Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Late Summer Heirloom Tomato Tasting Guide + Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad by Eva Kosmas Flores | Adventures in Cooking

Heirloom tomatoes used to be very difficult to find outside of niche farmer's markets, but with each passing year more and more of them are finding their way into large national supermarkets. Like apples, each heirloom tomato variety has its own unique taste, texture, and use, but they're usually lumped together in a generic 'heirloom tomato' bin at the grocery store, and the different varieties are never explained or highlighted. Well, today I am going to do just that. I have a tasting guide below for the various varieties I grow, but there are hundreds more varieties out there so don't be surprised if the availability at your farmer's market is slightly different than what's listed here. This is just a general guide to get you started and familiarize you with what to look for in tomatoes when you're determining what to use them for. As a rule of thumb, roma tomatoes are not great for fresh-eating since they're drier inside, but make for perfect sauce stock. The tomatoes listed below in the guide can be enjoyed both fresh and cooked, however, and any personal recommendations one way or the other are also included.

This is a good time to start to think about what tomatoes you may want to grow next year, and in the spring I'll share a tomato seed-starting and planting guide, but for now you can just peruse and admire all the varieties of tomatoes out there. Late summer is also when most tomato bushes are at the height of production, so if you go to your local farmer's market you should be able to get a wonderful variety of them and do a little taste-test of your own. My favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes is in a simple-yet-ridiculously-tasty caprese salad. The olive oil, salt, basil and mozzarella really bring out the sweetness, acidity, texture, and overall flavor of the fruit. The ingredients and preparation for caprese are incredibly simple, but the key to success with this salad lies in the quality of the ingredients you use. Ripe, juicy tomatoes, spright green basil, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and flake sea salt will make all the difference.

Caprese Salad by Eva Kosmas Flores | Adventures in Cooking


What To Look For


Juiciness - The juicier the tomato, the better it is for fresh eating. Salads, sandwiches, and burgers are all great uses for freshly-sliced juicy tomatoes like the beefsteak varieties. The less juicy the tomato, the better it is for making sauce, since the flavor is already more concentrated and you'll have to stew the tomatoes for less time since there is less water to evaporate. The general roma tomato varieties are great examples of drier tomatoes.

Shape & Size - The shape can provide hints about what to do with a tomato, as well. Wide and medium to large tomatoes are great for slicing and use as toppings on pizzas and sandwiches, whereas smaller round or pear-shaped tomatoes can be quartered or cut in half and used in salads. Long and skinny tomatoes like roma varieties should be chopped up for stews or can be cut in half length-wise and roasted.

Texture - Color is not the only sign of ripeness in a tomato. Once it turns the correct hue for its particular variety, make sure to give the tomato a gentle squeeze before picking. When a tomato is ripe and ready for eating, it shouldn't be hard, but should give a little. On the other hand, it should not feel mushy or break the skin when squeezing softly, as this is usually a sign that a tomato is overripe and is better tossed into the compost pile than used for eating. If the tomato has no give to it and feels pretty hard, let the tomato rest another day or two on the vine before coming back for another squeeze test.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Carbon Tomato

A medium to large tomato with deep red coloring that can become a rich brown, often times with brownish-green streaks of color at the top. Its shape is usually round and flat, which makes it an ideal slicing variety. The shape paired with and its incredibly rich, sweet, and juicy flavor makes it perfect for using in sandwiches, burgers, and salads.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Costoluto Genovese Tomato

An old-time Italian favorite, this deeply ribbed tomato is as beautiful and it is delicious. A striking true red in color, they tend to be round and flat and can sometimes curl up around the stalk they're growing from as the fruit matures, creating a u-shaped tomato. Classic acidic tomato flavor, perfect for sauces, stews, soups, and roasting. They're wonderful for slicing and eating fresh, as well, when they're large enough to get several slices out of a single one.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

White Queen Tomato

A sweet and juicy beefsteak tomato, this is the most flavorful of the white varieties which can sometimes be a little flavorless. Round with slight ribbing on the shoulders, it's actually a very pale yellow color when ripe and can sometimes get a mild pink blush. Because of its striking color, it's great for serving in salads and its shape makes it an excellent slicing tomato, too.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Yellow Pear Tomato

A very old heirloom variety, these bright yellow miniature tomatoes usually measure about 2 inches in height and have a defined pear-shape to them. They're tangy and acidic in flavor and the plant itself is very productive and does well as a vining tomato, with long crawling branches that tend to creep up onto any plants growing nearby it. Perfect for using in salads, stews, or roasting and eating as a snack.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Currant Tomato

A very small cherry-type tomato, in fact the smallest heirloom tomato variety out there (they can get as small as 1/2 inch when ripe, mine are usually about 1 inch). But what it lacks in size it makes up for in flavor and productivity. Incredibly sweet and tangy, with long string-like branches that get weighed down with dozens upon dozens of fruit. They make for great snacking and the perfect addition to salads. I also like to roast them in the oven for a bit to get some of the moisture out and concentrate the flavor, then you can toss them with a little salt and olive oil and eat them like chewy delicious tomato chips.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Gypsy Tomato

This is the second-most productive tomato in my garden, falling right after the currant tomato. Gypsy tomatoes are a smooth-skinned purple tomato variety that produce round medium-sized fruit with an intensely rich and almost smokey flavor. They'e deep maroon in color with green streaks appearing near the top. It's a Russian variety that's gaining in popularity here in the states because of its incredibly unique flavor and ease-of-growth. I recommend slicing these for salads, using them in stews, or roasting them and using the roasted tomatoes as a stew or soup base.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Green Grape Tomato

This is hands down my favorite tomato variety. Unfortunately, this year my lone green grape seedling I brought up from California ended up succumbing to disease and thus the fruit of this plant ended up quite warped, as you can see. But when healthy, these oblong cherry-variety tomatoes are packed with an incredibly dense, sweet, and rich flavor. They also have only 10% of the seeds of similar cherry tomato varieties, which means more juice and meat inside and less chewy seeds. They turn a deep yellow-green when ripe and usually have a darker green tint towards the top. Inside they're practically neon green, which makes them perfect for slicing in half and incorporating into salads. Their low-seed count also makes them great for salsa verde, but I have used them for everything from stews to sandwiches since their flavor is so incredible. My favorite way to enjoy them, though, is roasting the tomato halves, tossing with a little salt and olive oil, and eating them like chips.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Rose Tomato

A large and delicious beefsteak-style tomato with soft ribbing on the shoulders and a beautiful dusty magenta hue, though it can also come through as a pale-ish dusty pink, too. Incredible flavor, both rich and sweet with lots of juice. Great for slicing and eating fresh, as well as roasting and stews. Very versatile!


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Yellow Brandywine Tomato

Brandywine is a classic heirloom tomato variety with notoriety for its incredible flavor. This yellow strain packs a tangy and rich punch and makes for an excellent slicing variety. Mine were smooth, round, and flat, but they can sometimes have a bit of ribbing on their shoulders. A little trickier to grow and not quite as productive or disease-resistant as other heirloom varieties, but the flavor is top notch.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Japanese Black Trifele Tomato

A beautiful brownish brick red tomato with earthy green shoulders, its pear shape makes it great for cutting into quarters and eating in salads. Very smooth fruit and an incredibly productive plant, the flavor is wonderfully sweet and mellow. These tomatoes can get fairly large, too, if given the right growing conditions.


Tasting Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes | Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Bonny Best Tomato

A bright crimson and perfectly round fruit, this was the most popular canning tomato in the U.S. for the better part of the 20th century. With a rich and strong flavor that can withstand the preserving process, this tomato makes for great soup and sauce stock. Its shape also lends itself to slicing and dicing for fresh-eating.


Caprese Salad by Eva Kosmas Flores | Adventures in Cooking

Caprese Salad

1 pound heirloom tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices


Gently toss all ingredients together until evenly distributed. Serve immediately.



32 comments:

  1. I didn't grow a single one of those. Ha! I think my two favorites this year are Green Zebra and San Marzano.

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    1. Hahaha, I grew San Marzano too but it wasn't ripe in time for the post. The bush is loaded down with green ones, though, so hopefully they'll ripen before the cold sets in, otherwise I'm going to be eating a LOT of pickled and fried green tomatoes. I've always been curious about green zebra, I'm going to have to try that one next year!

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  2. Beautiful post, Eva. I love that so many wonderful heirloom tomatoes are easily available now (what a difference a few years makes!). Some of these I've grown before and some are new to me! All ready thinking about next season..

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    1. Thank you so much, Liz! I agree, the amount of heirlooms in the market now is just fantastic, they have such a rich flavor and so many wonderful culinary uses :)

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  3. Oh man, I want to print this guide and put it on my wall!! I love heirloom tomatoes and like you, only find them at the market, but it's totally worth going!

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    1. Hahaha, thanks Katrina! There's always so many fun things to find at the farmer's market. Once at the Santa Monica farmer's market I found dates that hadn't been dried yet, they looked like hard green grapes. It was a very exciting find for me haha :)

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  4. I've just stumbled across your website and i love your photos. I've put my heart and soul into food photography but I'm not happy with the results I get. I would have LOVED to go to your Photography and Styling workshop this fall in New York but unfortunatly I live in Sweden. Can I in some other way take part of your tips, have you published any books or written anything about food photography online? I'm especially interested in how to succeed shooting in autumn/winter when its poor light, your photos turn out so great!
    Thanks so much in advance, all the best x

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    1. Awww thank you Ellen that makes me so happy to hear! I am going to have another online food styling and photography class in January and will be opening registration in the fall, if you shoot me an email I can add you to the shortlist for the class and send you an email once registration opens. It's going to be a lot of fun and the best part is you can participate from anywhere in the world! :)

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  5. Wowza, this gorgeous post gave me quite the hankering for some heirloom tomatoes. Luckily, tomato season is about to begin here in Florida! Caprese salad is so fabulous, although I tend to cheat and add some balsamic to the mix. :)

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    1. Thanks Christina!! And yes, balsamic just adds a whole new layer of flavor to the dish. I usually put it on my caprese about half the time, I love the way it tastes but its strong (and incredible!) flavor does tend to mute the flavor of the tomatoes for me, so I go back and forth depending on how tomato-y of a mood I'm in haha. I just had some toast recently with sheep's cheese on it and kale sautéed in balsamic on top of that, kind of like a fancy bruschetta, and it was amaaaaazing. Definitely going to be attempting to recreate that soon!

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  6. Gorgeous photos Eva. Amazing shades of red. I have tried a few of these tomatoes, and they are so good. My favorite is the rose tomato.

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    1. Thank you my friend!! :) Rose really is a great one, its such a beautiful tomato just to look at, too. I'm really hoping my green grape does okay next year, it was such a bummer to have my favorite variety be the only one that got attacked by fungus, but I probably should have brought more than just one seedling with me from the move in case something happened to it. Lessons learned for next season, though!

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  7. This is such a wonderful post! I'm a huge fan of Yellow Brandywines but never knew that they're trickier to grow--maybe that's why I always have a hard time finding them! Thanks for sharing this gorgeous and thoughtful guide!!

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    1. Thank you, Alana! Yes yellow brandy wines are suuuuuper tasty, but they can be very finicky. About half mine got bottom rot this year which stunk, but I also think it might be because the soil needs more calcium, so I'll be doing a lot of composting this fall and winter to get the ground in tip-top shape for the spring! :)

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  8. im not sure what exactly I get at stores but they claim it to be heirloom and it taste justttt wonderful. I love it with feta or goat.

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    1. Agreed! Feta and goat cheese with tomatoes is just heaven :)

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  9. I love how heirloom tomatoes are so fleshy - they have barely any of that icky tomato 'snot'!

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    1. Hahaha, yes they are wonderfully fleshy! But it does depend on the variety, some of them will have more goop than others :)

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  10. Yesterday I went to Maine's big organic farming fair. They have crop judging, and oh my gosh the tomato table is a sight to behold. I saw big, glorious yellow heirloom tomatoes for the first time. I was awestruck! I'm totally going to seek those out and try to grow them next year. It was a cold summer here, so our crops are all late with lower yields, but growing them was still a lot of fun. I would love to someday be able to grow as many varieties as you do, but with a tiny garden and a husband who doesn't eat raw tomato, my three plants have done the job so far :)

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    1. I started mine late this year, too, because of the move. They didn't get in the ground until late June so they're just now getting ripe, but there's already loads of them. I may have gone overboard! Three plants for one person is the perfect amount, I think I may downsize next year and stick with the varieties that are my favorites. I bet the tomato table was AMAZING! I always love going to those types of things and just staring at all the amazing crops everyone has grown. Some tomatoes get ridiculously huge, but I suspect lots of miracle grow whenever I see those haha. The big yellow one might have been a yellow brandywine, there's also a delicious and beautiful variety called Livingston's Golden Queen that's another favorite of mine but wasn't ripe yet for me to include in this post.

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  11. So informative! Thank you for breaking down the whole "heirloom" category. That is a beautiful salad.

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    1. Awww thanks Katie!! I'm glad you found it helpful!

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  12. Such a gorgeous and informative guide! There were a few in here I didn't know but I'll be on the look out for their seeds in the spring! : )

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    1. Thank you, Shelly! I recommend checking out rareseeds.com for a great variety of heirloom tomato seeds. victoryseeds.com is another great seed source, too :)

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  13. What a STUNNER of a post. And the recipe…perfection!

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  14. Wow, now I know everything about tomatoes! And I have viewed some of the most beautiful photos ever of them, too. Stunning!

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  15. Thank you so much for this recipe . It looks great i will try it today ! :)

    Try this recipe it's my favorite : http://no.findiagroup.com

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  16. I think this post has the most beautiful photos of tomatoes I have ever seen!! It is just as if you have captured their taste in the pictures. How do you grow Heirloom tomatoes yourself, even though I am happy that they're more available at markets today, I would love to try and grow them myself. And are there certain varieties that are easier to grow in a moderate climate? Thank you, and I hope in the future you will do another post as extensive as this on a different kind of fruit/vegetable, I am thinking of doing a post on different kind of sweet potatoes/regular potatoes myself, I just have to find all the different varieties ^^

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  17. Nice photos, congrats! Did you ever see "Buffalo's heart" tomatoes?

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