While shopping with my aunt the other day at Whole Foods, I became very excited to see that FINALLY we are coming into tomato season. Tomatoes are definitely one of the vegetables I miss the most in the winter, especially when I order a burger and in comes out with a quarter-inch thick slice of white-pink, hard and bitter tasting tomato. What a way to ruin a sandwich. So needless to say, when I saw a large pile of not only red vine tomatoes, but also heirloom tomatoes, I bought several.
Heirloom tomatoes are known for their unusual sizes, colors, tastes and textures as compared to the conventional red tomato. They can generally be found at well-stocked grocery stores and farmers markets. Some relatively common varieties of heirloom tomatoes include:
Big Rainbow: Large, yellow tomato with red swirls. This tomato has a mild, sweet flavor.
Black Krim: Dark red to brown tomato.
Brandywine: Large and pink colored, with excellent flavor.
Cherokee Purple: Deep purple and blackish in color, mild flavor.
Jubilee: Large, heavy golden tomato.
Mortgage Lifter: Large, pink tomato with sweet flavor.
Personally, I think that heirloom tomatoes are best enjoyed fresh and at room temperature, when the flesh is tender and the juices practically burst out of the tomato when you cut it. These tomatoes are also great chopped up for various salads, sliced on sandwiches, or prepared in a unique salsa or gazpacho. Personally, I am a fan of a classic tomato sandwich, using fresh, crusty white bread from a local bakery, a swipe of mayo, a dash of salt and pepper, and a thick slice of a ripe, warm, heirloom tomato.
But if you are more interested in trying a more complex preparation for an heirloom tomato than a simple (but delicious) tomato sandwich, then try preparing a delicious heirloom tomato panzenella, a Florentine salad of tomatoes, herbs and croutons.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO PANZANELLA
First prepare the croutons for the salad…
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 cups crustless cubed day-old bread (1/2-inch cubes)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, placing a cookie sheet in the oven while it preheats.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and cook until it foams. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat with the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bread with the cheese and toss again.
Transfer the bread to the hot baking sheet. Bake, tossing once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 8 or 9 minutes. Let cool.
Heirloom Tomato Panzanella:
2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
Several grinds black pepper
2 cups trimmed arugula
Wedge Parmesan, for shaving
Let the chopped tomatoes drain in a sieve to remove excess liquid while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, basil, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Add the croutons and toss well.
Divide tomato mixture among 4 plates. Top each serving with an equal amount of the arugula. With a vegetable peeler, shave the Parmesan over the salad. Serve immediately.
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