Before the end of summer sets in, take a trip to your neighborhood farmers market for a few Cherokee Purples, Striped Romans, Green Zebras, Vintage Wines, or Brandywines, while you still can. What are those, you might ask? And, why should I do that? So many questions . . .
The colorful names above are varieties of heirloom tomatoes, to be distinguished from regular, garden variety (pun intended), fruit-that-acts-like-a-vegetable tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes, also referred to as heritage tomatoes, usually have a shorter shelf life than conventional commercial tomatoes, and are generally more disease resistant. But, what an heirloom tomato lacks in shelf life, it more than makes up for in flavor, so it’s doubtful that you would want to keep them on the shelf for long anyway.
All tomatoes, heirloom or not, are antioxidant rich–containing 95% water, cancer thwarting lycopene, and serving as a good source of Vitamin C. Tomatoes also peak (are at their most flavorful) during summertime. They are one of the things I most look forward to during this time of year. There’s nothing worse than a wintertime tomato, whose bright red exterior and attached vines belie the utterly flavorless innards.
In addition to being good for you and tasting great, tomatoes are a feast for the eyes, as the fruit’s stunning colors exist in as wide a range as the variety of its flavor profiles. The best thing about heirlooms? You don’t need to be an expert in the kitchen to enjoy them in all of their glory.
Here are a few ways I like to have them:
1. Take a slice of a really good bread like a pain au levain or baguette, slather with great butter, top with heirloom tomato slices and finish with thyme, fleur de sel (a fancy way of saying sea salt) and black pepper. Sometimes I’ll use mayo instead of butter and there have been times that I’ve used both. The juice of the tomato soaks into the bread with the butter and/or mayo, providing a simple but exceedingly flavorful bite. Test the waters by substituting oregano for thyme, or an aioli for mayonnaise.
2. Do as the Italians do. They’ve mastered the use of flavorful tomatoes with the Caprese salad. I love to make a Caprese salad by combining top notch fresh mozzarella or burrata, basil, a peppery extra virgin olive oil (avocado oil works well too), and fleur de sel.
3. Step up your BLT game! I don’t eat
swine pork, so I often pair heirloom tomato slices and Boston bibb lettuce with duck or lamb bacon for a dope BLT. (I’ll share my process for making duck prosciutto in a separate article)
Easy right? Now, you have no excuse not to try an heirloom tomato or three, while they are still in peak season. So, before the summer comes to an end (you’ve still got a few weeks), I implore you to grab a few different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Your tastebuds will thank you! View the gallery below for additional ideas on how to use heirloom tomatoes this summer.
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