Whatever you want to call them — we think Fruit of the Heirlooms are one of summer’s most delicious gifts from the garden. Sure, they can be odd-shaped & come in strange color combo’s, but they grab attention at the farmers’ market, in the produce aisle, and on our tongues! So, while we may not agree on pronunciation, you will enjoy a few facts about this flavorful fruit and some tasty ways to use them in your kitchen, from our own Executive Chef, Shahan Mouradyan. Bon Appetit!
One of the most utilized and favorite ingredient among chefs all over the world is fresh-for-the-picking right now, during the heat of the summer. Intro fade-in… the heirloom tomato. This vibrantly colored, sweet, and refreshing ball of joy is one of the most versatile ingredients when in season. Weather is warm? Perfect – let’s make a Cubed Heirloom Tomato Salad with fresh-shaved Grana Padano Cheese, thin sliced Fennel, Kalamata Olives and White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Breezy Summer night? No problem – let’s put together a Pasta Primavera with lightly sautéed Heirloom Tomatoes, Summer Squash and fresh-picked Basil. Whatever you are in the mood for, the heirloom tomato is going to be a great addition to your table. With its bright, spirited, playful colors and sweet flavor, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face and your guests’.
(photo from: www.loveandlemons.com)
Some of you might be asking; what is the difference between a regular tomato and an heirloom tomato? For starters, the heirloom tomato is much more dynamic and flamboyant than your everyday tomato. Beautiful varieties such as the Green Zebra, Ananas Noire and German Red Strawberry will stand out over any average, run-of-the-mill red tomato. The heirloom tomato also has a rougher and more rugged look to it, with odd and intriguing shapes that will make even the most experienced grocery shopper stop and admire in their perfectly ripened glory.
The name “heirloom” comes from the types of seeds that are used to grow the plants. Heirloom seeds are passed down from generation to generation and date back for decades. You will often see heirloom beets, radishes, apples and all kinds of fruits and veggies trying to entice people with their heirloom names.
Over the years, the heirloom tomato has gained a lot of popularity. This may be because more and more chefs are using them on their menus because of their look and flavor. Perhaps also because of the relatively new “foodie” culture we have developed here in the United States. Ten years ago, if I had given the average person an heirloom tomato, they would probably think it was deformed or sick and throw it away.
My grandfather has a vegetable garden and loves growing his tomatoes every summer. Awhile back, I gave him some heirloom seeds to plant (the Ananas Noire variety, which has a beautiful golden color with hints of red and green slurred throughout the tomato). A few months later I came back to see how the plants were doing, and sure enough he said that they were bad, deformed, and “weird”. Needless to say, he threw away about a 100 pounds of this golden produce. As you can imagine, I felt like a little kid that had his stash of candy taken away from him. I was devastated.
Since the heirloom tomato has now become more of a household name, growers have been producing some of the most beautiful varieties of the tomato that we have seen in years. Baby heirlooms have been a hot item and are perfect to use for a Caprese Skewer with fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Opal Basil and a light drizzle of Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Modena. Besides the baby heirlooms, growers have slowly started cross-breeding the already pretentious tomato. Their efforts are resulting in some of the most ravishing produce you will ever see.
Because we’re now in the heat of the summer season, keep an eye out for all types of heirloom tomatoes at our local farmers’ markets. They’ll sell out quick, so get them while you can! If you have never tried them, I highly suggest you take one home, slice its beautiful and juicy flesh with a serrated knife, put it on a arctic-white platter and season it ever so gently with Himalayan Rock Salt and fresh-cracked Pepper. Your mind, body and soul will thank you forever, and, I promise that you won’t feel the same way about a perfectly red, round, boring tomato ever again.
Executive Chef @ Above All Catering & Events