Zen & the Art of Heirloom Tomatoes

(This may look like a tomato but it’s in fact the incarnation of the 127th Buddha, yes really!)

Heirloom tomatoes stand-out of the crowd for their so-called ugliness. They also stand out from the other mass-produced automatoes because they appear to have a soul. That sweet expression of compassion tinged with sorrow carved onto their little face can only be interpreted as a deep concern for the dismal state of things in the world. Like most of us, they aren’t aware of their own deliciousness but they differ in the fact that they surrender to their fate without a hint of resistance. And their fate is to be on our plates my friends. Zen is all about seeing deeply into the nature of things by direct experience, therefore, a zen chef should seek to embellish heirloom tomatoes without masking their perfect taste. He should also be fully present as he prepares them.

In other words, knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad. Get it?.. Me capiche?


Let’s go over the four noble truths of heirloom tomatoes (cuz it needs to be repeated).

  1. know your tomato (ripe, and in-season please)
  2. a sprinkle of fleur de sel (’nuff said)
  3. a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  4. a drop (and i mean a drop) of balsamic vinegar

I am aware the fourth truth is bordering on blasphemy and purists could declare war on me, but what can i say? The zen-man likes it that way. Anything more than this is pure indulgence (or foolishness) and should be limited to mozarella (preferably Buffala), fresh basil and freshly cracked black pepper. A well-made Caprese salad is enough to awaken the Buddha in you. Pure Perfection!

Anyone using less than stellar ingredients for this will this dish will be spanked senselessly with a wooden spoon. Inadmissible. Form a line here* if you ever prepared Insalata Caprese with tomatoes hard as hockey pucks. :-P

Placing a raw steak on your spanked buttocks will relieve the pain. Steaks aren’t provided by this blog but i can post a nice steak recipe instead. I am not a monster after all! :)

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  • Manggy

    Lies! I count five drops of balsamic vinegar on that last picture. Face it, Zen-man, you love to drink the stuff like the rest of us do! ;) Haha, I’m just joking. By the way, that thing the man is holding looks much smaller that a wooden spoon… Just sayin’ :P

    You seem to be on a roll with the Italian dishes! Some Italian soul from a past life is bursting free from your subconscious. And he’s a great cook, ’cause that looks yummy. I’ve not made caprese salad before (as fresh mozzarella is expensive!), but I am guilty of using hard, underripe tomatoes– it is standard issue for these parts. Boo. Where should I line up? It’s been ages since I’ve been spanked!

  • Helen

    I think that keeping tomatoes in the fridge should also be grounds for a beating with a wooden spoon! Great blog – I’m glad to have found it. You made me laugh.

  • The Caked Crusader

    You do realise that you may have incentivised lots of people to use unripe tomatoes or less than stellar ingredients? Hee hee hee….

  • Peter M

    Mai oui, Monsieur…simple is best…a ripe tomato requires little adornment.

  • AzAzura

    the tomatoes in my salads aren’t ripe usually, silly ,silly me now I have to be spank with a wooden spoon.
    Buffalo mozzarella is my current obsession at this moment paired with some modena balsamico and the rest i am wondering, why aren’t salad my obsession.

  • charlotte s

    gorgeous pictures ;) perfect ripe ingredients, simply prepared- my idea of great food!

  • Lore

    You’re so right Heirloom tomatoes actually look like the tomatoes I used to see in our garden as I was growing up so they are THE tomatoes for me!

  • Uncle Dee

    this my friend is the most beautiful insalata caprese i have ever seen

  • Meghan

    Zen, we must be sharing the same wave length… I made zuke blossoms the same day you did… now I’ve got heirlooms and cucumbers from earlier this week!

    I love that great wonderful minds, think alike.

    :)

    Now if I could just get a job like yours……

  • Elle

    Gorgeous! I can’t wait for our garden tomatoes to start growing. There is nothing in the world like a tomato right off the vine, warm from the sun, with salt and cracked pepper. Unless you add buffalo mozz and garden basil, too. MMMMM!

  • glamah16

    I always think that are beautiful in their ugliness. I love them and the variety of colors. Im not crazy about tomatoes except the heirlooms!

  • Ann

    I suspect you have found the same source at the Union Square Greenmarket that I found? Are they not the MOST seductive tomatoes ever (or at least this time of year)? :-)

  • Chicopea

    That is buddha indeed, I even see him grinning :-P

  • Adam

    Haha who doesn’t appreciate a good caprese salad? Great pictures of the heirlooms. There’s something special in their imperfectness.

  • cakebrain

    Deep, deep tomato thoughts, Zen-man. Your Siddhartha-like comments about heirloom tomatoes are enlightening and I concur as I watch my little green globes growing on my tomato plant outside. People who have only experienced those pale, pasty, hard tomatoes will have the scales fall from their eyes after they encounter a fully vine-ripened heirloom tomato; through such an experience will they comprehend the heirloom tomato’s true beauty!

  • Dhanggit

    Hi Zenman, Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes..do you know that they have aphrodisiac powers :-) whether its true or not this tomato salad of yours brought me to seventh heaven!! delicious :-)

    j’adore la 2eme photo!! c’est superbe :-) bises

  • Nina’s Kitchen (Nina Timm)

    Oh how I hate these hard “long life” tomatoes…….no flavor just a skin as hard as a elephant’s skin….I agree, a home grown tomato with all its imperfections……yum!

  • doggybloggy

    (insert wolf whistle here) damn thats a zexy salad….

  • Ginny

    oh I’m drooling! a good caprese is the best…buffala a must!

  • Olga Berman

    ooh, deliciousness. One of my best summers was when I lived in Israel and my host-father was a professional tomato grower.

    and I actually love tomoato/watermelon/feta/basil salad: give it a try!

  • Clumbsy Cookie

    Will you be doing the spanking yourself Zen?

  • Gloria

    This look so tasty and delicious!!! and I love your tomato, remember me the summer (snif we are in winter) Gloria

  • Kian

    Who says you can’t serve tomatoes as fruits, the Chinese do it all the time. Funny little cherry tomatoes mingling among the water melon slices and the mango pieces after dinner. Of course they don’t know one cooks with tomatoes either. ‘nough said.

  • Emiline

    My favorite kind of salad, for sure! I completely agree with you on everything you said.
    That’s a beautiful looking tomato! Gosh, I love heirlooms. They’re coming in season! It’s exciting.

  • Chicken & Waffles

    That first picture of that tomato looks like my ass squeezed into a pair of red polyester walking shorts. On a really hot humid day.

    Thanks for the reminder, Zen.

  • Zen Chef

    Chicken & waffle… you’re a killer! I’m rolling on the floor laughing right now… Hahahahaha…

  • Rasa Malaysia

    Hahaha, love your Buddha caption. ;)

    I am an idiot when it comes to ingredients, I don’t know the difference between tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes. :(

  • waliz

    sorry zen..tomatoes are not in my list…what else a heirloom tomatoes? i think its weird…are you sure it not from genetic mutation huh?

  • Kevin

    Fresh, simple and good! I am looking forward to the heirloom tomatoes.

  • Anali

    “And their fate is to be on our plates my friends.”

    So sad their fate! But I guess if they surrender willingly I shouldn’t shed any tears. :D

  • Joanna

    holy mother, I need to come over and be taught the lesson of eating right!! That is a luscious looking salad. Yummah

  • Heather

    Are spankings provided by this blog? ;)

  • Jenny

    Wow, that salad is beautiful and simple, just my style. I am still laughing at Chicken and Waffles comment, seriously disgusting! Great post!

  • Tartelette

    Ah the basics! Looks amazing as always Chef.
    I *love* that spanking drawing! I want one for my kitchen!

  • My Sweet & Saucy

    What a gorgeous plate of food! The perfect summer meal if you ask me!

  • taste memory

    coming back from dinner ~ now am hungry again looking at these ‘matos…..your words are wild as ever. Pixt reminds me of ohio when they grew as big as water bombs

  • Nicole

    Looks perfect! I don’t like too too much vinegar on my salads!

  • http://www.flufflefritz.com Melita

    I love your blog and especially liked this post about the perfect caprese salad. I like to eat mine with french bread that I rub first with an heirloom tomato! mmmm