Caprese salad is an Italian classic, but there’s no reason you can’t play with the form when heirloom tomatoes are at the peak of ripeness.
Bryant Wigger’s favorite heirloom variety is the Cherokee Purple, a big, reddish-purple orb with brown shoulders and a delicious, meaty center.
Wigger, the executive chef of Tavernonna, an Italian farm-to-table concept located in the historic Hotel Phillips, enjoys scrolling through the organic seed offerings on tomatofest.com, a company he discovered while working in California.
As the name suggests, Cherokee Purple was originally cultivated by the Native American Cherokee tribe. But the website also sells seeds for the Purple Russian, a Roma tomato variety from Siberia.
“The cool thing is you can buy seeds from other continents and countries,” says Wigger, who replaced the rose bushes at his home to make way for more tomato plants.
Throughout the month of August, customers can enjoy a twist on the “caprese” featuring house-made cavatelli (short, rippled-edged shells) with whipped burrata and marinated heirloom tomatoes that taste like, well, real tomatoes.
“Heirloom tomatoes are true to what our ancestors ate,” he says.
Fresh Cavatelli Pasta with Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes
Makes 4 servings
1 pound ricotta
3 cups “00” pasta flour, plus more for kneading
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 “beautiful” ripe heirloom tomatoes, sliced in wedges to minimize waste
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons good-quality olive oil, divided
2 (4-ounce) burrata balls
1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
10 squash blossoms, stamens removed
Micro-basil, for garnish
In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, eggs, flour, 2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano, salt and pepper; knead for 5 minutes. Let dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes. Cut and roll dough out in logs about the size of a nickel. Cut logs into pieces about 1/8 inch. Dust pieces with flour and roll and shape on a gnocchi board.
Slice the heirloom tomatoes and season with a splash of sherry vinegar, 2 ounces olive oil, salt and pepper and allow to marinate at room temperature.
Place burrata in a food processor with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper; pulse for three 10-second intervals to incorporate.
To finish: Cook the fresh pasta in boiling salted water until they float to the top. Brown butter in a saute pan. Remove pan from heat, add cooked pasta and toss to keep from sticking to the bottom. Return pan to heat. Brown one side of pasta, add shallots, and cook for 1 minute. Add squash blossoms, toss and season with salt, pepper. Remove pan from heat and add remaining tablespoon Parmigiano Reggiano. Spoon the cavatelli pasta over the tomatoes, season with fresh cracked pepper and top with whipped burrata and micro-basil.
The fresh pasta will last 2 weeks in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for later use.
An Heirloom Tomato Story
Say tomatoes and chances are you think of a round, red juicy fruit. One that has often been bred for uniform size and shape, then picked early and typically ripened with ethylene gas or in special warming rooms, a process that affects taste and texture.
Heirloom tomatoes, on the other hand, are vine-ripened flavor bombs. They are visually stunning as well, available in a rainbow of colors—all shades of red, but also green, yellow, orange, purple, nearly black and striped—odd sizes and irregular shapes.
“I think it’s great,” says Tavernonna’s executive chef Bryant Wigger. “Food is not perfect, and we throw out so much imperfect food for no reason. The more funky it is, the more fun you can have with it.”
Tomatofest.com’s 2018 offerings include African Queen, Yellow Bosnian, Pearl Harbor, Wild Tiger, Thunder Mountain and Godzilla—described as “an abundance of red cherry tomatoes, fused together in one large bunch.”
While some varieties are given playful names, many heirloom tomatoes also come with a story.
The Mortgage Lifter, for instance, was developed by M.C. Byles, who went by the nickname “Radiator Charlie.” In the 1930s, he bred the popular variety and sold the plants, using the profits to pay off his house loan.