I can barely contain my excitement when these bright, colorful and visually exquisite specimens arrive at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. I tour the different farms - Tutti Frutti, Munak Ranch, Roots, Windrose, and Fairview Gardens - to find the most flavorful and sweet tomatoes. Depending on the weather that particular week, along with the picking cycle and varieties available, I could be choosing a different farm each week. That is the key - to stake out the best tasting tomatoes you can on any given week. This a regular practice for me starting late summer and going through mid to late fall, until the very last heirloom tomato disappears from the market. I always make sure to purchase sun-dried heirloom tomatoes from Munak Ranch so that I can enjoy the flavors of my favorite varieties - Brandywine and Pineapple - all year long until the fresh ones appear at the market again.
There is nothing quite like fresh cut up heirloom tomatoes drizzled with good quality olive oil, Meyer lemon juice, and celtic sea salt. If you love Meyer lemons, you can also add a drizzle of Meyer lemon preserve, which you can find at Lazy Acres or most other gourmet groceries. The tomatoes have so much flavor that little is needed to dress them up.
Another favorite is cut up heirlooms paired with chopped Persian cucumber, fresh (raw) feta cheese, olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. You can also add chopped kalamata olives for a Greek flair or throw all of these ingredients together with greens for a large salad.
The possibilities are truly endless. Sometimes I just cut them up and eat them plain - or pop the smaller ones in my mouth whole, being careful not to let the juice and seeds squirt out of my mouth (sometimes I am not so careful).
There are some weeks in the heirloom tomato season when the tomatoes do not seem as sweet as other weeks. This could be due to less sun or being in between plantings. Do not fret as there is a simple solution to bringing out the sweetness and flavor on even these "off" days. Roasting the tomatoes concentrates the flavors and brings out that familiar sweetness you crave. Once roasted, they can be used as a simple, light tomato sauce for pasta or, like this recipe, as a pairing to fresh shell beans. Use your creativity to incorporate them into your favorite recipes.
fresh shell beans w/ roasted heirloom tomatoes
1/2 pound fresh shell beans*
1 small onion
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
1/2 cup sun-dried heirloom tomatoes
2-3 generous spoonfuls of butter, ghee or other heat stable fat
Rinse beans and remove any small rocks or sticks, etc. Place in a large pot and cover liberally with water. Bring water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until beans are tender, but not mushy. Remove from heat but let set in water.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice fresh tomatoes and onion into chunks and place in a ceramic or glass baking dish. Toss with melted fat and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 30 minutes or until tomatoes begin to break down and onions are translucent.
While tomatoes are baking, reconstitute sun-dried tomatoes by boiling some water and pouring water over tomatoes in a shall bowl.
When tomatoes have baked for 30 minutes, strain sun-dried tomatoes and drain beans. Add both to baking dish and mix well with baked tomatoes. Continue to roast for 15-20 minutes or until desired thickness is reached and flavors have melded. Add more sea salt if necessary.
*Starchy, fat shell beans such as cranberry beans work best with this recipe. Varieties will differ depending on your market. Ask the farmer if you are unsure.