Sunday, August 5, 2018

Heirloom Tomato & Stracciatella Bruschetta | 復古番茄意大利芝士蒜香多士

Every summer, farmers markets everywhere hustle and bustle with chefs and home cooks, beaming with color and radiating a vibrant energy seemingly distinctive to this season. Even with nothing in particular on my shopping list, I make time for a farmers market visit - if not to check out what's in season, at least to remind myself the simple fact that in many parts of the world, seasons still influence and inform our day-to-day decisions on what to eat.

Besides the overflowing crates of fragrant peaches and nectarines and punnets of summer berries are always a festive array of heirloom tomatoes. Red, brown, green, yellow, zebra-striped - heirloom tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and, unlike the store-bought hybrids, are each so unique that often no two are the same. Many a times I find myself curious about these gnarly, lumpy yet gorgeous fruits. So, what exactly are heirloom tomatoes?

Heirloom tomatoes are basically open-pollinated varieties of tomatoes that have been passed down for generations without crossbreeding. This is in contrast to typical supermarket tomatoes, which have been carefully bred to carry particular traits: things like higher productivity, enhanced durability, uniform shape for ease of packaging, greater resistance to pests and diseases - often at the expense of flavor. Have you ever swooned over a perfectly blemish-free, luscious-looking tomato, taken it home and taken a bite, only to find it mealy and completely tasteless? Unfortunately, that has happened to me all too often, seeing that I live in Hong Kong. Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, are genetically unique and produce fruits that carry distinct flavor and texture, widely believed to be superior to their mass-marketed hybrid counterparts. The "disadvantage"? Thinner skin, shorter shelf-life, lower yield and greater susceptibility to disease - all of which logically make up for a heftier price tag.

With all that said, are heirloom tomatoes worth the price? Eager to find out just how different they are, I finally turned a blind eye to the price tag (often more than double that of supermarket hybrids), wrapped each individual tomato in bubble wrap, and with the greatest care transported them as carry-on luggage thousands of miles away like some museum relic from New York's Union Square Greenmarket to my kitchen. All was smooth until my suitcase flopped and my bag plopped on the ground on my last stretch home. It was a miracle that all my tomatoes made it home whole - not as sauce. Was it hard to slice into my first ever heirloom tomato? Oh yes, it was just about as hard as cutting into the most revered giant white peach from Japan (I made sure they all got a well-deserved photo shoot beforehand, just in case).

The verdict? Yes, these heirloom tomatoes were remarkably juicy, fleshy, bursting with flavor that slightly differed one variety from another, with a skin so thin it was nothing like the typical hybrids I was used to. All that aside, it is important to take note that store-bought hybrid varieties are not necessarily inherently inferior. A well-grown hybrid cultivated on land that is tended with care and quality in mind can be just as good as any well-grown heirloom variety. Any ordinary supermarket tomatoes I have bought in London and Italy are still a far cry from whatever I can find in Hong Kong. Hence, I personally think heirloom tomatoes are worth the price in so far as a treat exclusive to the summer season (chances are any heirloom tomatoes found in winter are out of season).

Some foods are exceptional - if not better - enjoyed in their most natural state, adorned with nothing more than perhaps a crack of sea salt and black pepper and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil; uncooked and unmasked by complications. One prime example is the prized heirloom tomato.

Another example is Stracciatella di Bufala - fresh cream thickened with thin strands of mozzarella - a sexily milky, erotically oozy Italian cheese that I fell in love with at first bite years ago dining at Eataly, Rome (their stracciatella is made on site and in plain sight). In a nut shell, stracciatella is Burrata without the outer shell of mozzarella - the buttery center that is as good straight out of the tub as plopped on a wood-fired pizza or simply spread on toast.

The creaminess of stracciatella pairs harmoniously with sweet, fleshy heirloom tomatoes, allowing each to shine through beautifully. When layered on crusty, garlic-rubbed toast, the result is pure magic. The bread, of course, plays a vital role in tying together this magic. For me the perfect bruschetta will be lightly charred at the crust, crunchy on the exterior and soft and chewy inside, where a faint yeasty sourness meets the grassy, peppery notes of fine olive oil and a hint of garlic. Sometimes, magic is this simple.

What you'll need...
Sourdough or any crusty bread, sliced 1.5 cm thick
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic
140 g Stracciatella or Burrata cheese
2-3 medium sized heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1 cm thick
Baby spinach, arugula, and/or basil (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper

1. Toast the bread on both sides until lightly charred on a preheated grill or grill pan. Drizzle with olive oil. If using a skillet, spray or drizzle bread with olive oil then toast until lightly charred on both sides.

2. Cut the garlic cloves on a diagonal. As soon as the bread is ready, rub both sides with the garlic cut-side down to lightly flavor the toast. Using a spoon, dollop and spread stracciatella over the bread. Arrange some baby greens of choice on top and layer on the sliced tomatoes. Finish with a crack of sea salt and black pepper. For an extra herbaceous note, top sparingly with a sprinkle of basil chiffonade.


節限定、獨一無二的「復古番茄」Heirloom tomato,千里迢迢由 New York farmers market 護送回家,配上超 creamy 的意大利芝士 Stracciatella, 滋味無窮!要品嚐大自然最原始的味道,就係咁簡單!

酸種麵包 (Sourdough)                    切 1.5 公分厚
初榨橄欖油                                      適量
新鮮蒜瓣                                           2 瓣
絲翠奇亞芝士 (Stracciatella)        140 克(可以布拉塔芝士取替)
復古番茄                                          2-3 隻,切片約 1 公分厚
嫩菠菜葉、火箭菜、羅勒葉       隨個人喜好
海鹽和黑胡椒                                 適量

1. 預熱烤盤,把麵包兩面烤至金黃色和輕微焦香後撒上橄欖油。如使用平底鍋,先在麵包雙面塗上橄欖油,再在熱鍋上烤至兩面呈金黃色。
2. 將蒜瓣切開,以切口磨擦於烤好的麵包表面。
3. 在麵包上塗上絲翠奇亞芝士,再放上嫩菠菜葉或火箭菜(隨個人喜好)和切片蕃茄。完成後撒上適量鹽和胡椒作調味。喜歡香草的話,可撒上少量羅勒葉絲。

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