Heirloom recipes for heirloom tomatoes: Janet Wynne Evans provides dishes and wines for this month's toms, two ways
There's a national awareness day, or even a week for everything we eat and drink these days from asparagus to zinfandel. Some of them feel more like marketing exercise than seasonal celebration. That National Tomato Week, for instance, takes place in May makes no sense to me as a consumer, when so many other riches are competing for attention on my plate, some of them all too fleetingly.
Because I dream (and it is, usually, a dream) of a home-grown tomato that has lingered long in the sun, summer must be very well advanced before I get excited enough to make it the star ingredient of Flavour of the Month. If the love-apples should go all pear-shaped, and twice as acid, they can always be slowly roasted into submission and dressed to kill (in a good way) as below. At least I can say I tried, especially if my offerings have the built-in wow factor of being multicoloured.
Heritage or heirloom tomato varieties are no longer minority sport. They have definitely arrived, not only in our seed catalogues, but on the shelves of any greengrocer with his finger on more than the pulse. Step forward the deeply ridged Mexican Tlacolula, the faintly striped Green Zebra, the curvaceous, almost purple (and highly topical) Ukrainian Black Krim, the Chocolate Cherry, the luscious yellow Lollipop or the über-cool Roman Striped, on which a pair of Ray-Bans wouldn't look amiss.
A first impression is one of genetic engineering gone mad, but it aint necessarily so. These obscure, often pretty old and doubtless demanding varieties have (hitherto) fallen outside the mass-commercial imperative to breed for uniformity and physical perfection at the expense of natural sweetness and concentration. The nonno of all heirloom tomatoes, Italy's San Marzano is proof of that as anyone who has eaten a tricolore on the Amalfi coast may have noticed. Realistically, of course, our climate is probably better suited to the confidently-named Sub Arctic Plenty!
At the very least, these colourful characters will make any tomato dish look twice as appetising, though the two recipes below will conjure summer magic from much less exciting varieties. Finding the wine to handle them is a bit trickier (see below) but would you handle your heirlooms with anything but care?
Janet Wynne Evans
Two Heirloom Recipes
As ever with these deceptively simple salads, the end result relies on the quality of the other ingredients - wine vinegar that's balanced and mellow not brash or harsh and, when it comes to the mozzarella, a ball of the real buffalo McCoy either from Campania or from the excellent artisanal dairies now making this cheese here. In the glass, a delicate 'bite' between sweetness and acidity is needed to work with these qualities in the tomatoes themselves. Southern Italian whites, fruity rosés and reds are always reliable options, but a number of Alsace varieties - notably gewurztraminer or pinot blanc with a dollop of generous auxerrois - are surprisingly good too.
Stephane Reynaud's Mozzarella and Slow-Cooked Tomatoes
(From 365 Good Reasons to Sit Down and Eat by Stéphane Reynaud, Murdoch Books, 2010)
I often dip into this day-by-day trawl through the gastronomic year. The author is chef-proprietor of Villa 9 Trois in Montreuil - the Paris suburb, alas, not The Society's French outpost in the Pas-de-Calais, or I'd be there all the time. His writing is as amusing as his cooking is deadly serious. In the best French tradition, every recipe is dedicated to the saint whose feast day it is. On this occasion, we give thanks to Sainte Mariette, an Italian martyr of relatively recent vintage.
Cook's Note: There are two obvious temptations below for the thrifty, the calorie-conscious or the impatient among us. One is to reduce the quantity of oil, and the other is to shorten the cooking time because the tomatoes look ready, or about to collapse after a couple of hours. Resist on both counts. The tomatoes won't fall apart and the extra time infuses them with a truly astonishing depth of sweetness and herby concentration, facilitated by their bath of fragrant oil, which makes for a fabulous combination with the creamy, salty cheese.
Serves 6 as a light main course with crusty bread to mop up the juices.
- 12 heirloom tomatoes
- 8 garlic cloves
- 80ml olive oil
- Whole salt crystals, ideally fleur de sel
- 6 balls buffalo mozzarella
- 1 tablespoon herbes de provence (dried)
- 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
Preheat the oven to 100C/200F
Place the tomatoes in a roasting tin. Peel and chop the garlic, scatter the garlic over the tomatoes, add the olive oil, the salt crystals and the Provence herbs Bake for 3 hours. To serve place 1 ball of mozzarella and 2 lukewarm tomatoes in each serving bowl and add some cooking juices and basil leaves.
Eli Zabar's Oil-Free Tomato Salad
This inspired idea comes from New York catering legend Eli Zabar who grows the most urban of heirloom tomatoes on the roof of his destination café, The Vinegar Factory on the Upper East Side. Eli reminds us that the tomato is a fruit: leaving aside the scrumminess of the recipe above, what other fruit would we habitually drench in olive oil? The acid in the vinegar and the salt here draw out the juices and assist the tomatoes to make their own dressing. I have been making this ever since I saw it demonstrated on The Barefoot Contessa by the man himself, with his buddy, the admirably well-connected Ina Garten, who furnishes another top tip - use a bread knife to slice the tomatoes. See? Sometimes it pays to watch the box instead of going for a bracing ten-kilometre walk. For your next Big Apple adventure, check out elizabar.com.
Cook's Notes: Heritage tomatoes vary in size, from cherry to beefsteak. A decent portion would be two medium ones, like Green Zebra, along with a few halved cherries and a slice or two from a big'un, but err on the generous side - it will all disappear!
This is best made just before it's required, because some of the tomatoes will fall apart or become pappy if kept hanging about. However you can get away with making it a good couple of hours ahead of time and storing it in the fridge. Remember to bring it to room temperature half an hour before you serve it.
- A selection of different heirloom tomatoes or a mixture of heirlooms and standard tomatoes, washed and dried
- Fresh tarragon, washed and dried
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Premium quality red wine vinegar
Using a serrated or bread knife, slice or wedge the tomatoes. Different shapes add to the appeal.
Season generously with sea-salt flakes and drizzle on a tablespoon or two of the red wine vinegar.
Snip in the tarragon leaves and add a few grinds of black pepper. Finally add a little more of the vinegar to taste. A stolen tomato is no more than a cook's perk.
Let the salad sit for 10-15 minutes at room temperature, to let the flavours settle. Serve as it is, or with grilled lamb, steak or fish.
Match of the Day
- Sannio Greco, Janare 2013
- Cirò, Barone di Bolaro 2012
- Hatzidakis Santorini 2013
- Fuentes Listan Negro, Tenerife 2013
- Gewurztraminer Folastries, Josmeyer 2011
- Montefalco Sagrantino, Scacciadiavoli 2007