Vail Simply Seasonal: Heirloom tomatoes star in salads
As surely as the first day of fall is approaching, the final days of native tomatoes are here. Though we eat them all year long, their season is right now, and nothing beats the flavor of a sun-warmed tomato, picked right off the vine. Snatch up as many as you can find and enjoy.Seventeenth century Europeans believed the tomato was poisonous, since its high acid content reacted poorly with their lead-based cookware. Legend reads that the evil tomato would turn one’s blood to acid. Actually, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. They also contain fiber, calcium and vitamins A and C.Today tomatoes are such a staple in salads, sauces, soups, sandwiches, pizzas and more, it’s hard to believe they were ever considered evil or poisonous! Many argue that tomatoes are a vegetable, but scientifically a tomato is a fruit, one that reaches the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness throughout the late summer. Several varieties are available, and when you find unique heirloom tomatoes, treat yourself, and savor their perfectly balanced flavor.Heirloom tomatoes make delicious salads, either as a starter or a main dish. Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef at Avondale praises their beefy, hearty texture. “A variety of heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil, feta cheese, watermelon, and peppers is perfect for a healthy lunch,” he said.Larkspur’s executive chef, Armando Navarro, suggests savoring late season tomatoes by whipping up a batch of gazpacho. “This is a refreshing soup, using all ripe veggies that are in season right now – cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic. It’s an easy and appetizing starter to serve when you entertain.”Or take advantage of ripe tomatoes by making soup to freeze. “Creamy Tomato Soup is the classic comfort food,” said Navarro, “Serve it with grilled cheese sandwiches all winter long. You can make a delicious fresh tomato soup, freeze it in quart size containers and enjoy a little summertime months from now.”Tomato, Feta, and Watermelon Salad4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut in thick wedges4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled1 pint yellow teardrop tomatoes, sliced in half2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced into thin rounds4 one inch thick slices of watermelon1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (or basil leaves)1/4 cup balsamic vinegar1 teaspoon Dijon mustard3/4 cup extra virgin olive oilSalt & pepperArrange tomatoes, watermelon, jalapenos, feta and mint decoratively on four plates. Combine balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle each salad with vinaigrette. Pass remaining vinaigrette when serving. Serves 4.GazpachoMain Ingredients:2 1/2 cups tomatoes, roughly chopped1/2 cup red onion, roughly chopped1/2 cup fennel, roughly chopped1/2 cup green bell pepper, roughly chopped1/2 cup English cucumber, roughly chopped1/2 cup jalapenos, roughly chopped1 clove garlic, roughly chopped2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped1/4 cup lime juice1/2 tablespoon white wine vinaigretteGarnish:1/4 cup red onion, finely diced1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely diced1/2 cup English cucumber, finely diced1/4 cup olive oilCombine all the main ingredients into a large container to marinate overnight. Once marinated, puree all main ingredients in a blender. Pass the puree through a mesh strainer. Combine all of the garnish ingredients together and mix into your puree. Yield 2 quarts.Palisade Tomato Soup 10 very ripe beefsteak tomatoes2 yellow onions5 cloves garlic1 quart water1 small can chopped tomatoes1 cup fresh basil leaves1 cup heavy creamSaut onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add tomatoes and water, cook for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add basil and heavy cream. Puree in a blender and strain through a mesh sieve. Makes 2 quarts.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, (larkspurvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.