Why You Shouldn't Waste Heirloom Tomatoes On A Simple Sauce

When farmers markets and farmstands are bursting with summer produce, one of the most noticeable items on sale are the jewels of the vegetable section: heirloom tomatoes. They come in all shapes and sizes, from deeply grooved to smooth as a ping pong ball, and in colors ranging from pale yellow and light green to deep, almost black reds and all the tones in between. These tomatoes have been carefully curated and passed down by growers to maintain specific colors or flavors, and essentially offer eaters a taste of the past. They have not been crossbred to be easy to harvest and ship like most of the standard tomatoes you can buy — which is reflected in the higher price tag compared to other varieties. They're delicate, fully-flavored fruits of the vine that are worth seeking out. 

Heirlooms are not the tomatoes you want to buy for a pot of Sunday pasta sauce, or for a simple tomato puree like passata. The flavor of heirloom tomatoes, generally speaking, is not as intense as the Roma or paste style of tomato used in cooked recipes because they contain more water. As a result, sauces made with heirloom tomatoes tend to lack that noticeable fruity flavor. 

Heirlooms are for showing off, not cooking down

The amazing shapes and colors of heirloom tomatoes are perfect for slicing and showing off. Layer them with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and fresh basil leaves, and top the plate with a creamy ball of burrata cheese. The cheese will combine with tomato juice to create its own sauce on the plate. Heirloom tomatoes also perfect for stealing all the attention at your next dinner party in a rich tomato tart with ricotta filling. Lightly baking the tomatoes while they're nestled in the tart shell concentrates their fruitiness, rather than cooking it away, as happens with sauce.

However, if you've got an overlooked batch of heirlooms that look past their prime for serving in pretty slices, don't hesitate to chunk them up and saute them with a bit of oil and garlic. Rather than try to cook them for a long time, just warm them through and toss them with a can of white beans or a handful of pasta for a satisfying side dish. It's worth it to use every scrap of these summer gems.