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


  1. 2 heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors
  2. 1 small green chile pepper, such as jalapeno or serrano (my fave and bit hotter)
  3. 1/4 cup very finely chopped white onion
  4. Salt to taste - start with 1/4 teaspoon
  5. Pinch of cumin
  6. Juice of 1 lime
  7. Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  8. 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.

Cherry Mostarda

Cherry mostarda

Cherries are the It fruit right now, and I know you could easily just kick back on a hammock and eat a bowlful of them on a summer’s day, but why not jazz up your life a little and make a mostarda?

Making condiment sauces with seasonal, ripe fruit can a creative way to use up what doesn’t get eaten straight out of the fridge. Fresh fruit mustards taste so much better than the usual mustard or ketchup you can buy and squeeze out of a plastic bottle.

This recipe is a riff on a traditional Italian condiment, mostarda di frutta, a sweet-hot-tangy preserve. Most versions of a mostarda, like Mostarda di Cremona, tend to consist of whole pieces of fruit in a mustard and vinegar-laced sugar syrup, served with meats in northern regions of Italy like Tuscany and Piedmont.

cherry mostarda

My recipe is very much inspired by Madeleine Kamman, the amazing French cooking teacher and food scholar. Her book In Madeleine’s Kitchen includes some recipes for “Italian-style fruit puree mustards”.

Here are some ideas for what to do with your Cherry Mostarda (because believe me, after pitting a few pounds of cherries you will not want to waste a bit!) :

  • Use cherry mostarda in place of Dijon mustard in a salad dressing to make a cherry vinaigrette.
  • Spread a charcoal-grilled burger with mostarda – I seasoned chicken burgers with fennel and fresh rosemary and topped them with goat cheese and mostarda. Yum.
  • Glaze a pork tenderloin or some chicken wings with mostarda.
  • Put some on a ham sandwich.

** Thanks to Ruthie from The Twice Bitten for her idea of another way to enjoy this mostarda – on a cheese board. Yes!

Cherry Mostarda


  1. 1 pound Bing cherries, pitted
  2. 1/3 cup sugar
  3. 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  4. 1/4 cup full-bodied red wine, such as zinfandel or malbec
  5. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  6. 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  7. 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  8. 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


  1. Combine everything except the Dijon in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer then lower heat and cook until reduced to a thick puree with the consistency of ketchup, about 1 hour over low heat. Stir in the Dijon off the heat and season if needed.
  2. Crush the cherries with a potato masher or pulse in a blender or food processor if you prefer a smoother texture.
  3. Keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Borlotti Beans with Parsley-Almond Pesto

When was the last time you used the word “romantic” to describe dried beans? Steve Sando, one of my food heroes believes they are:

Beans are romantic. Take a handful of brightly colored heirlooms and put them in your pocket. Travel to Idaho or Istanbul and plant them. At first you’ll get the beautiful flowers…followed by string beans, shelling beans and finally dry beans…keep some of your bounty as seed stock and the repeat the process the following year, in the same place or across the globe. I find this incredibly romantic.

Steve is the author of Heirloom Beans, from which the quote above appears. His mission is to preserve heirloom seeds and beans, varieties that would surely vanish from the earth without intervention by a passionate soul like his.

Heirloom beans come decked out in an amazing array of spots, stripes and colors, each one more beautiful than the next. Take a look at Steve’s online store Rancho Gordo to see for yourself.

The first time I stocked up on beans from Rancho Gordo, I was surprised at how quickly they seemed to cook. I think it’s because the dried beans I usually buy at the store are not as fresh; maybe they sit around on shelves longer than they should because they give the impression they last forever.

I’m drawn to the speckled dark red color, taste and texture of Borlotti beans, a type of cranberry bean. I sometimes find them canned at Italian groceries but not very often in dried form.

I soaked half a pound of Borlotti beans overnight before cooking them and I ended up with enough to last the week; tossed in salads for lunch and over linguine for dinner one night.

I sauteed some scallions and thinly sliced red onion, then added the beans and some chickpeas to a simple pesto sauce of toasted almonds, garlic and parsley. The Borlotti have a gentle flavor, velvety texture and a skin that retains its shape after cooking, making them a nice choice for soup, too.