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An ugly tomato is a better tomato

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Food writer Ronni Lundy authored an entire book on tomatoes. She knows a thing or two about them.

In a delightful conversation with the New Mexico resident (but forever Southerner) about today's story on 50 ways to have your tomatoes, we got on the subject of not-quite-heirloom tomatoes.

See, as heirlooms have built up a following at farmers markets, Lundy says mass tomato producers have, not surprisingly, gotten into the game, watering down the definition of 'heirloom' that already is a bit jumbled.

(Generally, the term refers to the seeds of non-hybrid plants that have been passed down within families, ethnic groups or a specific region over a long period of time. Some say true heirlooms must have been grown for 50 years. Others say they must have been passed down within a single family).

"What's happening now," Lundy says, "is they're breeding things like Cherokee Purples with a more standard supermarket tomato to create an heirloom that has the color of an heirloom and a little more of the shape, but conforms more to supermarket tomato. Reproduction tomatoes, that's what we call them.

"And what's really distressing about it is you go to your farmers market and the guy there is selling incredible heirloom tomatoes for three dollars a pound, and then you go to the superstore, and you see the same brand, and it's got kind of the same colors but looks like it's got better shape, and it's only a buck a pound.

"The reason not to buy it is it's not the same tomato."

We know what she's talking about. We've seen tomatoes marked "heirloom" (though never bought them) at our neighborhood Dominick's. On the one hand, we were pleasantly surprised the first time we saw them. On the other hand, we knew it would feel bizarre buying them when we could just buy them at our farmers market a mile away and know exactly where our cash was going.

The other thing Lundy said that we can't get out of our heads: "An ugly tomato is actually a better tomato."

On another tomato note:

We offered 50 tomato tips -- a fun list to put together but by no means, the be-all, end-all. Chef Ina Pinkney gave us the following omelet recipe, but it was past our deadline and too late to include. She's excused, though -- she says she was just waiting until the good tomatoes came in to make this for breakfast the other day.

Got other favorite ways to eat tomatoes? Please share.

Pinkney's recipe after the jump.

TOMATO, PANCETTA AND SHALLOT OMELETTE

MAKES 2 SERVINGS

2 large, firm tomatoes, peeled and sliced thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons diced pancetta
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
6 eggs

Saute tomato slices in butter, about 2 minutes on each side. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

In another pan, saute pancetta until brown, adding shallot in the last minute of cooking.

Scramble eggs in a well-buttered pan until they form a "pancake." Slide the eggs onto a platter and lay the tomato slices carefully in a row, slightly off center, on the eggs. Drain the pancetta and arrange on top of the tomatoes. Fold the omelet and serve.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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This page contains a single entry by Janet Rausa Fuller published on August 19, 2009 10:00 AM.

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