Heirloom tomato recipes

Aug 18, 2008 at 1:07 p.m. ET

For eager tomato-lovers, heirloom tomatoes are an anticipated flavor of late summer. They garner as much respect and attention as, say, a rock star might from teenyboppers. And if you have never had real tomato pleasure (common if you get mass-produced, prematurely picked tomatoes from the supermarket), it is worth your while to seek out these flavorful, distinctive-looking heirloom fruits.

Heirloom Tomato

Heirloom tomatoes are unusual, intriguing and flavorful

Not only do heirloom tomatoes burst with flavor (old-timers say heirlooms taste like tomatoes should taste), they also come in an array of colors unlike the supermarket-tomato red.

Think, instead, black, purple, yellow-striped green, golden, marbled red or green, orange, white, and pink, among other intriguing colors. More intriguing, most heirlooms don't even look like the perfectly round, smooth and uniform traditional tomato. Instead, many heirloom tomatoes are oddly shaped, often asymmetrically lopsided, possibly even flat, pleated or tri-lobed, and usually with bulges and bumps.

An heirloom tomato has a history

Many heirloom tomatoes bear odd and rather fetching names – further proving that a tomato is not just a tomato – which only add to their culinary appeal.

Imagine sorting through the heirlooms for your favorite Aunt Ruby's German Green, Brandywine, and Halfmoon China. Other choices include Black Cherry, Pruden's Purple, Banana Legs, Golden Egg, Scotland Yellow and Zapotec Pleated. These are merely a few of the hundreds of varieties available. Perhaps the most timely and tantalizing name (surely with a compelling backstory) is the Mortgage Lifter. Makes you wonder!

Just what makes a tomato an heirloom?

Attaining heirloom status for tomatoes means that the variety's seeds have been passed along for generations, at least since the early 1940s, and, generally, for much longer than that.

Fortunately, what began as niche marketing about a decade ago has blossomed into a farmer's sure-bet for summertime profits. Those who take the challenge to grow one or several of these heirloom varieties should find an eager crowd waiting to load up on them at each farmers' market and at select supermarkets canny enough to offer something different.

Heirloom tomatoes are available because farmers, seed catalog companies and groups, such as Seed Savers, have gathered the seeds of those old-fashioned tomatoes oft discarded by large-scale growers because they require special care, have odd shapes, are fragile nature and need special handling.

As a delight to tomato-savvy consumers, the foresight and wisdom of the purveyors of heirloom tomatoes (and their seeds) have saved a valuable gastronomic treasure. Now, when summertime rolls around, happy tomato lovers can enjoy that nebulous old-time tomato flavor enjoyed by many lucky generations before.

Finally, Alice Waters has been quoted as saying that people should not eat tomatoes except in summer. But a more flavorful way to put it is this, "People should eat only heirloom tomatoes."

Heirloom tomato recipes

Heirloom Tomato Pie

Serves 6 to 8

Tomatoes plus two mild cheeses and a flavor tweak of pesto add up to a simple – but near addictive – summer delight.

3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced widthwise
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 6 thin slices
1 (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish piecrust
Seasoning salt to taste
Pesto for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs, fontina cheese and half-and-half and mix well. Arrange the tomato slices overlapping the mozzarella slices in the bottom of the piecrust. Sprinkle with seasoning salt. Spoon in the cheese mixture and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust turns golden and the cheese is thoroughly melted. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Tomato and Corn Biscuits

Makes 8

These charming biscuits are easy to prepare and make good accompaniments for an entree salad or for a lazy end-of-summer brunch spread. Be sure to let the biscuits cool slightly to allow the cheese to firm up.

1 (16.3-ounce) jumbo refrigerator flaky biscuits
1 large heirloom tomato, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 tablespoon snipped fresh cilantro
Seasoning salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease eight (3-inch round) muffin tins.

2. Pull the biscuits apart, and on a lightly floured surface, roll each biscuit into a 4-1/2 inch circle. Fit each circle into the prepared tins.

3. Put the chopped tomato into a mixing bowl and drain off excess liquid. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well. Spoon the mixture evenly into the tins lined with biscuit dough.

4. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough puffs and is golden. Cool to room temperature before eating.

Tropical Tomato Salad

Serves 4 to 6

Yes, it's true, tomatoes and avocados are fruit. And in this salad, both so-called veggies make a happy duo when tossed with lively tropical fruit.

2 kiwifruit, peeled, diced
1 large heirloom tomato, diced
2 cups diced papaya
1 cup diced mango
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, diced
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Mesclun for serving

Toss the fruit with the sugar and vinegar. Spoon mixture over the greens and serve.

More recipes to try with your heirloom tomatoes