join us.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.

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