Although summer unofficially ended after Labor Day, the calendar says we have until the 21st before this season comes to a close. For those of us here in New England (and for plenty of others around the country) enduring scorching temperatures this week, summer seems far from gone. The upside of this warm weather has been that our farmers’ markets are still bursting with gorgeous produce, including corn, beans, okra, peaches, plums, and my favorite–countless varieties of heirloom tomatoes.
I am a sucker for buying these brilliantly hued tomatoes. I pick up reds like Cherokee Purple, yellows called Nebraska Wedding, orange strains labeled Jaune Flame, and greens such as Green Zebras. I also mix up the sizes, purchasing large orbs, slender oblong ones, and petite cherry tomato heirlooms.
You can use any of these varieties or your personal favorites in the following heirloom tomato salad. The tomatoes are cut into wedges (cherry tomatoes are halved or quartered) and then tossed in a simple vinaigrette scented with aromatic crushed fennel seeds and fresh tarragon.
I’ve served this tomato mélange several times this past month always to enthusiastic reviews. This salad makes a fine side to grilled steaks, chops, or fish. Or you could offer it with a bowl of soup and some warm crusty bread. Make it while the days are still hot and the bounty unlimited.
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Summer Heirloom Tomatoes in Crushed Fennel Seed Dressing
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed (see cooking tip)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
2 lb heirloom tomatoes, including red, yellow, orange, green varieties and mini-heirlooms or cherry tomatoes
1. For the dressing, in a small nonreactive bowl, whisk together the vinegar, 2 tsp of the tarragon, mustard, fennel seeds, 1/4 tsp salt, and several grinds of pepper until well blended. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. (Dressing can be made 3 hours ahead; cover and leave at cool room temperature. Whisk well before using.)
2. Stem the tomatoes, and cut them lengthwise into 3/4-in wedges. Halve or quarter the mini-heirlooms or cherry tomatoes. Place them in a shallow nonreactive serving bowl and pour the dressing over them. Toss gently to coat well. Let the tomatoes stand for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
3. When ready to serve, toss the tomatoes well to distribute any liquid that has collected in the dish. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tsp of tarragon over the tomatoes.
Cooking tip: To crush fennel seeds, place in a small plastic bag and, using a meat pounder or rolling pin, crush them until they resemble a very coarse power. Or crush them in a mortar with a pestle. Or, grind them in a small electric mini-grinder. Clean the machine thoroughly after each use so that the taste of the just-ground seeds is removed.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015