Ask Chef Phyllis:
I hear a lot about heirloom tomatoes these days. They’re very expensive in the supermarket, but I must admit…delicious. What is an heirloom tomato? Our short growing season limits heat-loving crops, so I buy them at farmers markets in the summer. Do you have some recipes using heirlooms?
—Marianna Appledorn from Cottage Grove, Minnesota
For most of the year, tomatoes are really just a sorry excuse for the fruit (commonly mistaken for a vegetable) that was once known to the French as the pomme d’amour, or apple of love. Let me say that anyone who has ever tasted a vine-ripened heirloom—or any variety of homegrown tomato—knows that the “love” thing makes a lot of sense.
Heirlooms are a nonhybrid, self-pollinating variety usually passed down through families or home gardeners, sometimes for generations. Well-known varieties include San Marzano, Green Zebra, and Brandywine. There are many opinions on how to save the seeds, but every year my grandfather would smear the seeds and juice from a half-cut tomato on a lunch-sized brown paper bag and dry them in the garage all fall and winter. He labeled them crudely, calling the heirloom variety his “ugly” one. I wish you could see, as I do, the proud display of hanging bags that represented his future garden.
Heirloom varieties lack the genetic mutation that gives other tomatoes their appealing orange-red hue. But to our delight, heirlooms grow in almost every color, from striped green, yellow, and bright orange to very dark red and even purple. All are deliciously thin-skinned too.
Try the heirlooms and garden-grown tomatoes in the recipes that follow to experience your own summer of love.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Blue Cheese
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup chopped green onions, white and green parts
10 medium heirloom tomatoes of assorted colors, sliced thinly
1 small red onion or shallot, sliced paper thin
2 celery stalks, green tops sliced on the diagonal
Pinch of sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups crumbled blue cheese (the best you can afford)
8 slices crusty bread (optional)
- Combine minced garlic, olive oil, and halved grape or cherry tomatoes with chopped green onions in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Overlap heirloom tomato slices in concentric circles on a platter, alternating colors. Scatter the red onion or shallot and celery on top.
- Spoon the tomato, green onion, and olive oil mixture over the platter. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then crumbled blue cheese. Serve with crusty bread if desired.
Gazpacho with Avocado Puree
This is the best tasting and easiest cold summer soup you can make.
5 lbs. very ripe homegrown or heirloom tomatoes, peeled (optional), seeded, liquids reserved
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
¾ cup finely chopped red onion
⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons lime juice
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
½ teaspoon each sea salt and black pepper, or to taste
3 Haas avocados, peeled and pitted (reserve one for garnish)
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced (protect your hands if you have sensitive skin)
4 tablespoons olive oil for garnish
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Special equipment: large food processor
- Place the tomatoes in a large food processor and pulse to a coarse puree. For a thicker soup, drain the tomato puree through a large sieve. Transfer to a large vessel.
- Add vegetable or chicken broth, red onion, ⅔ cup lime juice, garlic, flat-leaf parsley, chives, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well and taste.
- Chill for at least 2 hours. If the mixture is too thick, add the reserved juice a little at a time until you have the desired consistency.
- Blend together 2 avocados with minced serrano peppers, 2 tablespoons lime juice, salt, and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Ladle the well-chilled gazpacho into shallow bowls. Top with avocado puree and drizzle with olive oil. If desired, garnish with additional avocado slices and cilantro leaves.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products