While the languid summer days seem to be getting just a bit shorter and there is no hiding from the back to school ads on television, don't despair. We still have a few more weeks of meteorological summer, Anthony Gambino, owner of Cucina Paradiso, Twomaytoz Catering and Burger Boss, says there is still plenty to celebrate in the summer season. Top of his list of summer enjoyments still to be savored? Heirloom tomatoes. Gambino offers several tips for making the most of these culinary treasures.
Appearances don't matter. Heirloom tomatoes are not like standard tomatoes. Heirlooms are often misshapen, but this has no bearing on their taste. Don't be put off by cracked skins. As long as the fruit aren't leaking juice or moldy, heirloom tomatoes are safe to eat.
Pick it up before you buy it. An heirloom tomato should feel heavy for its size. That heaviness belies a volume that should provide good flavor.
Smell it. Ripe heirlooms should have an earthy, green scent. Avoid those that smell musty.
Handle with care. Don't pile heirloom tomatoes on top of each other. The weight of too many tomatoes can result in squashed tomatoes.
Room temperature is key. Absolutely do not refrigerate your tomatoes. A temperature lower than 50 degrees will destroy both flavor and texture.
At Cucina Paradiso, most of the heirloom tomatoes come from within 300 miles of the Chicago area, with the bulk coming from neighboring Michigan. On the restaurant's summer patio, customers can enjoy heirloom tomatoes in a variety of summer menu items from burrata cheese with heirlooms or fried green tomatoes with an aioli to pappardelle with burrata and cheese.
Too hot to cook? Gambino says that those farmers market finds are easily prepared without the heat of the stove or oven. The great flavor of an heirloom tomato will shine with simple preparation. Gambino suggests three easily prepared dishes to make the end of summer even sweeter.
A salad of fresh burrata cheese, heirloom tomatoes, fresh oregano, sea salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.
A bruschetta appetizer of day old bread topped with sliced tomatoes, fresh herbs, greens and extra virgin olive oil.
A raw pasta sauce composed of diced heirlooms tossed with salt, pepper, garlic and cheese.
Whether you choose to order heirloom tomatoes in a restaurant or enjoy them at home, the last days of summer are the perfect time to take advantage of nature's bounty: a much more pleasant proposition when it's presented in baskets of tomatoes rather than feet of snow.
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