Heirloom tomatoes are some of the tastiest tomatoes you will ever bite into. They cost a bit more, they have a slightly different taste to those of the Roma variety, and you will enjoy cooking with them. The tomatoes give off a flavorful aroma when cooked, sautéed or grilled and you can usually find them large enough to last you for days at a time.
What exactly is an heirloom? Where can you find them? How do you cook with them? We will answer all these questions as give you several recipes that you can use to make nutritious and delicious dinners and meals with.
Read on to get all of the information you need, the flavors you crave and the recipes you desire.
What are Heirloom Tomatoes?
You may have heard the term “heirloom” before, but do you know what it means when it comes to tomatoes? If you are from Europe, you will know them as Heritage tomatoes, but the idea is the same.
An heirloom refers to a plant, fruit or vegetable that is grown from seed. However, the difference here is that the seeds are passed down from generation to generation.
In nature, before humans and our science were able to cultivate plants and edibles, the trees, fruits, and vegetables did it themselves. Insects would pollinate and carry seeds from one place to another; wind would blow seeds around where they would take root and bloom new plants.
The process is on-going and known as an heirloom. When the seeds of a fruit, such as a tomato are left behind to grow on their own.
Today, farmers pick only the best fruits from the vines and leave the rest to seed the next generation of tomatoes. The process continues, and year after year you get tomatoes from the same seed line as the first one.
Where Can You Buy Heirloom Tomatoes?
You can find heirlooms just about anywhere you find fresh, ripe tomatoes. Stores that specialize in farm to table goods, organic goods, and food that have not been altered by GMOs or hybrid means will usually sell heirlooms.
The most common place to find them, though, is in your neighborhood farmers markets. These daily, weekly or annual events allow local farmers to bring their wares to the public for direct sales. This is usually the only way to get fresh picked fruits and vegetables right from the farmers themselves.
You will even find them at roadside stands where farmers set up during the times when a farmers market isn’t going on. Be sure to stop by the next time you see a farmers market or a roadside cart and pick up some heirlooms for your next meal.
The following recipes will help you decide how many to buy and what you can do with them.
Recipes for Your Heirloom Tomatoes
Here are some nutritional recipes for you to browse through and try out. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you love tomatoes. The uses are near endless.
Heirloom Tomato Sauce
A good sauce can be used for many things. With this sauce, you can make a batch and jar it for later use. The best part is finding new ways to use your sauce, which can be with pasta, on pizza, as a dip or a topping.
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (1 teaspoon on the side, extra)
1 teaspoon honey
Fresh oregano leaves, about 2 tablespoons
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 pounds of heirloom tomatoes
In a small bowl combine the garlic and the vinegar, stir until coated and let sit. Stem and seed tomatoes after cutting them in half. Finely dice half the tomatoes, use a food processor if you wish, just don’t liquefy them.
Place the diced tomatoes into a large bowl. Put the other half of the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients into the food processor and blend well. The goal is to make a sauce-like consistency, without making it too liquid.
Stir this mix into the tomatoes in the bowl. The sauce makes 8 to 10 servings, which can stay refrigerated for up to four days.
Fried Tomato BLT’s
A great sandwich made even better with fried tomatoes right from the farmers market.
Large heirloom tomatoes, enough to make four to six thick slices.
Salt and pepper to taste
Large leaf lettuce
½ pound bacon strips
Ciabatta roll, thick sliced
Wash and separate the lettuce into single leaves, cutting or tearing off the stems and harder white pieces. Take the bread rolls and slice them into thicker slices, trying to keep the slices uniform in size. Remove the roll ends, leaving nice sliced bread. Set the lettuce and bread aside.
Cook the bacon in a frying pan to the consistency that you prefer. Crispier bacon works better for sandwiches if you like crispy bacon. Once the bacon is cooked, place on a paper towel to soak up the excess grease.
Place the sliced tomatoes in the pan using the bacon grease to sauté both sides. You want to avoid overcooking the tomatoes, though. A minute on each side will be enough. As you are frying the tomato slices, add salt and pepper to taste.
Place the tomatoes on the paper towel with the bacon to soak up excess grease.
To build the sandwiches, cover one side of the bread slices with a thin layer of mayonnaise (optional) followed by the bacon slices. Put the tomato on top of the bacon and then a leaf or two of lettuce. Complete the sandwich with another slice of bread.
For an added crunch, you can toast, grill or bake the bread prior to making the sandwich.
Makes two sandwiches.
A fresh salad to compliment an early afternoon on the porch with a glass of wine, using mozzarella balls is best, but deli sliced works just as well if needed.
Fresh heirloom tomatoes, sliced
Mozzarella balls, sliced
Fresh, whole basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
On a shallow plate, layer alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella with a basil leaf between each pairing. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Wait about 10 minutes for the oil to coat and seep through the salad.
Serve with a glass of wine.
Ravioli With Tomato Sauce
If you have the time and skill, you can make your own ravioli. For this recipe though, we will use store-bought, pre-made ravioli. For added nutritional value, buy whole wheat ravioli. This makes a nice summer dish that even the kids can enjoy.
1 package whole wheat cheese ravioli
3 small heirloom tomatoes
5 ounces whole spinach, stemmed and sliced
1 cup basil leaves, cut into slices
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Optional: a handful of pine nuts
Stem and core the tomatoes. Dice them into a bowl. Add the other ingredients to the bowl with the tomatoes and set aside. Boil the ravioli in lightly salted water until al dente. Scoop out about 1/3 cup of the water used to boil the ravioli and pour it into the bowl with the other ingredients.
Drain the ravioli and serve into separate bowls. Pour the bowl with the ingredients into the boiling pot and simmer until the spinach begins to wilt. This should be about 5 minutes. Once done, add the ingredients to the bowls of ravioli and serve.
Makes four to six servings.
This is a summertime favorite that you can make right on the grill. If you don’t have a grill, you can use the racks in your oven, though you will have to use trial and error to get the right crispness and flavor without burning the dough.
For the dough, you should purchase the whole wheat pre-made pizza dough, found in your grocer's freezer. All the dough to thaw completely before beginning.
1 pound pizza dough
Olive oil, about 4 teaspoons
8 tablespoons basil based pesto
1 pound mixed heirloom tomatoes (various sizes and colors work best)
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
Choose one: crumbled goat cheese or ricotta cheese, ¾ cup
Start the grill so it will be ready for medium heat when you need to start using it.
Split the dough into four equal pieces and roll them on a floured surface until they reach about 8 or 9 inches in diameter and are relatively thin. After you have them rolled out and flat, brush each side with olive oil and place on a baking sheet.
Place the dough on the grill, constantly rotating (but not flipping over) until the bottom is dark brown and you see some dough bubbles form on the top. As the dough gets darker on the bottom remove them from the grill putting the bottom side up on the baking sheet.
Spread 2 tablespoons of pesto over the cooked side of the dough. Place a few of the tomatoes on top of the pesto. You shouldn’t use too many, as the moisture in the tomatoes will make the dough soggy. Sprinkle the top with dollops of the cheese.
Return each pizza to the grill to cook what is now the bottom side. Rotate the pizza every so often until the bottom is a deep brown and the cheese begins to melt.
It is best to cook one pizza at a time, so you don’t end up burning them trying to keep up with the rotating and timing. Serve immediately.
Makes four pizzas.
Tips for Using Heirloom Tomatoes
When adding these tomatoes to your recipes, there are a few tips and tricks you can try out to bring your recipes to life.
Note that any recipe calling for tomatoes can use heirloom. The flavor will be noticeable and enjoyable. It doesn’t matter if you eat them by the slice, chopped, cubed or pureed.
When using the heirloom varieties, you should strive to purchase multiple sizes and colors. It will add character and variety to your plate.
If the recipe calls for sliced tomatoes, you should slice your heirlooms a little bit thicker. This will enable you to bite into them without them falling apart. The bite will be fuller and crisper as well, which will have you enjoying the tomatoes that much more.
If you need to blend or mix the cubes or dices, leave them a little bit more chunky than the recipe calls for, as well: this will allow the colors of the tomatoes to stand out while adding more variety and spice to your dish.
The use of these generational grown tomatoes is growing in popularity as people are finding a new love for the old favorite.
With a much more vivid variety of sizes and colors, Heirlooms are a favorite of roadside vendors and farmer’s markets around the country. It is easy to see why they are such a fun ingredient in almost any recipe. The tomatoes work well with any type of dish.
It doesn’t matter if you are making salsa for your Mexican food night, or a Greek or Italian salad for a nice Autumn lunch, the Heirloom is a standard and a favorite.
The best use of these wonderful tomatoes is to allow their colors, flavors and size variances shine through. When you can, you should use all the different sizes and colors you can find in a single recipe. If you are making a sauce or soup, try to leave some of the colorful larger bits in to let the food shine for itself.