Heirloom Tomatoes, a Summer Favorite
by Lesley Stiles
We had no winter, so it comes as no surprise that June is upon us so soon…not! How did that happen, again? School’s almost out, vacation time looms heavy, days are slowing down a bit, and, best of all, traffic is reduced to a simmer for a couple months. Another year and “easy living” season bursts upon the scene with a seemingly illegal abundance of cherries, strawberries, and sexy stone fruits such as white and yellow nectarines, white and yellow peaches, apricots, and plums. Early peppers and even early corn are all bowing tables at the farmers’ markets, crowding out winter squash and asparagus as their season wanes. Best of all, tomato season begins with early girls and better boys galore, crowding heirlooms that flood into markets while heavily pulling down delicate vines in gardens.
Heirloom tomatoes are a piece of the past we are fortunate and privileged to relive each summer. Seeds are passed down from year to year, unscathed by human gene splicing or scientific altering. They may require a wee bit more love to ripen, and huge harvests are not the most common characteristic, but the intensity of the flavors is certainly a mind-blowing experience, as they come with incredibly different flavors and textures to suit any palate. With a Lemon Boy you actually taste hints of tart, yellow lemons. The names of tomatoes are always fun. Mortgage Lifter never fails to induce a smile and a thought for the farmer who paid his mortgage with his tomato crop.
Plucked from warm vines or purchased from a hard working farmer and eaten as juice drips down your arm, these dazzling fruits are a proven method of intoxication. Try a nice summer salad of peeled, seeded cucumber (lemon cukes go well with Lemon Boys), cubed avocado, crumbled goat cheese, and sliced assorted heirlooms in a bowl. Drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle rice vinegar to taste. Then, toss with a handful of fresh chopped basil; historical beauties deserve dressing up in high fashion. Thickly sliced fresh tomatoes on toasted sourdough slathered lasciviously with mayonnaise and a liberal sprinkling of sea salt creates a sandwich that causes a stutter and the need to catch your breath. Adding a slice of dill Havarti and slipping under a broiler or onto a hot grill for a few minutes is to experience the ultimate tomato gratin. Caprese salad uses colorful coins of sweating, juicy, shockingly colored heirloom cherry and large tomatoes, glistening fresh mozzarella, gently torn basil leaves drizzled with lemon oil, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper to assure your status at any potluck. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat; add copious amounts of chopped fresh tomatoes (seeds, skin and all, dang it), basil, and chopped fresh garlic; toss with steaming, hot, cooked vermicelli, grated asiago; and season with salt and pepper to achieve the best pasta ever produced in your kitchen. Then consume al fresco with unctuous red wine in our early summer in amazingly brilliant Diablo Valley land. Something to be grateful for indeed.
Time again to get up along with the sun to experience our hills and valleys, before said solar playmate aces you out with heat intensity, and enjoy the awakening of local creatures large and small. Lesley Stiles is a graduate of the California
Culinary Academy, sustainable caterer and school garden educator. Contact Lesley at firstname.lastname@example.org, www. lesleystiles.blogspot.com and visit her new website: www.lesleystilesfoods.com.
Fresh Corn and Tomato Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups Aborio rice
1 cup white wine
7 to 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups fresh corn cut off the cob
1 cup chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes, your choice
½ bunch chopped fresh basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Manchego cheese for grating on top
In a medium saucepan, heat the stock. Heat olive oil in a wide heavy pan. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and add the rice. Sauté the rice until opaque in color. Add the wine and let simmer for a minute. Add the stock a ½ cup at a time, allowing it to absorb after each addition stirring constantly. The rice will become creamy. Taste occasionally to check for tenderness. Add tomatoes and basil and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with cheese. Serve at once. Serves 4 to 6.