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TOMATO, TOMAHTO - How to cook, can and eat the sweetest harvest

From Zebras to Golden Girls, the garden’s precious heirloom tomatoes go from sandwich to salad to sauces in this range of recipes


An heirloom is a precious treasure – a gift handed down from one generation to the next.

So what better vegetable than a sweet, juicy vine-ripened summer tomato to be recognized as a culinary heirloom? What more exquisite flavour could there be to preserve and protect?

The latest buzz in the fresh tomato business is the heirloom tomato – a loosely defined collection of old-fashioned varietals, not engineered in the modern plant breeding lab.

The fabulous fruit flavour you remember from your grandmother’s garden, likely came from an heirloom seed, a favourite variety that was carefully saved from one year to the next.

When I first encountered an heirloom tomato grower, he was farming these colourful gems in an organic greenhouse in southern Alberta – varieties with names like Brandywine, Golden Girl, Green Zebra and White Beauty. They were not selected for their uniform ripening or tough, transportation-friendly skins. Flavour was his first criteria — the quest for that true sweet and acidic flavour of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato.

Fast forward a decade or two, and more growers are offering heirloom tomatoes, at least in the height of summer, and there are plenty of seed options for home growers.

The big pink Brandywine (which looks like an underripe red tomato when ready to eat) for sweetness is especially sweet, and the striped Green Zebra has a tangy, citrusy flavour. The key to a great tasting tomato is growing it in soil (not hydroponically) and picking it when fully mature, whether bright green, yellow or pink when perfectly ripe.

Always choose tomatoes that are firm but not hard, and fragrant. Give that tomato a sniff – a truly fresh tomato retains the pungent, musty aroma of the vine.

Don’t’ refrigerate tomatoes. Leave them at room temperature, and eat them as soon as they’re ripe. Chilling kills the flavour.

Tomatoes are a good souces of vitamin C, beta carotene and lycopene, a powerful antioxident found in the fruit’s pigment which may reduce the risk of cancer. While some recipes call for peeled seeded tomatoes, many of the nutrients are found in the skin and juicy bits around the seeds so keep that in mind, especially when cooking tomatoes.

Summer is the best season for fresh, local tomatoes and a toasted bacon and tomato sandwich is a great way to savour the season.

Tips from The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook by Cinda Chavich:


BUY: Best when vine-ripened in summer, though less flavorful hot-house versions are available year round. Heirloom tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and often have the best flavor.

STORE: Stored at room temperature, tomatoes will ripen—only put them in the fridge when fully ripe. Freeze tomatoes whole, unpeeled, in zippered plastic bags. When you want to use them for soups or sauces, run frozen tomatoes under hot water and the skins will pop right off. Or cook with basil and salt, and seal in jars to can. Use the oven or a dehydrator to dry Romas.

SERVE: Tomatoes are standard in every mixed green salad, essential in tomato salsa and Italian bruschetta, and important components in soups, stews, pasta sauces, and pizza. Or just broil with cheese for breakfast.


  • If you have bread, bacon, mayo, and tomatoes you have the makings of a toasted BLT, one of the world’s classic combos.

  • Cut Romas into quarters, discard seeds, arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet, season with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and oven roast at 300ºF for about 1 hour until chewy.

  • Spear cherry tomatoes with baby bocconcini that have been rolled in basil pesto and olive oil for instant appetizers.

  • Chop fresh tomatoes and combine with olive oil and chopped fresh garlic and basil, then pile on toasted bread for classic bruschetta.

  • Slice tomatoes, arrange on a platter, and season with sea salt, a drizzle of your best olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Strew around some chopped fresh herbs and serve.

  • Toss chopped fresh cherry tomatoes with hot pasta, olive oil, fresh basil, pressed garlic, and Parmesan.

  • Slather a pizza shell or pita bread with basil pesto, top with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella, and bake at 400˚F until bubbly.

  • Make fresh pico de gallo with chopped fresh tomatoes, minced white onion, chopped jalapeno, salt, lime juice, and chopped cilantro, to scoop up with tortilla chips or add to fish tacos

  • To make a fast fresh tomato sauce, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until browned, deglaze with a splash of white wine, add 3 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, some basil pesto, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add sautéed meatballs or fresh Italian sausage to up the ante. Toss sauce with hot cooked pasta.



Use only truly flavorful, ripe tomatoes for this fresh salsa that will give simply grilled chicken or fish a Latin lift. Or serve it with tortilla chips for an instant starter. For even more authenic flavour, roast all of the vegetables on a hot cast iron pan or bbq grill until lightly charred bore chopping and combining for salsa.

1 cup (250 mL) diced fresh heirloom tomatoes

1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped onion

1 jalapeno or serrano* chile, stemmed and finely chopped (*serrano is hotter)

1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon(15 mL) fresh lemon or lime juice

salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and add salt to taste. Mix well and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Makes 1 1/4 cups (300 mL).


This combination of fresh tomatoes and seafood is fast to toss together on a warm summer evening. Use any very fresh white fish or seafood – cubes of monkfish, seabass, sole or pickerel and medium shrimp, deveined and halved to heat quickly in the fresh tomato sauce. If you don’t have fresh peas, you can substitute chopped fresh green beans.

1/2 pound (250 g) white fish fillets, bones removed and cut into small cubes

1/2 pound (250 g) medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise

1/4 cup (50 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/2 cup (125 mL) minced red onion

1/2 cup (125 mL) white wine

1 1/2 pounds (750 g) very ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 cup freshly shelled peas (or substitute thawed frozen peas)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic vinegar

1 pound (500 g) fusilli or other short pasta

2 tablespoons (25 mL) finely chopped basil leaves

2 tablespoons (25 mL) finely chopped Italian parsley leaves

2 tablespoons (25 mL)finely chopped fresh chives

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Smash the garlic clove (but don’t chop it) and add to the hot oil. Brown the garlic for a minute or two in the oil, then remove and discard. Add the cubed fish and shrimp to the hot oil in the pan and saute quickly until barely cooked, about 2 minutes. Remove fish and shrimp to a bowl and set aside.

Add the onion to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes, until starting to brown. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and boil until most of the liquid is gone. Add the chopped tomatoes and peas and cook until the tomatoes begin to break up, about 3-5 minutes.

Return the fish and shrimp to the pan, season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in vinegar. Cook for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, tender but still firm. Drain the pasta quickly and return to the pot. Add the seafood sauce to the hot pasta, along with the chopped basil, Italian parsley and chives. Toss well to combine and heat through. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.


A cross between gazpacho and classic tomato soup, this fresh version is designed to consume cold. Serve it as a starter, in chilled mugs with chives, fresh herbs or celery leaves to garnish. Because all tomatoes differ in their acidity and sweetness, adjust the flavour of the soup with sugar and lime juice to taste.

12 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon (5mL) salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup (125 mL) tomato juice or water to thin if necessary

dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper

1/2-2 teaspoons (2-10 mL) granulated sugar

2-3 teaspoons (10-15 mL) lime juice


1 additional ripe tomato, seeded and finely chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tablespoon (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon (5 mL) balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons (25 mL) chopped chives, basil, rosemary or celery leaves, plus extra whole sprigs of fresh herbs to garnish

Chop the tomatoes, retaining the juices and seeds. The trick to a perfect cold tomato soup is to puree the tomatoes by pressing them through a sieve or using a food mill to separate the skin and seeds from the pulp. Using a food processor or blender creates a thick foam which is not desirable. Pass the chopped tomatoes and juices through a food mill, collecting the pulp in a large bowl. Discard remaining skins and seeds.

Add the salt and pepper, tomato juice or water, hot sauce, and smallest amounts of sugar and lime juice. Adjust flavours with additional sugar and lime juice, and chill soup for 1-2 hours before serving.

Meanwhile, combine the chopped tomato, finely chopped shallots, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped herbs to make the tapenade. Set aside.

Serve the soup cold, in chilled glass mugs, cups or bowls. Garnish each serving with 1-2 tablespoons/15-25 mL of the tomato tapenade and a herb sprig. Serves 4.


Fresh, ripe tomatoes are layered on toasted French bread, topped with cheese and browned under the broiler – serve them over a mixed green salad or as warm, brushetta-style appetizers. This makes an elegant first course for eight, or a casual luncheon dish for four.

1 French stick or baguette, sliced on the diagonal

1/3 cup (75 mL) virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/3 cup (75 mL) toasted pine nuts, ground

1/2 pound (250 g) freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese (or a combination)

8 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced (a variety of heirloom tomatoes make a pretty presentation)

1/4 cup (50 mL) basil pesto


8-10 cups (2-2.5 L) mixed baby salad greens

1/4 cup (50 ml) extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup (50 mL) canola oil

1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) sea salt

1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon (15 mL) balsamic or red wine vinegar

good grinding of black pepper

Combine the olive oil and smashed garlic in a small bowl and leave at room temperature to infuse flavour for 15 minutes. Discard garlic.

To make the toasts, brush the bread slices with garlic-infused oil on both sides and arrange on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 450*F and bake the toasts until they are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Toasts may be made ahead and stored, covered, at room temperature.

Toast the pine nuts in a hot dry pan until fragrant and beginning to colour. Grind them in the food processor. Grate the cheese. Slice the tomatoes.

To assemble tomato toasts, spread a little pesto over each slice of toast and arrange them on a baking sheet. Preheat the broiler. Overlap 2-3 tomato slices over the pesto on each toast, and top with some of the grated cheese. Sprinkle some of the ground pine nuts over each.

Place the toasts under the preheated broiler, about 4-5 inches away from the element, and broil just until the cheese melts. Watch carefully to make sure the bread doesn’t burn. Remove the toasts from the oven and keep warm.

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, canola oil, salt, lemon juice, vinegar and black pepper in a jar and shake well. Place the salad greens in a large bowl and, just before serving, toss with enough of the vinaigrette to moisten.

Arrange the greens on eight salad plates. Top each salad with 2 or 3 warm toasts and serve immediately.

Serves 8.


An old-fashioned Italian family recipe — simple and sublime. Saute onion in olive oil (and eliminate bacon) for a vegetarian version.

1 cup chicken stock (or water)

2 cloves garlic, smashed

5 cups chopped fresh Roma tomatoes (or 4 cups canned tomatoes)

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoons oregano

1 onion, chopped

3-4 slices smoky bacon, back bacon or pancetta, chopped

3 ounces (100 ml) gin

salt and sugar to taste

¼-1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Combine chicken stock, garlic and tomatoes and simmer together for 30 minutes until tomatoes begin to break up. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Stir in thyme and oregano.

Meanwhile, saute bacon together with onion until bacon is cooked and onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Add to soup pot. Simmer 30 minutes longer.

Just before serving add gin and heat through. Season to taste with salt and sugar. For a richer soup, stir in optional cream and heat through. Serves 6.


I adapted the method of this recipe from Canning For A New Generation, by Liana Krissoff, using my Moulinex food mill to puree everything together (and save steps, including the need to peel the tomatoes). I made this in 2020 with big red tomatoes (and fresh basil) from the Sunwing greenhouse near Victoria – these are hybrid tomatoes, so making it with heirlooms might result in a stronger tomato flavour, but it’s delicious. I also used very tart heirloom apples from a friend’s tree, so I adjusted the flavour with a few extra tablespoons of sugar. As Krissoff recommends, this is delicious on toast, with butter or cream cheese – I like it with spreadable goat cheese on toast!

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered

2 pounds Granny Smith or other tart apples, diced but not peeled or cored

1 lemon, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar (+ extra to adjust flavour)

1/4 cup sherry vinegar (7-8% acidity)

¼-1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

In a large canning kettle, combine the tomatoes, apples, lemon and salt. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until tomatoes and apples soften, about 15 minutes.

Put the cooked mixture through a Mouli (hand crank food mill) using the medium-holed screen, to puree and remove all of the seeds, tomato peels, etc.

Return the puree to a clean canning kettle, stir in the sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium-low heat for an hour or so, to reduce, thicken and reach the gel stage (check by putting a saucer in the freezer, and placing a bit of jam on the cold plate to see if it sets up).

When the jam is thickened to your liking, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the basil.

Fill sterilized canning jars, leaving ¼ inch head space, wipe the rims with a clean paper towel, and top with two part lids, closing them just finger tip tight.

Lower the jars into the canning kettle, submerged in boiling water by at least 1 inch, and boil (at a rolling boil) for 5 minutes to seal and safely process. Using a jar lifter, remove the jars from the water bath and set on a folded kitchen towel on the counter to cool. Make sure the metal lids curve down and pop for shelf storage (refrigerate any that don’t seal.

Makes about 4 cups.


1 pint cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 firm white fish fillets (such as cod, sole, snapper)

1 small lemon, zested and halved

1/2 cup black olives, pitted

Few sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cover a sheet pan with foil.

In a bowl, toss tomatoes and garlic with a little olive oil to coat and spread out on the sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven and until the tomatoes burst, about 10-12 minutes. Remove tomatoes from the oven and increase temperature to 450F.

Place fish in a shallow baking dish, drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle lemon zest over the fish and add juice from half a lemon. Slice the other half lemon into very thin slices, and lay over the fish. Top with roasted tomatoes, black olives and the sprigs of thyme. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake until the fish is opaque and cooked through in the center, about 10 minutes. Serves 2.


When your garden is overflowing with tomatoes, it’s time to put up some jars of tomato sauce to use throughout the winter months. This is a recipe from the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving. It takes 6 pounds of tomatoes to make 1 quart of thick tomato sauce.

Wash tomatoes, remove stems and trim off any discoloured areas. Cut into quarters.

Simmer until tomatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.

Press tomatoes through a sieve or food mill. Discard seeds and skins.

Return puree to saucepan and simmer until desired consistency is reached. For a thick sauce, simmer until volume is reduced by half.

Place 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into hot pint jars. Ladle in tomato sauce to within 1/4 inch of rim. Wipe jar rim, centre snap lid on jar and apply screw band. Place jars into boiling water in canner, return water to a boil and process pint jars for 35 minutes, quarts for 40 minutes (at altitudes up to 1,000 ft. Make sure jars are submerged under at least an inch of boiling water, and bring back to a boil before starting to time the process

Remove jars, check seals, cool and store in a cool, dark place.

©Cinda Chavich


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