Monday, September 27, 2010

Heirloom tomatoes

For the longest time, I've tried to find good quality heirloom tomatoes. I've never seen them at either of our local supermarkets, and really never even at farmer's markets in our area.

But in the last month, I've had a revelation. I've discovered Whole Foods.

Upon my most recent (I say "most recent," because much to my husband's dismay, I now go at least twice a week) visit, I discovered Whole Foods' selection of heirloom tomatoes. There were yellow and red and orange and green... and I had to have them all.

Though there hasn't been a clear consensus on what defines an "heirloom" vegetable, it's generally accepted that they are open-pollinated, "heritage" or old varieties that have been around for a long time. "Open-pollinated" means they're naturally "created," or in other words, they aren't man-made. The characteristics of one tomato will be very similar to those of its parent -- baby tomato is going to look just like his mama.

Some agriculture experts consider only seed varieties that existed prior to 1951 to be of the "heirloom" variety, but other use different cut offs -- no real clear-cut definition exists. Some species can be traced back as far as 100 or 150 years.

The major difference I noticed between the heirloom tomatoes I bought and your standard plum or hothouse tomato (besides price -- the heirloom varieties at Whole Foods ran $4.99/pound) was taste. It's not so much a STRONG or different tomato flavor as it is a FRESH one. They taste earthy and tangy, and depending on the variety, can even have a citrus or slightly bitter flavor to them.

While I tasted each of the varieties uncooked and could definitely distinguish between the types, I knew that cooking each would bring out their own individual flavor even more. I didn't want to muddle the flavors with too much else, so I took a simple approach.

I had also picked up some capricho de cabra (an uber-creamy goat cheese) at Whole Foods, and had made some naan*, so I had a perfect base for an heirloom tomato naan pizza.

I sliced up some of the tomatoes, brushed the naan with olive oil and topped it with a few tablespoons of crushed tomatoes. I piled on the tomatoes, threw in a little garlic, and topped the pizza with small pieces of the goat cheese (I used about two ounces total), then set it on the pizza stone and baked it in the oven for about 15 minutes on 450. When I took it out, the cheese had begun to brown perfectly, and the tomatoes had just started to "wilt" a bit.

Though it would have been just as delicious as it was without having cooked at all, baking the pizza brought out all the flavors of the tomatoes.

A little pricier but a lot more flavorful, I'm thinking of attempting to grow a few of my own heirloom tomato varieties next year. Though some varieties have a few troubles during the growing seasons -- some are very attractive (more so than 'regular' tomato plants) to bugs and bacteria while others actually grow so fast their rapid increase in size causes the skins to split -- the yield, even if I only get a small crop, will be worth it.


Naan: While I made my own naan, you can use the store bought version. In case you've never tried it, naan is a levened middle-eastern bread made with a flour base. It's usually grilled but can also be baked. The recipe I used was this one, and I can't say enough about it -- it's absolutely fantastic and as good, if not better, than any I've had at any Indian or middle-eastern restaurant. The recipe is easy to make and even with rising time figured in, only takes ABOUT two hours from start to finish. It's flavorful and is amazing with the tomatoes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do yourself a favor and try these!

As my close friends know, I've recently become absolutely and completely obsessed with shopping at Whole Foods.

Unfortunately, the closest one to me is near work but an hour away from my home. Fortunately, it is SO close to my work that I'm able to stop and get one of their prepared foods (okay, who am I kidding, I get sushi. Every. Damn. Time.) for lunch.

On my way home from work Monday night, I decided to stop at Whole Foods to pick something up for dinner for the three of us, and came upon something... (sigh) wonderful. Positively wonderful.

There, calling my name, beckoning me, if you will, were these beauties.

Yes, you're reading that correctly -- pickled green tomatoes.

I will admit that I do get some delight out of telling people about my sometimes less-than-conventional food choices (my mom still squirms when I tell her about sushi... weirdo). I do tend to buy things that are maybe a little off-center, because I'll give anything a try, and so when I saw these, I HAD to buy them. Trust me, my friends, I did not regret it.

These amazing tomatoes have a wonderful vinegar and dill bite, and yet have not lost their crunch. They don't taste exactly like pickles, they definitely have their own flavor. But if you enjoy the flavor and crunch of fresh (even homemade or locally-purchased) pickles, you'll enjoy these. They're packed in a deliciously garlic brine (some of which I'm planning to reserve for hot dirty martinis) with fresh dill and grape leaves, and the whole pieces of garlic inside are fantastic even on their own.

I'm not being paid anything to say this, and I have no incentive for telling you about these, but I'm so in love with them that I just had to share. My half-empty container speaks for itself!

The other thing I LOVE about these, besides the taste which, seriously... yum, is that they're local. Grillo's Pickles is in Boston, and their address is right on the container. When given the choice, I'll pay a little more to support my local businesses.

Find out more about Grillo's Pickles at According to their site, they're available in the produce section at Whole Foods in Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as a few smaller chain stores (you can find the exact list here -- They also have a Twitter -- you can find them at @GrillosPickles.

You may not have a Whole Foods near you, but trust me -- these are worth the drive!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

We have winners!

This morning, I used to pick the winners of my Pastene Giftbasket Giveaway, and here they are --

Congratulations to

Shirley (#17)
Amanda (#6)
Meeyeehere (#26)

I'll be emailing all of you for your shipping information later today.

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Celebrating with a giveaway! *Giveaway closed*

It's been a good year, and Madame is celebrating!

As you may or may not know, this past Monday, August 30th, was my 1st blog-iversary with Madame Menu. For the last year, I have loved sharing my recipes and my family’s recipes with you. I have loved getting your feedback and building relationships and making connections. I have some very exciting ideas about where this blog will be “going” over the next year, and I can’t wait to share them all with you.

I am so grateful you have stopped by and voted for me and let me know what you thought of my recipes and I decided to pass that appreciation onto my amazing readers by celebrating the milestone… (wait for it)… with a giveaway!

In several recipes I’ve posted over the last year, I’ve mentioned Pastene products. I love the brand because the freshness, taste and quality are authentic and unparalleled. It’s convenient that I also don’t have to head to a specialty foods market to buy their products – they’re right in the international section at the local grocery store.

As luck would have it, the folks at Pastene were equally excited about my anniversary and decided they wanted to celebrate with me.

That’s why the amazing and generous people at the company have sent me THREE of their Holiday Favorites gift baskets to give away to my readers.

Each basket (which I will ship directly to you) contains some of my absolute favorite products – marinated artichokes, spaghetti sauce, roasted peppers, pasta, San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and even a Pastene Great Cooking cookbook. Exactly what you need to make a delicious Italian meal!

Want to enter? Here’s how.

Mandatory entry: Leave me a comment on this post telling me which Pastene product ( is your favorite or which you would like to try. Make sure you leave me a valid email address so I can contact you if you’re the lucky winner! Please note – you do not have to be a blogger to win!

Extra chances to win – each is worth another entry. Please leave a separate comment for each extra...

- Follow Madame Menu on Google Friend Connect

- Become a fan of Madame Menu on Facebook

- Blog about this giveaway and link back to this post

- Tweet the giveaway (up to twice a day – leave a link to your status)

You can enter starting right away, up through midnight PST on Tuesday, September 7, 2010. The winners will be chosen a week from today – on Wednesday, September 8, 2010 – via Random Integer Generator from all entries submitted, and notified through email. I apologize to my non-US friends, but this giveaway is only open to all legal residents of the United States.

Good luck, everyone! Thank you for staying with me for a year. Here's to 25 more! :-)