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Tomato heaven 

Click for larger image • An array of heirloom tomatoes from the Durham Farmers' Market.

Photo by D.L. Anderson

Click for larger image • An array of heirloom tomatoes from the Durham Farmers' Market.

My friends and family may be tired of me waxing on about this summer's heirloom tomatoes, but I can't help it. The flavor is that remarkable, and I never tire of eating them.

Any recipe you use fresh tomatoes for can become sublime by trying different varieties, such as Green Zebra, Sun Gold, Brandywine, Purple Cherokee and Striped German. The names themselves sound like code for undercover spy operations or titles of obscure pagan gods. Their flavor differences are nuanced enough to stand apart from each other subtly like distinct wines from the same grape or blend together richly in a salsa or uncooked pasta sauce (like a cuvée).

The following recipe is inspired by a salad I had in mid-July at Raleigh's 18 Seaboard. As I write, this appetizer is not included on their online menu, so I suspect it depends on tomatoes' availability and quality in restaurant quantities. It was so delicious that I almost stopped my entrée order in favor of seconds on the salad. That said, while the dog days linger, this dish served with sturdy bread and summer ale can be a welcome center of a no-cook meal, maybe alongside cold chicken and olives.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, varied according to color and size (smaller ones tend to be firmer and tastier)
4 ounces goat cheese or fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup fresh oregano and basil leaves, mixed, snipped if large
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Reduce balsamic vinegar by cooking over medium heat in a small saucepan (1 quart or less), until half the original amount remains in the pan, approximately 2 to 3 minutes (maybe less depending on your burner), watching closely. Do not overdo it or you will end up with a syrup cooked to the candy stage. Set aside to cool as soon as it is nearly half-evaporated; it will continue to thicken as it cools.

Slice tomatoes to 1/2-inch thickness and arrange on four salad plates in a circular combination, alternating colors, spots and stripes. Dot with cheese crumbles or chunks. Sprinkle with herbs, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.


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