I was 21 when I tried my first heirloom tomato. It was plump, juicy, tangy, sweet, and bursting with a savory quality that I didn’t yet have words for (I wouldn’t learn about “umami” until much later). It was gorgeous — golden yellow, variegated with oranges and reds. This heirloom tomato was as satisfying to eat as a perfectly cooked Ribeye steak, and yet as refreshing as a cool drink of water. It was light years away from the dry, mushy, pinkish grocery store beefsteaks from my childhood dinner table.
I felt as though I had been lied to my whole life. Up was down. Black was white. THIS was a tomato?? I was converted right then and there, and that is why I won’t balk at a $7/lb price tag at the market in late August when I see a perfect pile of multi-colored heirloom tomatoes on display. They are at their peak for such a short season, we can go back to paying less for a lesser product in October.
The exorbitant grocery store price is making more sense to me this year since I started cultivating [read: failing to cultivate] my own crop. Results have been… mixed. Unfortunately, it’s September now and my tomatoes are still green.
The Patient Personal Chef
While I wait for my garden to ripen, I have the privilege as a personal chef to prepare recipes for my clients that showcase these beauties in all their glory. I love sharing ideas with my clients and “geeking out” over new recipes each week. Gazpacho, caprese, savory tomato tarts, and more. A few weeks ago, I prepared an heirloom tomato salad recipe for one of my clients. The next morning, I received this photo with the caption “Breakfast of champions!”
I have chosen just one recipe idea for you to try before this precious and brief season ends, but there are dozens that I could recommend. See below for some tomato recipes. A perfect heirloom tomato is a meal in itself and would be incredible sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper! But here’s one more idea that I’m sure you’ll love: Tomato and Peach Panzanella Italian bread salad. It allows for — no, REQUIRES — stale bread, and uses what I consider to be a quintessential vinaigrette recipe that you should have in your back pocket at all times. Guaranteed, Panzanella is the breakfast, lunch, or dinner of champions. Enjoy!
contributed by Chef Stacey O’Farrell