Buying vegetables is a akin to going on a blind date: Will they be beautiful yet shallow, or slightly blemished but with great personality? Can the old adage, beauty is only skin deep apply to tomatoes as well as to people? A trip to the farmers market with these thoughts in your head just might change the way you speculate about what to buy.
On a recent trip to the state market in Raleigh, , I learned that I, Fred Thompson, food stylist, might be playing with your taste buds. Sure, I hear the joking from you folks about why the fast food burger delivered at the drive-thru bears little resemblance to the one in the TV ad. I fear that I and food magazine photo editors have put in your head the notion that perfection in appearance equals perfection in taste.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Those luscious red, orbs that have center stage in the food publications during the summer are tasteless Holland tomatoes that were photographed last winter. Just like Hollands tulips, these tomatoes are all about looks and the ability to ship. But in talking to the farmers at the state market, it seems that this is what the majority of us still expect: the perfect tomato. And since farming is a business, they will grow that perfect tomato for you, even if the flavor was left lying on a geneticists desk.
Thats a version of something I wrote 11 years ago. Within weeks of that piece, it seems that some of you took note: My favorite regal German Johnson tomatoes started popping up at multiple farm stands at the state market. Debra Lees stand had always had them, way in the back where only true tomato lovers knew to look. No, these tomatoes arent perfectly round. They have big stems and are more pink than red. And they often have a few cracks. If you are still of the mindset that a tomato must be perfectly round and red then I promise you, that if youll try a German Johnson, sliced and placed between two pieces of white bread slathered with Dukes mayonnaise, a transformation will take place, sending you back in time to the most exciting tomato experience of your life.
Now we have the opportunity to leap even deeper into tomato nirvana. Heirloom varieties are more common than ever. Along with my German Johnsons are Cherokee Purples, a reddish purple tomato that has become one of my favorites for its low acid and true tomato tang. Appreciate the sunrise look of a German Striper, yellow with its blaze of red and subtle undertones, and Brandywines, awash in red with dead-on tomato flavor -- they and other heirloom types are beautiful in their own imperfections. Placed together on a platter, coupled with locally made fresh mozzarella cheese and married with good olive oil and vinegar, salt, pepper and some fresh basil and thyme, they become a grandiose representative of summer, both visually stunning and explosive in flavor.
If we want the best products, we have to seek them out and let it be known that we will buy them. Thanks to the independent chefs from the Triangle to Down East who have worked with farmers and guaranteed their crops, we now have a wider variety of heirloom and specialty produce available to us. Now we need to spend for taste, not beauty.
Take a farmer on a blind date. You may find that blemishes can lead to rich rewards. Also, thank them. Remember: No farmers, no food.
For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:
SLICE the tomatoes and cheese into 1/4-inch slices. Alternate the tomato and cheese slices on a platter.
POUR the oil and vinegar over the slices. Salt and pepper to taste.
SPRINKLE the herbs atop the slices. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Serve with: Fried chicken, shell beans and corn on the cob. Make some peach ice cream for dessert. A perfect farmer’s market meal.
To drink: Plenty of cold sweet tea, laced with mint. Yield: 4 servings