When my sons and I make our regular Sunday-morning visits to the local farmers market at this time of year, I can’t resist heading straight for the stands selling sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes. They’re one of the great gifts of the farm-to-table revolution we’ve witnessed over the past couple of decades, as dedicated growers have revived production of long-neglected plant varieties — so-called “heirlooms” — that wouldn’t stand up well to the sometimes lengthy storage and long-distance shipping of large-scale commercial production.
The result is the happy riot of colors we see now in tomato displays: sizes and shapes from big and deeply ridged to tiny pear and grape tomatoes; colors from deep red to
purple-black, orange to golden, green to ivory; lively patterns of stripes, candy-cane swirls and wild splotches; and flavors many of us never knew tomatoes could have, from rich and deep to brightly tangy to almost candy sweet.
Inspiring as all these options may be, it’s easy to be overwhelmed at the sight of so many heirloom tomatoes. What can you do with them all?
The easy answer, and always a good one, is to make fresh tomato salads. I’ll slice and layer a variety of heirlooms with fresh mozzarella or creamy burrata cheese and fresh basil leaves, drizzling them with a little extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a classic Italian caprese salad. Or I might toss chunks of tomato with coarse toasted or grilled bread croutons, pitted Kalamata olives, chopped anchovies, fresh herbs and a garlicky vinaigrette for the Italian salad called panzanella.
I also like to cook with heirloom tomatoes, chopping them up for a quickly sauteed pasta sauce. All you really need for such a sauce at its most basic is olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper — plus a pasta of your choice. But, with very little extra effort, you can create a truly impressive appetizer or main-course pasta dish featuring fresh jumbo shrimp along with the tomatoes.
My favorite such treatment is a version of the sauce Italian-American cooks sometimes call fra diavolo, literally “brother devil.” What makes this recipe devilish is not only a generous dose of garlic but also a sprinkling of crushed red-pepper flakes, which spice the dish up to a point at which it’s enticing without being overpowering. Feel free to use a little less or more seasonings to tailor the results to you and your guests’ tastes.
Try this recipe right away, to enjoy it with whatever heirloom tomatoes you can find. Of course, you can also make it with regular red sun-ripened tomatoes. Or substitute a 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes so you can go on enjoying it long after summer’s heirlooms are just a memory.
ANGEL HAIR PASTA WITH SHRIMP FRA DIAVOLO AND HEIRLOOM TOMATOES
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled, tails removed, deveined
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
2 pounds sun-ripened tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3/4 pound dried angel-hair pasta
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you prepare the sauce.
For the sauce, heat a 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, lightly sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. As soon as the pan feels hot when you hold your palm 1 to 2 inches above its surface, add the oil, and swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Distribute the shrimp evenly in the pan, and without disturbing them, cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until they’ve begun to turn pink
With tongs, a fork or a small spatula, flip the shrimp over. Sprinkle in the garlic and crushed red pepper. The instant the shrimp start to seize and before the garlic has time to brown, add the tomatoes and oregano. Stir and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge the pan deposits and incorporate them into the juices that the tomatoes give off, continuing to cook until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and keep the sauce warm.
When the pot of water comes to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the angel-hair pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the manufacturer’s suggested cooking time, usually 2 to 3 minutes.
Ladle out 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, and set it aside. Drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the sauce, and stir or toss it together using tongs or a pasta fork. Heat the mixture through for about 30 seconds to allow the flavors of the sauce to penetrate the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, stir in some or all of the reserved pasta water.
Using the tongs or a pasta fork and a serving spoon, transfer the pasta, shrimp and sauce to individual warmed serving bowls or plates, heaping each serving in an attractive mound. Garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.