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.


Suzanne said...

OK, our nearest Whole Foods is more than an hour away but this has ALMOST convinced me I need to go anyways. I'm literally drooling.

Amanda said...

Yes please! Maddie would love it too, my little tomato addict. I will have to see if Trader Joe's has heirloom tomatoes....

Carolyn (temysmom) said...

Tomatoes are one of my family's favorite foods. We'll eat them any time, any place, any way. Yum. I also adore goat cheese, although I'm the only one who does. And we're big naan eaters although I've never tried making it myself. I think I'll give your recipe a try.