LN Cooks

Chef John Johnson

Heirloom Tomatoes

Q: Chef, it looks like a good growing season for tomatoes this year. With so many kinds out there, what is your favorite? And what about heirloom tomatoes?

A: Great questions! Tomatoes are native to the Americas. Eating tomatoes always brings me back to when I used to hide in my parents’ garden on warm summer days with a salt shaker in one hand and picking tomatoes with the other, then eating them right off the vine. I don’t think I have ever had a better tomato. But if you want to come close, try the heirlooms.

There are about 600 heirloom varieties out there, many of which are hard to find. The ones you see in most grocery stores are what I call the standards: Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Golden Queen. My favorite is a very unique one called Garden Peach, light yellowish, pinkish and resembling a small peach when fully ripe. It even has a slight fuzzy texture to it. I’ve been lucky enough to find seeds from a wild breed of tomato from the Galapagos Islands. One of two wild species endemic to the islands, due to growing so close to the sea water, they have a sweet and salty taste—I can’t wait to try them!

The best way to eat heirloom tomatoes is simply to slice and serve them with a little oil and salt. The presentation below does just that. You also can dress them up with a few tapenades (recipes below).

Plate Ingredients:

3 large assorted heirloom tomatoes

6 cherry tomatoes

4 small basil leaves

4 small celery leaves

1 T Hawaiian black lava salt

2 T olive oil

1 T curry hummus (recipe follows)

1 T Kalamata tapenade (recipe follows) 

1 T basil goat cheese (recipe follows)


Curry Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans, drained (reserve juice)

¼ of a yellow onion, diced

1 T Dijon mustard

½ t paprika

½ t garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

2 t curry powder

1 t crushed red pepper

1 T olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, use the juice from the beans to create desired consistency to blend well. Reserve.


Olive Tapenade

3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted

6 cloves garlic, roasted

¼ of a red bell pepper, roasted & seeded

4 large basil leaves

Place all ingredients into a food processor and chop until a few chunks remain. Reserve.


Basil Goat Cheese

8 oz goat cheese (room temperature)

10 large basil leaves, chopped

2 T olive oil

In a mixing bowl, blend all ingredients together until fully incorporated. Reserve.


Final Thoughts:

Mix and match these tomato varieties with these spreads to create many ways to spend an afternoon of eating fresh heirloom tomatoes, which are classified into four types: Commercial heirlooms are open-pollinated tomato varieties that were introduced by seed companies before 1960; family heirlooms are varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation; created heirlooms are ones that have been crossed deliberately using two original heirlooms to create a new variety; finally, mystery heirlooms arise in nature due to natural cross pollination. Visit this link to identify the heirloom tomatoes you have: heirloomtomatoes.bizland.com.

If you have any questions or need a little help, let me know by email, John.Johnson@rivercity.com.

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