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Heirloom tomatoes: Bold as nature intended

Assortment of heirloom tomatoes

Assortment of heirloom tomatoes

Whether you choose to plant in early March or have been anticipating their arrival in the markets, heirloom tomatoes are beginning to peek their misshapen, bulbous little heads out at us all over town. Almost grotesque in their beauty of multicolored stripes, smoky purple hues and vibrant greens and yellows, these amazing fruits’ quantity will only multiply as the summer ensues, much like the asexual reproduction of adding water to a gremlin. But unlike the gremlin, the addition of bright light (and the beautiful weather we have been having) will only increase the prosperity of these adorable little monsters.

Heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables traditionally refer to specific genetically evolved characteristics within the family that distinguish them from their cousins, such as specific disease resistance, flavor, color and shape. Aside from the most commonly sold tomatoes are heirloom varieties of eggplant, squashes and even radishes or beets to name a few. As the heirloom’s popularity has increased, the criteria for classification has become inversely proportional, allowing varieties whose phenotype might suggest an heirloom quality to be so called, while the genotype begs to differ.

But who cares really, except for the most orthodox of fruit and vegetable enthusiasts. If it looks cool and tastes good, nobody’s getting hurt and nobody is the wiser.

My focus is on heirloom tomatoes because they are the first to appear, are the most diverse and continually present throughout the season. When ripe, the tomatoes have subtle flavor differences from each other and an apparent sweetness that is lacking in the more traditional Roma or Vine Ripe sold throughout the year.

The best way to find out the difference is to simply taste them yourself, raw with a sprinkle of salt to cut the acidity. You will soon be an expert at differentiating between the Cherokee Purple, Yellow Brandywine, Green Zebra or Moskvich varieties.

Heirlooms are also cultivated as cherry-sized tomatoes. Trader Joe’s has a great variety pack right now sold for $3 a pint that I use for the included recipe. The variety pack is nice because it distributes a far greater spectrum of color and more flavors than using slices of the larger varieties and often is less expensive per pound.

These aesthetic beauties will dress up any of the traditional dishes you would have otherwise used raw red tomatoes for, such as a Caprese or House salad, but why not go further into more elaborate preparations that will show off both the beauty of the ingredients and the inventiveness of the cook.

Heirloom tomato tart

One such idea is using the basic flavor profile of a Caprese salad and making it into an heirloom tomato tart with pesto and mozzarella. Use a pre-bought nine-inch pie shell and bake as directed after cracking black pepper on the bottom. Then take 3/4 pound thinly sliced mozzarella, 1/2 cup pesto and 2 pounds sliced mixed heirloom tomatoes (that have been separated into thirds) and layer evenly to build the tart. It can be eaten at room temperature. You could even pour an egg and cream mix over the tart and bake it as a quiche.

Other ideas include pureeing the tomatoes and adding them to a Bloody Mary mix or hollowing the tomato into a cup and baking it filled with a summer vegetable succotash.

Dressing yourself and your dishes up in summer colors provides a sense of levity, confidence and charisma. Being bold is what nature intended! bobby’s recipe

bobby’s recipe

Heirloom tomato tarte tatin

Usually made with stone fruits, a tarte tartin is a traditional French dessert that would be the equivalent of a caramelized upside down tart.

Since stone fruits will not be available until the fall, and I love a tarte tatin, I have developed this recipe using the traditional technique of caramelizing fruit with sugar and butter, but substitute heirloom tomatoes as the star ingredient.

I had really bad luck using ceramic ramekins while testing this recipe. Instead, I swapped to a 6 ounce Pyrex soufflé cup that browned evenly, allowing me to see that the bottom was not burning and gave a nice, domed dimension to the dessert.

2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
Pastry dough – enough for six 4-inch circles

Heirloom tomato tarte tatin

Peirce the skin of the cherry tomatoes with a paring knife. Squeeze the tomatoes with your fingers over the sink to get rid of the seeds.

Butter six 6-ounce soufflé cups with 1/2 tablespoon butter each and sprinkle the bottom with a generous 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar.

Divide the seeded tomatoes evenly between the soufflé cups, place in a baking pan, loosely cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Remove the foil and press down on the tomatoes with the bottom of a glass or spoon to mold them into the cup. Bake uncovered for an additional hour.

Meanwhile, roll out enough pastry dough 1/8 inch thick and make six 4-inch circles. Poke the circles with a fork and refrigerate.

Remove the soufflé cups from the oven and place the pastry rounds gently on top (they should overlap). Using a butter knife, tuck the sides of the dough down around the baked tomatoes.

Increase the temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 15 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Sit for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and unmolding onto a plate. Serve warm with fresh made whipped cream and half a cherry tomato as a garnish.

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Posted by on May 17, 2011. Filed under Bobby R. Presents. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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