Not your average rubberized, hybridized grocery store tomatoes, these tomatoes are funky shaped, many colored, and very flavorful. Heirloom tomatoes rule the farmers' markets this time of year. You can find them in all sizes, from tiny cherry sizes to melon sizes. I could not resist buying a whole bunch this last week at the Union Square Greenmarket. I must say that they are expensive, especially this year because of the blight, but they are definitely worth buying. What sets heirloom tomato varieties apart from their test-tube produced, cookie-cutter brethren is that each heirloom tomato is unique, not just in appearance, but also in texture and flavor. You will find some heirloom varieties to be exceptionally sweet whereas others might be slightly salty or briny. Try a few different ones and you will find the kind that you like.
What really makes heirloom tomato varieties truly special is that their lineage can be traced back many decades. These tomatoes have a heritage not unlike our own ancestral histories. Most varieties trace their roots in the United States while others, some of which are among the most popular black varieties, can be found in the far reaches of Eastern Europe and Russia. Over the years heirloom tomatoes have been cultivated from seed handed down from generation to generation, passed from farmer to farmer and between father and son. Collecting seeds from the best of the bunch has made each heirloom variety highly unique but still characteristic of the variety. Genetic engineering has never been involved and therefore heirloom tomatoes have biodiversity.
When buying tomatoes for this recipe, look for ones that are firm and free of blemishes and bruises. When choosing tomatoes at the market make sure to handle them carefully as some may be overripe and bruise easily. It's best to stay away from them since they are very likely to be mealy in texture. Some heirloom varieties are thick skinned, hard, and woody. These kinds may not work well for this salad. The Black Krim, Brandywine, Big Rainbow, Lillian's Yellow, and Green Zebra are wonderful heirloom varieties to use in this salad. They are juicy and have smaller seed pockets. If you are not sure about the varieties, ask the farmer for help in choosing the tomatoes you want.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes of various kinds
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
handful basil leaves
Core tomatoes and cut 1/4-inch thick slices.
On a large platter, lay tomato slices overlapping. Season each slice with salt and pepper. Drizzle with about 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and of vinegar.
Gather basil leaves together and roll into a cigar shape. Slice crosswise into very thin ribbons. Sprinkle over tomatoes. Serve salad immediately. Yield: 4 servings.