by Nancy Sweet, director, culinary program and operations, LLCC
Have you ever been at the farmers’ market and noticed that some of the tomatoes didn’t look quite as “perfect” as those you might find at the grocery store? Green, yellow, purple, big, small, perfectly round, or oddly misshapen, these tomatoes just didn’t seem to fit the norm. For me, I see these tomatoes as absolutely beautiful, and I know they are equally delicious. These “different” tomatoes are called heirloom tomatoes, and they are valued for their variety and flavor. Names range from green zebra to black brandywine to Cherokee purple to black cherry.
The term heirloom, in reference to tomatoes, has several characteristics. The plant comes from a seed that has been saved from the fruit of an open-pollinated plant. This allows the next plant to be identical to the parent – nothing changes in the genes. This means that the plant keeps all the “good” qualities – like delicious, big, real tomato flavors and a variety of interesting shapes and colors, but also keeps what many might consider to be “bad” qualities – not as resistant to disease and shorter shelf life. The seed needs to be at least 50 years old, and often times this happens from families passing seeds down from one generation to the next, many times on small family farms.
Recently, as more and more people become interested in where their food comes from and the hows and whys associated with that process, heirlooms have been making a comeback, so to speak. The tomatoes you find in the grocery store have been bred very specifically to allow them to be aesthetically pleasing, highly durable and to have a long shelf life. This is needed as these tomatoes are routinely shipped thousands of miles from grower to end user. The tomato must be able to withstand that journey and still look good while waiting on the shelf to be bought. However, these hybrid “factory” tomatoes that have undergone cross pollination have hardly any flavor, and the texture certainly leaves a lot to be desired.
For me, I stick to fresh tomatoes during the summer months, and buy pounds upon pounds of the heirloom ones at the market. During the winter when we don’t have access to those beauties, I avoid most recipes that call for fresh tomatoes. Instead, I switch to heartier tomato-based recipes, like braised country pork ribs with tomato ragu and use canned San Marzano tomatoes. This fall, we will have an article on braising with that recipe!
This is a traditional Tuscan summer salad with toasted bread and delicious tomatoes. If you have day old bread that needs used up, this is a great way to do it.
4-5 slices French or country bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
1½ pounds heirloom tomatoes, sliced and chopped into various sizes and shapes
1 medium cucumber, peeled if desired, and diced
½ red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
¼ cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 TBS capers
2 TBS red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
8 oz fresh mozzarella, chopped
10-15 fresh basil leaves, torn
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Toast bread in a 400 degree oven for 6-8 minutes, until dried out.
Toss together tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, pepper, olives, capers, bread cubes and vinegar. Stir in mozzarella, basil and olive oil and serve.
Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Tomato Vinaigrette
2 slices Texas toast
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound assorted heirloom tomatoes
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, or chives
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
3 slices bacon, diced and cooked
Brush both sides of Texas toast bread with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toast in skillet on medium heat on both sides until golden brown. Remove and set one slice on each plate.
For tomato vinaigrette, slice a tomato in half crosswise. Using a box grater, rub the cut, fleshy side of the tomato on the grater until all of the tomato has been pressed through (except for the skin – this should be left in your hand.) Add the shallots and mustard to the tomato juice/pulp. Season with some salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in remaining olive oil.
Chop remaining tomatoes and place in a bowl and toss with vinaigrette, fresh herbs, blue cheese, and bacon. Spoon over bread for an open-faced sandwich.
3 large heirloom tomatoes
1 cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed
½ red onion
¼ cup fresh herbs, like parsley, cilantro, and basil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Herbed Ricotta Crostini (recipe below)
Core tomatoes and rough chop them. Rough chop cucumber, bell pepper and onion, and toss into bowl of food processor along with tomatoes and herbs. Process in food processor until smooth. Mix in vinegar and olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in salt and pepper. The gazpacho will take a good bit of salt as tomatoes can absorb lots of salt. Allow soup to chill at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight to help flavors develop.
Serve in bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and the crostini
Herbed Ricotta Crostini
½ cup ricotta
2 tablespoons fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, basil, or thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 baguette, sliced on the diagonal
Mix ricotta, herbs, and olive oil, and season generously with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
Toast bread slices in 350 degree oven for about 5 -6 minutes. Once toasted, spread ricotta mixture on bread and serve with gazpacho.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 786-4613 or visit http://www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts/ .
Cooking or food questions?