On Food: Chefs hand down summer treasures to customers with tasty heirloom tomato dishes

On Food: Chefs hand down summer treasures to customers with tasty heirloom tomato dishes

Summer menus are densely enriched with heirloom tomatoes. These unusual varieties, originally a backyard crop that has now been commercialized, are grown from the seeds of hundreds of nonhybrid tomatoes that were traditionally grown for many generations in a number of countries.

Unlike ordinary commercial tomatoes that growers have developed for their uniformity, heirlooms are prized for their unusual shapes, sizes and colors, from white to nearly black, with green, yellow, orange and striped examples. They dazzle on the plate. Demand has increased so that a number of commercial farms are producing them.

Patrick Ahern, a buyer for Baldor, a produce wholesaler based in the Hunts Point Market in New York, says they are now available almost all year because some growers in Florida and California raise them in greenhouses. Prices in season have been edging downward from about $35 a case, about four times that of regular tomatoes.

In the past, heirloom tomatoes were sold according to variety, but now most cases contain a mixture, like deep red and yellow Brandywines, purple Cherokees, great whites, German reds, and German stripes, orange tiger stripes and green zebras in sizes that range from thumbnail to monster.

“Most chefs use them in salads, where their color and flavor really shine through,” Ahern says.

At the Four Seasons in New York, red, purple and yellow heirlooms glossed with a balsamic vinegar dressing embellish buffalo mozzarella. Fig & Olive in New York offers as a special burrata—hollowed-out mozzarella filled with a mixture of cream and shredded buffalo mozzarella—wrapped in a leek and served alongside heirloom tomatoes with sea salt and Italian olive oil.

At Josie’s in Santa Monica, Calif., heirloom tomatoes from owner Josie LeBalch’s own garden are served in a salad. Zealous [3] in Chicago serves crab with asparagus and heirloom tomatoes. And at Bluepointe [4] in Atlanta, a spiced crab salad partners with heirloom tomato gazpacho.

Diced heirloom tomatoes add a note of freshness to the California snail ravioli with pancetta, baby zucchini and blossoms in a warm shellfish vinaigrette at Gilt [5] in New York, where heirloom cherry tomatoes and baby bok choy also garnish lobster in a lemon verbena broth.

Sliced heirloom tomatoes from nearby farms are included in the Greek salad made with wild arugula, fried feta cheese, cucumbers, onions and olives in a lemon and olive oil dressing at the new Borough Food and Drink in New York. Michel Nischan, the chef and owner of the Dressing Room [6] in Westport, Conn., roasts heirloom tomatoes to serve with soft cheese grits and caramelized-onion compote.

And at Restaurant LuLu [7] in San Francisco, for those who would like to be able to enjoy the rich flavor of heirloom tomatoes out of season, they capture it in their bottled heirloom tomato sauce made with roasted green zebra, purple Cherokee and great white heirlooms, along with roasted garlic, herbs and spices. The sauce is sold in the restaurant, in fancy food shops and online.