There is no set definition of heirloom vegetables. Some say that the cultivar (plant) must be of a certain age. Most agree that the plants should be open-pollinated and not genetically modified. And some believe that to be an heirloom vegetable, the lineage of the plant must have been handed down and cultivated generation after generation. Despite the ambiguity about what they are, heirloom vegetables’ unique appearances and culinary characteristics make them ideal inspiration for restaurant menu ideas.
1. Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes come in a variety of colorful patterns and non-uniform shapes. Their flavor and color make them ideal for salads, tomato carpaccio, and open-faced sandwiches. To maximize the unique appearance of the heirloom tomatoes, they should be sliced width-wise to preserve their wavy circular(ish) shape. A study, by scientists at UC Davis found that uniformly red, round tomatoes most commonly found in the supermarkets actually contain a mutant gene that allows even ripening and color, while sacrificing taste. Heirloom tomatoes do not have this mutant gene, scientifically giving them more flavor potential. Nowadays, with an appreciation for heirloom tomatoes and other aesthetically diverse vegetables, restaurants offering heirloom tomatoes can set themselves apart.
2. Heirloom Eggplant
Heirloom eggplants come in many colors, from light purple to regular eggplant purple. The Arabic baladi eggplant is the best type of eggplant to use to avoid bitterness. Usually, eggplants must be hand-selected to ensure they are light, which is a sign that they have a minimal amount of seeds, and are less likely to be bitter. However, baladi eggplants are almost never bitter, yielding the best eggplant dishes possible. Restaurants that place orders with suppliers rather than have the cooks or chef hand-select the vegetables, should experiment with the variety of heirloom eggplants available, to find one that matches their desired look and taste.
3. Heirloom Zucchini
There are many different varieties of heirloom zucchini, differing drastically in shape and slightly in flavor. Costata Romanesco zucchini, for example, is considered mild and gourmet in taste and texture. Venues growing this type of zucchini in a restaurant garden can use the edible zucchini flower as a base for restaurant menu ideas as well as the zucchini itself. The flower can be stuffed with ricotta, fried, or used as a garnish. Round heirloom vegetable varieties, such as zucchini, can be stuffed and slow-cooked in a pot or crockpot to beautifully serve stuffed vegetables. The dishes made possible with heirloom zucchini, and all heirloom vegetables, can provide endless restaurant menu ideas.
An heirloom vegetable has more value for restaurant menu ideas than simply sounding gourmet. Their diverse shapes, sizes, tastes, and culinary attributes lend them to many restaurant menu ideas that can make a venue stand out. Heirloom tomatoes, zucchinis, and eggplants are great vegetables to start with. However, heirloom varieties of cucumbers, pumpkin, peppers, and other vegetables exist as well. Though they are considered relatively hard to grow, making them less-than-ideal for a restaurant garden, finding suppliers who can provide them, or investing the time to grow them, can expand the restaurant menu ideas possibilities.