Tomatoes get short shrift as a cocktail ingredient. Granted, most vegetables do (yes, I know it's technically a fruit but come on), but tomatoes themselves get pigeonholed in the realm of bloody marys and marias, red snappers and micheladas, and don't get to branch out. Those are glorious cocktails, but can feel a little heavy for a summer tipple. That's because they tend to rely on premade tomato juice rather than straight-up fresh-from-the-farmstand (or your own garden) tomatoes. A quick spin in the blender or food processor—and then through a strainer along with lemon juice—leaves behind the clear, clean taste of tomatoes without anything to weigh them down.
But we're just getting started. Tomato's best summer fun buddies are obviously corn and basil, and those come in the form of corn whiskey (ideally classic, aged Mellow Corn, which is bottled in bond at 100 proof and made with 81 percent corn in the mashbill so the flavor really pops through), and a simple syrup made with a handful of basil. Sweet Italian basil is just fine, but if you can find Thai basil, it adds a slightly spicy anise note that just makes the whole thing sing.
There's really no point in making just a glass of this. Craft a whole pitcher and throw a party, or bring it to your next potluck—along with a fair warning about its potency. Fun tip for easy, non-sloshy transport: If you have an empty liquor bottle around after making this, rinse it out, funnel the drink in there, cap, and go. You show up with a pre-batched cocktail in hand, and don't hog your host's precious kitchen space.
Corn and Tomato Punch
Makes a generous pitcher
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup Thai basil leaves
3 medium tomatoes
2 cups fresh lemon juice
2 cups triple sec
3 cups corn whiskey
Sparkling wine (optional)
To make the simple syrup: Stir together sugar and water in a saucepan until completely dissolved. Add basil leaves and simmer for 10 minutes until thickened. Cool, remove leaves, and set aside.
Quarter tomatoes, place in a food processor or blender, and whir until completely liquefied. Combine with the lemon juice, and pour through cheesecloth or a mesh strainer to remove the solids. If you'd care to be especially picky, re-strain through a finer mesh strainer.
Stir together basil simple syrup, tomato and lemon juice, triple sec, and corn whiskey. Serve over ice in old fashioned glasses, or in highball glasses topped with sparkling wine if you have no responsibilities for the rest of the day.