Dash of Class: Heirloom tomatoes bring old-fashioned flavor to the table

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Food column by Nora Sweat

By Nora Sweat

When Dr. John Cole, a neurosurgeon, was featured in a column last year, and it was the first time I had ever heard of heirloom tomatoes. At the time, he was traveling to Louisville to Fresh Market to buy that type of tomatoes, which come in a variety of colors.

An heirloom tomato is a variety that has been passed from gardener to gardener. Heirlooms come from seeds and are easy to share.

Heirloom varieties’ greatest quality is their old-time flavor and there’s a wide vareity of tastes.

According to TomatoFest Heirloom Tomato Seeds, founded by “The Great Tomato Book” author Gary Ibsen, we’ve lost many of our heirloom varieties, along with the many smaller family farms that supported heirlooms, in the last 40 years. Many  were lost or replaced by fewer hybrid tomatoes, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics.

A 2012 TomatoFest survey revealed a large increase in the number of first-time tomato gardeners.

The survey also found that black tomatoes are more popular than in any prior year.

Black tomatoes cover a range of dark colors, including deep purple, dusky deep brown, smoky mahogany with dark green shoulders and bluish-brown, Iben said. There also is a continued rise in popularity of cherry tomatoes in all colors.

There is a surge in folks canning tomatoes at home, too — those new to canning and those who canned years ago.

It is especially interesting that people are growing tomatoes for the first time and that canning, canning tomatoes in particular, is coming back into vogue.

If heirloom tomatoes are something you might be interested in, try the Heirloom Tomato and Peach recipe or Caprese Salad, a recipe Dr. Cole shared a year ago.

Nora Sweat, author of “Mama and Me,” is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.com or by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.

Heirloom Tomato and Peach Salad

  • 2 heirloom tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 ripe peaches, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons balsamic or cider vinegar

Combine the tomatoes, peaches and red onion in a bowl and toss with the basil, olive oil and vinegar until evenly mixed. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to two days.

Source: www.gimmesomeoven.com

Caprese Salad

  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, 1 green and 1 red or yellow
  • 1 package fresh Ovolini or Bocconcini mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk and salt to taste
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1/4-1/3 Cup parmesan
  • Pinch of sea salt

Place fresh mozzarella (whole) in slightly salted whole milk at room temp for 45 minutes to improve flavor. This step can be omitted. Toast pine nuts in a small skillet over low-medium heat, stirring continuously. When they begin to smell nutty and take a slight color, they are done. Set aside to cool.

Wash and squeeze out water from basil and add to food processor. Add cooled pine nuts, cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper. Crush and peel garlic with the side of a knife and add to food processor. Pulse ingredients together until a loose paste forms. Add olive oil in a slow drizzle to running food processor until desired consistency is acquired.

Taste and add additional salt or pepper to taste. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of pesto and immediately refrigerate. Core and slice tomatoes 1/4-inch thick. Slice fresh mozzarella 1/4-inch thick.

To serve, lay alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella on top of platter. Pour pesto liberally in a stripe down the middle and sprinkle sea salt over the top. Serve immediately.

Source: Dr. John Cole, Elizabethtown