Make a tomato upgrade

Published in FSD Update

Heirloom tomatoes offer endless varieties of colors, shapes, sizes and flavors.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

uc-santa-cruz-panzanella-salad

UC Santa Cruz’s panzanella salad.

At the University of California, Santa Cruz, Executive Chef Dwight Collins says his department is lucky to be close to the world’s largest hydroponic farm, which keeps him stocked with heirloom tomatoes. The department hopes to have them year-round, but for now the team takes great care to showcase the tomatoes when they do have them available.

“The ideal goal would be to incorporate the heirloom tomatoes into a dish that shows off their looks and flavor,” Collins says. “I think they work well in our panzanella salads, which feature large chunks of tomato and cucumber and large chunks of day-old French bread with a red wine vinaigrette. We also do a bistro series of salads that feature a Greek salad and a caprese salad. They also go well on pizzas like our caprese pizza or flatbread. The flatbread is actually a puff pastry that we brush with a mustard glaze and then put Gruyere cheese on top and melt it.”

Other fun dishes Collins’ department has dished up with the heirloom tomatoes include a ratatouille-stuffed tomato, which featured eggplant, onion, mushrooms, zucchini and a little cheese, and a rustic heirloom tomato soup, which featured larger chunks of tomatoes with their skins, basil, a little cream, Parmesan cheese and onion.

“I like that one because we don’t purée it all the way smooth, so it’s a very colorful and chunky soup,” Collins says of the tomato soup. “We also do a great chicken and goat cheese quesadilla that features heirloom tomatoes. It’s stuffed with goat cheese, ricotta, corn, roasted red peppers, cilantro, diced chicken, heirloom tomatoes and avocado. I think handling the tomatoes as little as possible is key, but if they are tasting really good, it doesn’t matter what you do to them. They will make any dish you put them in taste that much better.”

Beyond putting them on salad bars, it’s often tough for schools to get creative with heirloom tomatoes. But Keith Haigh, foodservice director with NutriServe at Haddonfield Public Schools, in New Jersey, says there have been a few chances to have some fun with different heirloom varieties.

“The middle school and the high school are no longer in the school nutrition program, which allows us to be a little more creative with our dishes,” Haigh says.

One example was a salsa that was made featuring multicolored heirloom tomatoes, which were served with a soft taco made of battered rockfish and shredded lettuce. In addition to the tomatoes, the salsa included lime juice, red onion, a touch of garlic, sea salt and cracked black pepper. “You got the tartness of the lime juice, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the saltiness of the fish and it really just was incredible,” he adds.

Haigh also has used Brandywine tomatoes for grilled cheese sandwiches. “What I like about [the Brandywine] the most is that they have a tendency to contrast the food as opposed to overpowering them with the tomato flavor,” he says. “They have a higher density to them and a sweeter taste and so they go nice with a grilled cheese and tomato. We also do a roasted veggie sandwich with spinach, roasted red peppers, some heirlooms and red onion on a crusty seeded Italian bread, topped with provolone cheese. You can use it as a teaching moment to teach the kids that tomatoes come in all different colors.”

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menu development