Seasonal Eats: Taste the Rainbow of Heirloom Tomatoes

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Heirloom Tomatoes at the Hollywood Farmers' Markat (Heather Parlato/LAist)

For the last week of spring, we're looking at colorful heirloom tomatoes, which are starting to appear on all my favorite organic sellers' stations at the Hollywood Farmers' market. Heirloom varieties don't have a hard & fast definition, but they tend to be strains that haven't been crossbred or hybridized for about 50 years, predating the more recent commercialization of agriculture.

Due to the wide variety of heirlooms, it's hard to quantify their nutrition information, but they are certainly an excellent source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Common hybrids are known to contain lycopene, which is a bright red carotene, so it stands to reason that any hybrid's relative content is directly related to how red it appears. Heirloom tomatoes tend to have a lower acidity than their hybrid cousins, and are therefore not a favorite for canning or tomato sauce, but heirloom tomatoes are a great fresh alternative to any recipe calling for tomatoes, so enjoy these colorful fruits where they shine!

My favorite way to enjoy heirloom tomatoes are in a simple salad with a tasty vinaigrette dressing, or paired with a light cheese. Some refreshing salad ideas include heirloom tomato salad with blue cheese or this tangy heirloom tomatoes with oranges and basil. Grab some spring beans for this tasty late harvest bean salad or throw them into this tasty fattoush, Lebanese salad with roasted pita chips. Or hey—switch out the tomato juice and blend up some Summer Vegetable Bloody Marys.

If you like a fresh pasta salad, try heirloom tomato herb pasta salad or combine them with fresh fruit, such as tomato and watermelon salad. For the non-vegetarians, try an heirloom tomato salad with sweet onions and grilled bacon or layer thin slices with tomato and smoked salmon carpaccio.

If you'd like to cook them up, save some room at your next grilling party for charred heirloom tomatoes with fresh herbs, or take this summer twist on grilled cheese with tomato soup: grilled heirloom tomato and mozzarella sandwiches with green heirloom tomato gazpacho—yes, green gazpacho! Toss them in, raw or sautéed, with your pasta entrées and create a colorful tricolor tomato fettuccine. For adventures in baking, this heirloom tomato tart is breathtaking as this galette of white peaches and tomatoes is unique.

I'm a fan of Caprese salad, and I thought I'd recruit some of the more colorful lettuces and chard leaves from my garden to top a green zebra and mozzarella salad. However, I recently learned that green zebras aren't true heirlooms, though they are often sold as such, they are a cultivar bred from heirloom varieties in 1983.

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Color-Shifted Caprese Salad (Heather Parlato/LAist)

Color-Shifted Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

3 green zebra tomatoes, sliced (or any heirloom tomatoes of your choice)

2 medium balls of fresh mozzarella

2-3 leaves each of rainbow chard, red leaf lettuce, and arugala, cut into thin ribbons

4 large leaves of purple basil, torn

olive oil & white wine or balsamic vinegar

finishing salt & pepper to taste

This recipe is for one salad, intended to be assembled directly on a salad plate.

Place alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella in a fan around the outside of the plate. Place a mound of sliced greens in the center of the plate, and sprinkle the torn basil around the outside, over the tomatoes and mozzarella.

Drizzle the salad with olive oil and vinegar, and top with finishing salt and pepper to taste.