There is much more to tomatoes than your typical red beefsteak. Don’t get me wrong; I love the common vine ripened, red, juicy beefstakes. But the heirloom varieties that are coming out this year are truly special. They are often whimsically shaped, boldly colored from mahogany/black to creamy ivory, and are filled with a rich, complex and sometimes fruity taste.
Heirloom tomatoes are basically those varieties whose seeds have been passed down over many years, sometimes as much as a century. They are generally considered to be more delicate and flavorful than traditional types, although that may be a matter of opinion.
Each heirloom variety has its own unique taste and texture. As color varies, so often does acidity and sugar levels. Generally, red varieties are more acidic with more bite, whereas yellow types often have more sugar content and can taste sweeter. Other colors (like black or pink) will have varying levels of acidity and sweetness.
Throughout this year’s distribution season we will be tasting as many as 36 heirloom delicacies. Here is a sampling:
- Cherokee Green—beefsteak shaped and green or sometimes even orangish with occasional striping when ripe. Described as “bold”, “complex” and moderately “acidic”.
- Cherokee Purple –a variant of Cherokee Green, this tomato is also beefsteak shaped but turns a dusty rose to purplish/red to even a blackish hue when ripe. It is often described as “dense”, “complex”, somewhat “smoky”, “juicy”, and “sweet”.
- Black Krim–Dark reddish to purple with green shoulders, interior purple to black. Flavor is “rich” and “salty”
- Striped German–large, yellow and red with beautiful marbled interior. Complex fruity flavor, smooth texture.
- Pineapple: Super sweet red streaked yellow tomato with a fruity taste. Often get large and funky shaped so harder for uniform slicing.
- Redfield Beauty—pink, medium-sized. Slightly tart and good for slicing.
- Valencia—beautiful orange color, meaty with full tomato flavor and few seeds
Heirloom tomatoes can be prepared like any other type of tomato, but their unique qualities make them great in raw preparations where their colors and shapes can really shine. Showcase them sliced on a platter with salt and pepper and maybe a drizzle of a good olive oil and/or balsamic (see recipe below). Try them in your favorite salad or sandwich. One of my favorite snacks is an open-faced sandwich of whole-wheat toast spread with hummus and topped with ripe sliced heirloom tomato.
While heirloom tomatoes may scream to be served raw like art on a plate, they are absolutely delicious made into sauces or stews. Of course, cooking them with eggplant and zucchini, as in ratatouille or caponata is simply divine. See the recipe below for a flavorful sauce using both tomatoes and eggplant.
Heirloom tomatoes also make great gazpacho (a traditional Italian raw soup) or Mexican salsa although mixing colors can lead to an interesting final hue; however don’t let the color put you off. The taste is divine.
As I mentioned last week, do bring a low sided box or container to transport your delicate tomatoes or you will risk smashed fruit and accelerated rot. To store and ripen tomatoes, keep them at room temperature out of direct sunlight (which will soften them). Placing tomatoes in a closed paper bag for a few days can hasten the ripening process. However, once ripe or cut, tomatoes need to be eaten or preserved quickly. Tomatoes should never be refrigerated, as this tends to make them mushy and unappealing.
Since tomatoes are abundant at this time of year, many look for ways to preserve them. For dry storage, canning is a popular option. Just make sure to follow food safety guidelines when using this method. For information on canning tomatoes, check out canningfoodrecipes.
Freezing tomatoes is a cinch and can be done a number of ways, although the resultant product is good only for cooked preparation. The easiest way is to wash, dry and place whole, unpeeled tomatoes on a baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen they can be transferred to a re-sealable container. Supposedly, once defrosted, the peels will slip right off. However, many people choose to freeze tomatoes that have been pre-peeled. Typically, they are then left whole or crushed, as for sauce.
Peeling tomatoes is easy. Basically they just need to come into contact with boiling water for 10-30 seconds or so, either in a pot of or in a container with the water poured over them. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes after the time is up and the skins will easily peel off.
Another wonderful way to preserve and enjoy tomatoes is oven roasting. This is not quite the same as drying, which requires a day in the oven or special equipment and eventual rehydration. Oven roasted tomatoes are slow roasted at a medium temperature so that the juices are intensely concentrated and partially caramelized. This leads to plump, moist, and incredibly tasty morsels that can be used immediately, or frozen for later use. They are amazing in pastas, pizzas, sauces, on crostini, or in salads. You simply must try this method!!
Fine Cooking has a nice article with a recipe for slow roasted tomatoes that is wonderful FineCooking.. (Look to the right of the article screen for the recipe icon). While there is a lot of olive oil used in this particular version, the oil left over after roasting is a delicious perk—great for dipping bread into or adding to recipes. However, if you wish to forgo this guilty pleasure for health reasons, the amount of oil can simply be reduced by as much as one half. You might also want to reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees, as 350 often leads to burned bottoms.
A note on seeding tomatoes…many recipes require seeded tomatoes. There are two main reasons for this. The seed compartments contain a large portion of the water in a tomato so removing them helps keep down the water content in the finished product. Further, seeds are often removed to preserve the visual appeal of a dish.
To seed a tomato, cut it in half and gently squeeze over the sink (or a sieve placed over a bowl if you wish to catch the tomato juice). Sometimes it helps to poke a finger or knife into the flesh to get through all the seed compartments.
I have been wanting to try savory granola for a long time. A recent recipe in Food and Wine Magazine (July 2016)(click here) inspired this idea of putting savory granola on top of heirloom tomatoes. However, the granola and vinaigrette recipes are mine.
I opted to use a “flax egg” to hold this granola together versus an egg white (or sugar) to appeal to folks who are sensitive to eggs and/or who are trying to limit sugars in their diet. Feel free to use either as desired (substitute the flax and water with 1 egg white or use about 1/4 liquid sweeter like honey or agave). Note that granola made with a flax egg is more delicate than granola made with egg white.
The granola recipe is infinitely adaptable. Remember the flavor profiles I gave you a few weeks ago and get creative. For example, if looking to use a balsamic vinaigrette on the tomatoes, substitute Italian spice mix for the chile powder, pine nuts or hazelnuts for the pumpkin seeds, and fennel seeds for the cumin and coriander for a more Italian flair. Sesame seeds, ginger and peanuts would make a delicious Asian granola if you opt for a miso or sesame vinaigrette.
Note that savory granola is a very healthful snack as it forgoes the sugar found in traditional granola recipes. Use it on plain yogurt, as a substitute for croutons on salads, or to add a nice crunchy topping to soups.
– 3-4 heirloom tomatoes of differing colors, cut lenghtwise into 1/2″ slices
– 1/2 recipe Peach Vinaigrette
– about 1/3-1/2 cups Savory Granola
– salt and pepper to taste
Lay tomato slices in a single layer on a platter, alternating colors decoratively. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Directly before serving, drizzle with peach vinaigrette and sprinkle granola evenly over tomatoes. Serve immediately or granola gets soggy.
Savory Granola Makes about 2 cups
– 1 cup old fashioned oats
– 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
– 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
– 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
– 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
– 2 teaspoons chile powder
– 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
– 4 tablespoons warm water
– 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325 F.. In a small bowl mix ground flaxseed with warm water. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or until it form a gelatinous mixture. Whisk in olive oil until well blended.
- In a separate bowl, stir together oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chile powder, and salt. Stir in flaxseed mixture until oats and seeds are evenly and well coated. Pour out onto a rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment or silpat and spread mixture evenly into a thin sheet. Bake without stirring for 20 minutes or until mixture is light golden brown with some darker color on the edges. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Carefully break up granola into small chunks (mixture is very delicate so use a light hand). Transfer to an airtight container where granola will keep for 1-2 weeks.
Peach Vinaigrette Makes about 1 cup
– 1 medium very ripe peach, pitted and chopped
– 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
– 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1/8 teaspoon salt
– dash freshly ground black pepper
– 1-2 tablespoon water, as needed
Place all ingredients except water into a blender and blend until smooth. Stir in one tablespoon water. Taste for level of tartness. If too thick and/or too tart, add another tablespoon of water.
Puttanesca is a traditional sauce of Naples that is known for its intense flavor and some spiciness due to the addition of olives, capers, and red pepper flakes. In this version, I add eggplant to give it a full, meaty flavor. This sauce is great on pasta, whole grains (like cooked bulgur or quinoa), or zucchini noodles. Feel free to substitute some or all of the eggplant with zucchini.
Eggplant Puttanesca Sauce
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
– 3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
– 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, or 2 minced anchovy fillets
– 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
– 1 large eggplant, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
– 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
– 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to your desired heat level
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons capers
– 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained and sliced
– 2 teaspoons honey
– 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add anchovy paste or minced anchovies, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, eggplant and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender. Remove lid and turn up heat to medium. Add capers and olives. Boil, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens to desired level. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Taste and add additional salt or honey as needed.