Though University of Tennessee’s commercial vegetable extension specialist Annette Wszelaki admits she almost considers it “blasphemous” to cook a fresh, homegrown tomato, there are chefs and cooks who want a little more than the basic salad or sandwich addition.
And while San Marzano paste tomatoes will hold up in sauce, one thing to keep in mind about most full-size heirloom tomatoes, says Bill Byrne of Shady Lady Farm, is that they’re too thin-skinned to withstand the handling required for canning or cooking.
With all that said, there are nice recipes for using heirlooms “in the raw.” My own favorite comes from George Geary’s 500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades, and More—a simple salsa I could eat every night while the tomatoes are fresh. Holly Hambright of Holly’s Eventful Dining was also kind enough to share two of her treatments for heirloom tomatoes, and the Herb and Plow in Maynardville offers a recipe for a tomato sauce that’s simple and swell.
George Geary, 500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades, and More
Heirloom Tomato Salsa
2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. sea salt
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Let stand in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least one hour for flavors to develop or for up to two days.
Holly Hambright, Holly’s Eventful Dining
Holly’s Tomato Water
Note: a favorite on the Holly’s Eventful Dining summertime dinner menu, this also makes a great Bloody Mary Base
Stew 3-4 pounds of heirlooms all cut up with a sweet onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a couple of slices of carrot, a handful of basil, and a little salt and pepper until the carrots are soft. Puree all this in a high speed blender and strain through a filter cone overnight in the fridge to extract the “water.” Alternatively, you can strain it through several layers of cheesecloth tied with a wooden spoon that you twist every so often to apply increasing tension to extract the “water.” Serve hot or chilled with some fresh basil shreds.
Holly’s Tomato-Watermelon Salad
diced red onion
salt and pepper
fresh basil and mint, chopped
Georgia olive oil
red wine vinegar
Gorgonzola or Bulgarian feta
Combine all the diced fruits and vegetables and herbs. Splash with olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste. Adjust seasoning and finish with the cheese just before serving.
Herb and Plow Organic Farm, herbandplow.com
Herb and Plow Raw Tomato Sauce
2 cups tomatoes
3 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tbsp agave nectar
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes soaked in advance
1 tsp. Italian herbs: thyme, basil, and rosemary-dried
1/3 garlic clove optional
Make sure that you’ve soaked the dried tomatoes at least 45-60 minutes, in advance. If you have a Vita-Mix or other powerful blender, this step is optional. If you’re in a hurry, you can always soak them for 5 minutes in boiling water, and that does the job. Blend all the ingredients together until you’ve reached a thick, tomato-sauce consistency. If the sauce is too thin, add more dried tomatoes. If it is too thick, add fresh tomatoes.