Monday, August 22, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Previously I had little knowledge of or interest in heirloom tomatoes. You can’t buy them at the supermarket, and the farm stands around here just have bins with large piles of “native” tomatoes of some unidentified variety. So I had no experience with the variety of colors and shapes and the wonderful flavors of heirloom tomatoes.

Then several years ago on a business trip to San Francisco, I was working a trade show by myself, eight hours a day of standing up without a break. When I got a day off, I treated myself to a trip to the waterfront, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf (really commercialized into a tourist trap now) and Ghirardelli Square. I had dinner at the McCormick and Kuleto’s restaurant in Ghirardelli.

It must have been early or a weekday, because the restaurant was not very busy and I got a great table on the balcony with a terrific view of the harbor. My waitress was quite enthusiastic about one of the specials that night, an heirloom tomato salad. My expense account budget was already going to be blown by this meal, but she convinced me to try the salad. Twelve dollars for four slices of tomato!

Heirloom tomato salad

I am glad I did because the salad was wonderful. I can not remember what else I had for dinner, but I remember those tomatoes, four slices of perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes laid on a bed of salad greens and drizzled with truffle oil. What is truffle oil? It is olive oil that has been infused with the essence of white truffles, a rare and expensive fungus found growing underground.

Since then, I have been experimenting with planting various heirloom tomatoes. Varieties I have tried include Brandywine, German Striped, German Pink, Cherokee Purple and Mr. Stripey. And then I found my local supermarket carries truffle oil! So now when I have ripe heirloom slicers on hand, our favorite way to serve them is to slice them and drizzle with truffle oil with a garnish of chopped basil or other herb. The photo shows a slice of Cherokee Purple on top and a Brandywine. No lettuce for garnish but the essence of the dish is there, heirloom tomatoes and truffle oil.

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