Heirloom Tomato Salsa


Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Last week, Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy was in town and I had the good fortune to meet her and be her student for a few hours during a class at Kitchen Conservatory.

Diana is well into her advanced 80′s and still as zesty as a pickled jalapeno (there was that time she kicked Rick Bayless out of her car). But more, she possesses the air of a person who deeply, thoroughly lives her calling. She’s a missionary, all about preserving and passing on the diverse regional cooking styles of Mexico, with an almost fierce respect for its rich tradition and history.

Partly due to the presence of age and a distinguished British accent, you can’t help feeling an aura of wisdom around her. It makes you pay attention. I took notes, and the few things that stuck with me are surprisingly simple and almost Zen-like:

Good cooking needs salt

Go easy on the garlic

And always use white onions in Mexican cooking.


It was good timing, since I recently received a sample box of carefully packed, hefty heirloom tomatoes from Frieda’s, the specialty produce company.

I was skeptical of these tomatoes grown in a climate somewhere where it’s already summer time, but I let them ripen for a few days before slicing into them for this Diana Kennedy-inspired salsa.  They were absolutely delicious – juicy, sweet and textured as perfectly as if they’d been pulled off the vine in my backyard. It made me realize once again the beauty in simplicity when it comes to cooking – all it took was a few raw ingredients. And a little salt…

Heirloom Tomato Salsa


2 heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors

1 small green chile pepper, such as jalapeno or serrano (my fave and bit hotter)

1/4 cup very finely chopped white onion

Salt to taste - start with 1/4 teaspoon

Pinch of cumin

Juice of 1 lime

Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Slice the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Put them into a bowl along with the rest of the ingredients and gently stir together, tasting for salt or acidity from the lime juice.

Provencal Fish in Parchment

Ever since people discovered fire and started cooking, foods that weren’t great candidates for roasting over an open flame – like sides of meat- were probably protected by some kind of wrapper: banana leaves, plant husks, pieces of animal fat or whatever happened to be handy and available.

The method of enclosing food in a parchment paper package, en papillote, is ingenious when you think about it.  Every ingredient in the package steams and bastes in its own juices, enhancing taste and preserving nutrients. It’s pure, simple and maybe best of all there’s no pan to clean! Well, not counting the baking sheet…

This recipe layers essential Provençal flavors of tomatoes, fennel and garlic. I like to use delicate, quicker-cooking fish like sole, snapper or sea bass. Combined with vegetables the whole package cook in just 10 minutes, and the resulting light, buttery sauce is deliciously like bouillabaisse. Serve the fish packages with some crusty bread alongside to enjoy every drop of the sauce.

Provencal Fish in Parchment

Serving Size: serves 4


1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons olive oil


1 fresh fennel bulb, stems trimmed and fronds reserved

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 small white onion, very thinly sliced

1 pound sole fillets

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves

4 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons anise-flavored liqueur such as Pernod or Ricard


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Toss the tomatoes with the garlic, fennel seed, 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl.
  3. Remove the tough outer layer from the fennel bulb. Thinly shave the fennel with a mandoline or a sharp knife and combine in another bowl with the remaining teaspoon oil, pinch of salt, lemon juice and the onion.
  4. Fold 4 pieces of parchment paper (12 x 17 inches) in half, then open them flat on a work surface. Place some of the tomatoes (about ¼ cup) on the sheet to one side of the fold. Place a portion of sole over the tomatoes; season the sole with salt and top with the fennel mixture, some tarragon, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon of the Pernod if using.
  5. Fold the parchment to close. Starting at a corner, make overlapping pleated folds all around to form a half-moon shaped package.
  6. Repeat the process with the remaining sheets of parchment, tomatoes, sole, fennel, tarragon, butter and Pernod. (The packages can be prepared ahead and refrigerated up to 4 hours in advance of baking).
  7. Place the packages on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Transfer the packages to serving plates and cut open with scissors – sprinkle the fish with reserved fennel fronds and serve immediately.