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Grilled Heirlooms

Updated on October 24, 2020
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Lee has a degree in philosophy, but when cooking, Lee is more like an experimental scientist than an abstract thinker. Loves new ideas.

Heirloom tomatoes - grilling them

The basic idea behind heirloom tomatoes is that older varieties of tomatoes got pushed to the side or lost as tomato production became increasingly commercialized. They may have had a lot of flavor, but they lacked some characteristic needed for large scale production (and transportation across, in particular, the US).

Lingering on in the gardens of people who harvested seed year after year, replanted year after year in the spring, these varieties were kept in existence, but were of no commercial value in the market place.

"Were of no commercial value," that is, until a desire to try some of the older varieties consumed a number of foodies who had grown tired of the few types of commercially produced tomatoes available in the typical supermarket. It is tempting to say that this opened up a whole new world of flavor possibilites, but in fact, of course, it reopened an old door to flavor possibilities. Sometimes we've forgotten what we have. Sometimes it pays to look down there in the cellar and see what is hiding in the dark.

In the picture here, we have two heirlooms and, for contrast, two Roma tomatoes. Heirlooms come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, which, of course, is one of their attractions. For the recipe shown here, try lots of different types, experiment with lots of different types. Over the years -- because once you taste what we have done here, you will want to do this again and again.

"Authentic" -- that's a word that could be used here, in addition to "heirloom."

Cut for the grill

Among the many pleasing aspects of heirloom tomatoes is that they have more irregular shapes than do the commercial varieties such as Beefsteak or Roma or Tomato-on-the-Vine. (of the commercial varieties I like this last one best, though I sometimes change things and use Roma tomatoes to make pasta sauce).

This irregularity of fom makes them a little harder to grill, however. Our solution here is to cut them into pieces which will assume a good grilling position.

On the grill

The basic idea here was to cut the heirlooms into pieces which would have at least one flat surface, so that we can lay the tomatoes down on the grill like this.

Maybe three minutes on this side, on a preheated grill. You do preheat your grill, do you not?

Just two minutes on this side would also be fine, particularly if you have a very hot grill.


Here's what they look like after the three minutes.

Another three minutes on this side, and they are done.

The heirlooms are softer on the grill than commercial varieties, so take care that they do not become mushy.

Usually I am a bear about texture and crunchiness, but with heirlooms tomatoes I prefer a little softness. Not too much, but more than with many other vegetables. What do your taste buds tell you?

Off the grill

And here they are now, on the plate and ready to serve.

All that variety of color works to their advantage here because the visual aspect of grilled heirloom tomatoes is very appealing and a major part of their attractiveness. It is difficult to resist something this beautiful, is it not?

Dribble some olive oil, preferably EVOO, over them. Add some fresh rosemary, coarse ground salt and coarse ground black pepper (of course) -- and we have a magnificent grilled vegetable to serve with dinner.

For EVOO, click here.

Another option

Another option is to make a salad out of the grilled heirlooms.

Add some greens, some fresh mozzarella cheese, and some capers. EVOO and the vinegar -- or lemon juice -- of your choice.

Fresh mozzarella is best here, as it somehow goes so well with the texture and the taste of the heirlooms. Even better is if you can find fresh mozzarella di bufala, a specialty made in the traditional way with the milk of the water buffalo. Much more expensive, but worth splurging on, at least occasionally.

Grilled mushrooms would be another especially appealing addition to this salad.


Parting facts

One list of heirlooms I have found has more than a dozen types in it, specifically: Brandywine, Green Zebra, Gardener's Delight, Lollypop, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Big Rainbow, Chocolate Cherry, Red Currant, Three Sisters.

There are no doubt many more, though the rest are likely so local that you will only find them in a farmer's market late in the summer. That's a pretty good incentive for visiting a farmer's market, though, isn't it? Wandering around an discussing heirloom tomatoes is a very pleasant way to spend a summer day, particularly when you know that your going to take some home and put them on the grill and treat them like this.

Actually, there used to be an annual event in Carmel, California, held in a big field in the Carmel Valley, called TomatoFest. Held at harvest time, it featured tents with many restaurants and wineries providing food and drink for free -- once you had paid for the admission price. The star of the show, of course, was a large tent with dozens and dozens of types of heirloom tomatoes, all for the tasting. Alas, the founder of this wonderful event retired some years ago, and the event retired with him. Does a similar event occur in your neighborhood?

Real meal

Real Meal. Unlike fancy food mags, where images are hyped and food itself is secondary, all pix shown here are from a real meal, prepared and eaten by me and my friends. No throwing anything away till perfection is achieved. This is the real deal --- a Real Meal.


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