20 August 2011
Walking through the farmers market this time of year, you can't help but realize that tomato season has arrived. Tomatoes are available all year round but it’s not until the summer that they really come into their own. When wandering you can literally feel the excitement at farmer’s markets and fruit stands all over the valley. Perfectly plump workhorse beefsteaks, pints of adorable cherry tomatoes just begging to be snacked on, and of course, the queen bee of the pack, the knobby heirlooms, in every shape and size imaginable, are just now making their noble debut. The rich tapestry of colors, the diversity and depth of flavour, and the general beauty of the tomatoes provide an experience that your average grocery tomato just can't match.
In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have caught the fancy of an increasing number of gardeners and local growers making them more widely available. These are the tomatoes that people have fallen in love with, and have deemed worthy of keeping from plants that have been grown year after year and handed down from gardener to gardener. Heirloom tomato seeds, like your grandmother’s china, are viewed as precious family treasures that have been passed from generation to generation. For an heirloom tomato to qualify for heirloom status it has to have been around for at least 50 years. Newer genetic variations are classified as hybrids.
Heirloom tomatoes have several advantages over hybrids. Most importantly they have outstanding flavour! They also come in a variety of colours, pink, yellow, orange, maroon, purple and may even be marbled or striped or have unusual shapes. Until the 20th century and the onset of hybrids tomato varieties were every shape but round. With names like Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Kellogg's Breakfast, San Marzano, Yellow Pear, Radiator and Charlie's Mortgage Lifter how can you resist!!!
Nature blesses perfectly ripe summer tomatoes with their own ideal dressing. Rich olive oil and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper are practically all that’s needed to bring out the sunny flavour of summer tomatoes and complement the sweet-tart acidity of their natural juices. In this salad thicker tomato slices might have made a prettier presentation but the slices here were cut as thin as carpaccio which is paper thin slices of a food that can turn a simple supper into an elegant meal. A mandolin makes easy work of cutting the tomatoes paper thin so if your tomatoes are firm this method is recommended, otherwise cut each slice by hand for thicker slices.
Having some gnocchi on hand in the freezer makes this dish quick and easy with minimum fuss. The gnocchi turns into a summer-supper-on-the-patio type dish, a palate-twisting combination of different temperatures and textures. If Heirloom tomatoes are in season this looks stunning with every colour of red and orange in the rainbow captured on the plate.
Back to the Future....
Over four years of blogging I have found many wonderful recipes to share on these pages. Some from my own kitchen, some from your creative blogs and web sites, and some from well known celebrities and chefs. I have been feeling a little nostalgic and was browsing these very pages just the other day, creeping back to the very beginning in 2006 when More Than Burnt Toast was in it's infancy and no more than "knee high to a grasshopper". We all have those stellar recipes from when we first started when we were lucky enough to find one comment and have maybe one reader; in my case even before I was taking photos of the dishes I prepared. My other motivation for reconnecting with the past is to create uniform formatting on this blog and this is a fun way for me to revisit past posts.
So here are a couple of flashback recipes from the very first baby steps here at MTBT with...
**Warm Gnocchi Salad with Carpaccio of Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil**
loosely based on a recipe by Michael Chiarello The Tra Vigne Cookbook
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Gray salt and freshly ground pepper
one small shallot, chopped finely
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably a mixture of red, yellow, orange and variegated
4 handfuls salad greens
2 tablespoons butter
About 1-1/2 ounces ricotta salata cheese or Parmesan cheese
1 handful basil
In a medium or large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, shallot, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Taste for balance and adjust with olive oil or lemon as necessary. Using a mandolin or sharp chef’s knife, slice the tomatoes as thinly as possible and arrange on a large platter. Season with salt and pepper and spoon a little of the vinaigrette over the tomatoes. Toss the lettuce with a little more of the dressing and arrange on top of the tomatoes.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan large enough to accommodate gnocchi without crowding (I used a non-stick pan.) When the butter becomes brown and fragrant, add the gnocchi to the pan and cook, turning as needed, until crisp and browned on all sides, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Scatter the gnocchi on the salad. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese over the salad. Sprinkle with torn basil and serve immediately.
You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.