Well, it's definitely that season in River City, and the tomatoes just keep on coming! This is not the same difficult challenge as the zucchini/summer squash overload, as we never seem to tire of fresh, ripe tomatoes, particularly with the basil and other goodies in the herb garden thriving as well. But it's still a challenge to the chief cook and bottle washer to use them up in different and creative ways before they pile up in the larder.

In using them as an entree ingredient, I've fallen into three basic variations: Cooking them (which requires peeling); using them raw at room temperature as a salsa cruda (tossed with other ingredients over hot pasta); or, this summer's variation, a compromise, in which I sometimes peel them, sometimes not, and then make a SEMI-salsa cruda in which the tomatoes are warmed through or cooked gently but taken off while they still maintain some integrity.

I did a salsa cruda variation the other night, in the following fashion: Core and chop a couple of big fresh ones and set aside in a bowl to steep in their own juices with fresh-chopped basil and salt and pepper. Fire up the Weber grill and "barbecue" eight or 10 slices of fresh eggplant painted with olive oil and covered with fine-minced garlic. When the eggplant is done, creamy- textured and brown but not burnt, chop it and mix it in with the tomatoes while giving a thick slice of cooked ham (about 8 ounces) a quick sear on the grill. Whack the ham slice into cubes and mix them in with the waiting tomatoes and warm eggplant chunks, stir together, and top hot pasta with the result. (I used fresh green-chile pasta, but any spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, etc., would do.)

The grilled eggplant and ham gave the dish a smoky quality that I thought was particularly felicitious with the 1992 Handley Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Good match!