Heirloom Tomatoes

September 8, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Heirloom tomatoes are one of the hottest produce trends in recent memory as consumers are opting for tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes! From farmers' markets to produce departments, the bins are overflowing with heirloom tomatoes this week. This is due to the the wacky weather this summer. Remember July's cool days and even cooler nights, then August's sweltering heat and last week's unbelievable humidity? This combination of weather patterns delayed local heirloom production. The main harvest of these gems is going on this week. Let's also clarify - heirloom tomatoes are not a single variety, they are many different varieties from Amish Paste to Black Krim to Big Rainbow to Green Zebra to Purple Cherokee, and they come in all different colors, shapes and sizes.

Most people think of simply cutting up tomatoes for salad topping or making a caprese salad with fresh Mozzarella. But the other night I was looking for something to make. I saw my heirloom tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter (if I've said it once I've said it 1,000 times, do not refrigerate your tomatoes, it destroys the flavor!), and the thought came to me to roast them. I added some lacinato kale (also referred to as Tuscan or Black Kale), from my CSA box and a few other ingredients to create a dish that has my mouth watering remembering the symphony of flavors. Roasting the heirloom tomatoes amplifies their sweetness. When I combined them with the lacinato kale it created a melding of flavors that bordered on sublime! I remember a chef telling me the key to great food is to start with great ingredients, simple seasoning (don't get in the way of the food), and simple preparation.

First I cut the heirloom tomatoes into quarter to half inch chunks, then julienne the kale into 2" strips, put everything into a bowl and toss with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and just enough salt and pepper to accent their sweetness. Then I spread them out on a large baking sheet and put into a 300 degree oven for 2 hours. The key is slow roasting. I was surprised to find by doing this that the kale crisps and the tomatoes dry out enough to concentrate their flavors. You can tell when they are done as the tomato will develop a slightly burnt edge and your house will smell incredible! My wife came in from outside and said, "Whatever you are cooking smells wonderful and I can't wait to try it!" What you do next is up to you! You can toss with pasta, serve as side dish or serve over rice or quinoa as a main course.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that these produce items came from my Community Supported Agriculture produce box from Harvest Moon farms in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The CSA program helps small family-owned farms by purchasing a share of the farm. Every week the farm packs up box of what is being harvested at that time. It can sometimes be challenging (lucky for me they also include some recipes for what is in the box for when I am not feeling very creative), but that is part of the fun. I have also made variations of the above recipe by adding roasted corn and squash that were included in my box (roast separately at 400 degrees and then combine); the possibilities are endless!

Lastly, heirloom tomatoes are not just about slicing or roasting, they also make a great pasta sauce, or gravy. (Don't get me going about that debate, let's just say my part of the family from Italy says GRAVY!) So included is a simple recipe combining the best of the summer harvest heirloom tomatoes and some fresh garden basil. You can make big batches and freeze for later use, when you will be lamenting that the local harvest is over until next year..


Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes & Kale

6 - 8 medium sized tomatoes (approx. 2 ½ lbs), diced in ½" chunks
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cups loosely packed kale, ribs removed, julienned

Mix above ingredients together and spread out on large baking sheet. Bake for 1 ½ - 2 hours in a 300 degree oven or until tomatoes and kale brown slightly.

Roasted Sweet Corn

2 cups fresh corn kernels (approx. 3-4 ears sweet corn)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and spread onto baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until kernels are lightly brown, stirring once or twice. Add to salsas or salads or mix with above roasted heirloom tomato and kale recipe.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

6 - 8 medium sized tomatoes (approx. 2 ½ lbs), diced in ½" chunks
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Mix above ingredients together and spread out on large baking sheet. Bake for 1 ½ - 2 hours in a 300 degree oven, or until the edges of the tomatoes are browned. Remove from oven and scrape mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If desired, the mixture can be put through a food mill at this point to remove seeds & skin.

Stir in 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil and 1 minced clove of garlic. Serve over hot pasta. Yields approx. 1 1/2 cups sauce

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