Heirloom. Fruit of labor from generations of roots, with days in the sun and days in the rain. Fruits passed on, ever so precious, when the time is right. The heirloom is precious in the eye of the inheriter. Watching it grow, all that it takes, work and patience and nurture. Honoring where it comes from, what it stands for.
Growing up in France, we very much ate with the seasons. So much so that, to this day, foods, in my mind, remain inextricably associated with times of the year, and places. French Cavaillon melon, southern France, summer holidays. Radishes, white asparagus, Normandy, spring. Blackberries, grapes, the path by our apartment complex, September. Oysters, home, Christmas. Clementines & walnuts, home, January.
This had the wonderful effect of making these foods precious by their limited availability. We enjoyed them even more. The excitement of the first strawberry of the season. My mother even made me make a wish every first time a year I tasted something. All this gave these foods tremendous human value, the anticipation, the savoring, the treasuring of what is precious and rare. And the learning to part with something that has run its course. Peach season is over. Grapes are next. Appreciating, and accepting, the cycles of nature. Creating a deep-rooted connections between food, childhood, time, soul, senses, life and self.
In Southern California, most fruits and vegetables are available year around, which has obvious advantages. But it makes it harder to experience that osmosis with the seasons. Some produce do remain very seasonal, even here, and are all the more precious for it. Perhaps the one we were looking forward to the most this year, is the heirloom tomato. Incomparable, juicy and delicious, and so aptly named.
We have certainly taken full advantage of the season this year, making all kinds of gazpachos, tomato jam, roasted tomatoes, tomato salads, etc. And now, these very simple and deliciously summery tomatoes au gratin.
The French have a wonderful term of endearment for theirs sons, for which there’s no real translation or equivalent in English, except perhaps “little guy”. Mon petit père. My little father. This summer, I gave lots of gorgeous heirlooms to my little father. And he loved every bite. My little father deserves his nickname, as he has taught me so much. He has taught me to enjoy the moment in a way I was never able to achieve before. Thanks to him, I have started this blog and discovered so much that can be learned through food and cooking. I used to get stressed out and perfectionist, and overly ambitious about entertaining. Which served no purpose at all. This summer, I really learned to practice what I always knew to be true: a meal with friends or family is an end in itself, it need not be elaborate, it just has to be made with love and warmth. That is the heirloom of the soul I would like to bequeath to my little father.
So I wanted to share a simple summer lunch to be enjoyed with loved ones. Tomatoes au gratin, marinated olives and figs with blue cheese, served perhaps with prosciutto, roasted bell peppers and bread. Delicious, but easy and quick to prepare, so a lot of time can be devoted to talking and laughing and stories and connecting and really living.
Heirloom Tomatoes au Gratin
Adapted from La Bonne cuisine du comté de Nice, by Jacques Médecin
Age for babies: 8-10 months, the texture of the tomatoes is very soft, so it is almost pureed as it is. At that age, they can also taste olives, Pablo loved them from the first time he had them. And they can also be given a taste of fig and blue cheese.
3 very large, ripe heirloom tomatoes
1/2 bunch of Italian parsley
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 filet of anchovy (canned in olive oil)
Some olive oil, salt & pepper
Preheat the oven at 450°F.
Cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze gently each half over the sink to extract the seeds.
Put a pinch of salt on each half and let stand for 5 minutes.
Then turn tomato halves over a baking rack, above the sink, so as to drain some of their water content.
With a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic with the anchovy. Finely chop the parsley in a small food processor and mix with the garlic-anchovy mixture.
Place the tomatoes, cut side up, in a baking dish. Spread some of the parsley/garlic/anchovy mixture over each tomato.
Sprinkle bread crumbs generously. Pour a drop of olive oil on top, and some fresh ground pepper.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
This recipe is from my good friend Franka.
1 can of pitted green olives
1 tbsp of coriander seeds
The juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Drain the olives and place them in a bowl or container.
With a mortar and pestle, crush the coriander seeds until fragrant.
Sprinkle the crushed coriander over the olives, pour the lemon juice and olive oil.
Mix with two spoons, cover and let marinate for 30 minutes.
Figs with Blue Cheese
2 oz of Saint Augur blue cheese (This is a milder, creamy but very flavorful blue cheese which lends itself particularly well to figs)
6 strips of pancetta
Preheat the broiler at 500°F.
Make a cross shape incision in each fig, and insert a small piece of blue cheese in it.
Wrap the fig with a strip of pancetta.
Grill in the broiler for about 5 minutes.