Sunday, November 24, 2013

Memories of Summer Heirloom Tomatoes

The leaves have turned.  There’s a chill in the air and the offer at the farmers market is shifting towards brussel sprouts, cabbage, and oh so many types of squash.  We’re now past high tomato season so I thought this was the perfect time to look back on all the ways we prepared and enjoyed a bumper crop of New Jersey heirloom tomatoes.  During the Summer, we came to know the Brandywines, Green Zebras, Speckled Romans, and the good old Beefsteak.  It was a relief to see this season’s heirloom crop looking so good as the weather this past summer has been unusual.  After a long, cold, and wet spring, we had a scorcher for a couple of weeks in June, with temperatures soaring into the high 90s, and that was followed by an unusually cool July and August.

The season for heirloom tomatoes is short and they don’t really keep well so the cook’s challenge is to incorporate them into every meal while they’re in season without eating them the same way over and over again.  A further challenge is how to prepare them in interesting ways without veering too far away from perfection in their uncooked state.  While most would agree that the best way to eat a juicy heirloom is on thick chewy bread with nothing more than salt, pepper, and mayo; there are many ways to savor and pair these delightful beauties.

We ate a steady diet of heirlooms at lunch and dinner for about four days at the height of the season.  Here’s what we ate along with instructions for these easy to make dishes.

Brandywine Tomato and Tuna in Iceberg Lettuce Boats:  How simple does it get?  Iceberg lettuce, caned tuna, tomato chunks, olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest, salt and pepper. 

Grilled New York Strip with a Tricolor Salad of Basil Leaves, Fresh Mozzarella, and Speckled Romans:  It can get simpler!  A grilled steak and the most tasty tricolor --- all seasoned with good olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper.

Grilled Tuna Steak and Brandywine Tomato Jam:  I gave these tomato chunks a quick sauté mostly to take the edge off the onions and garlic.  Again, the seasoning was good olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper.

Sliders with Onion, Basil, and Brandywine Tomato Slices with Melted Gorgonzola:  This was one refined and satisfying burger!

Grilled Ratatouille and Grilled Pork Chops:  This was the surprise dish of the summer.  The combination of grilled zucchini, onions, peppers, eggplant and fresh tomato chunks was simple as well as balanced.  Grilled vegetables can become dehydrated and saturated with oil.  When combined with fresh tomato, finely chopped garlic, and chili peppers, the grilled vegetables become rehydrated and plump by absorbing the juice from the tomatoes.  We ate this ratatouille for about a week in a variety of ways.  The best was with leftover grilled pork chops that were heated with the ratatouille.  The chops absorbed some of the juice from the ratatouille and were, as a result, so succulent.  For added richness, stir in a chunk or two young goat cheese or gorganzola. 

Spaghetti in Heirloom Cherry Tomato Sauce with Onions:  This is the perfect dish when you just can’t eat the tomatoes fast enough and your heirloom beauties are no longer so beautiful.  The sauce starts with a sauté of onions in butter and olive oil until the onions are soft, sweet, and jammy.  Then add heirloom cherry tomato halves, a healthy splash of Sauvignon Blanc, some chopped herbs, salt and pepper.  Cook until the tomato skins pop.  Toss with al dente linguini and plenty of parmasean cheese! 

Another heirloom tomato season has ended and it’s time to get excited about getting creative with acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, yams, and sweet potatoes!

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