Summer's Heirs
by Mark R. Vogel

            Few vegetables epitomize summer like the tomato.  Fresh, red, ripe tomatoes, slathered onto your cool, crisp salad, adorning grilled burgers, or made into a zesty salsa or bruschetta are just some of the seasonal icons.  Heirloom tomatoes are a particular favorite.  Pull up a deck chair, pour yourself a nice, chilled, summery wine and let's discuss heirlooms.

            Heirloom plants are cultivars, i.e., a plant variety produced by breeding.  Some heirloom plants can be traced back to pre-recorded history.  Many others have been cultivated over the ages.  At times they may have been commonly grown but in the current era, they are ineluctably a plant that is not utilized in mass scale production.  Modern food production demands plants that are uniform and amenable to industrialized agriculture.   These features include resistance to certain pests, fecundity, and the ability to withstand the shipping process.  Thus, it is more efficient to mass produce a reliable plum tomato than deal with the endless permutations and quirks of every one of its cousins.

            The exact definition of an heirloom plant is embroiled in some debate, such as how old a cultivar must be to be branded a true heirloom.  Most agree that an heirloom must be open-pollinated which means that pollination has occurred via natural forces such as wind, birds or insects as opposed to closed pollination which is characterized by non-opening self-pollinating flowers. 

            Heirloom tomatoes come in all sorts of sizes and colors which adds to their appeal.  Dishes containing a myriad of heirlooms provide an interesting array for our senses.  Your typical “big box” supermarket will not carry them.  You will need to seek out smaller stores that carry specialized items, farmer’s markets, the internet, and your own garden.  Experiment with different heirlooms to see which ones you like best. 

            Below are two recipes with heirloom tomatoes.  They hail from a book I edited entitled “Summer in New York,” by Battman Studios in New York City:  The book is a collection of exquisite summery recipes from some of New York City’s finest chefs, complemented by stunningly brilliant photography.  




Sette Enoteca & Cucina, Executive Chef/Owner:  Giovanni Tafuri


Serves 4


1 small red onion, sliced

¾ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 large yellow tomato, cut into eighths

1 large Brandywine tomato, cut into eigths

1 Green Zebra tomato, quartered

1 pint Sungold tomatoes, halved

Kosher salt to taste

½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn

2 cups day-old sourdough bread, roughly cut into large cubes

1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

12 oz. arugula


            Marinate the red onion with the vinegar, sugar and garlic for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, toss all of the tomatoes together and season with the kosher salt and the basil.  Let the tomatoes sit for 10 minutes or until the juices exude.  Add the red onion mixture, bread cubes and olive oil to the tomatoes and rest for 5 minutes.  Mix and add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the tomato salad over the arugula and serve. 




Telepan, Executive Chef/Owner:  Bill Telepan


Serves 4


1 cup flour

4 eggs

3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (preferably brioche)

Salt to taste

Olive oil, as needed for frying

1 green tomato, cut into four ½-inch slices

1 yellow tomato, cut into four ½-inch slices

2 medium size heirloom tomatoes such as Cherokee Purple or Green Zebra, cut into eight ¼-inch slices

Aioli, as needed, (see recipe below)

Herb oil, as needed, (see recipe below)

            Place the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in separate bowls and season each with salt.  Bread the green and yellow tomatoes by dipping them in the flour, then the eggs, and then the breadcrumbs.  Fry the breaded green and yellow tomatoes in olive oil in a sauté pan, (in batches not to overcrowd them), for about 2-3 minutes on each side.  Drain on paper towels and season with salt.  Place four slices of one of the heirloom tomatoes on a cutting board.  Top each with a teaspoon of aioli and a green tomato slice.  Top each one with the remaining four slices of heirloom tomato and another teaspoon of aioli, followed by the yellow tomato slices.  Slice each of the four sandwiches in half.  Drizzle with herb oil and dollops of additional aioli.




3 tablespoons mayonnaise

½ teaspoon fresh garlic, mashed

2 teaspoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste


Combine all of the ingredients and let sit for one hour before use


Herb Oil


2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh mint, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


            Combine all of the ingredients.

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