Forget the old red standbys &mdash the best tomato is an heirloom

At this time of year, tomatoes make the front page of every food publication across the nation. Restaurant menus feature them and our own San Francisco eateries participate in Heirloom Tomato Week.

How far we’ve come from the artificially ripened orbs packed in cartons that had a very under-ripe hue of greenish-orange. Even those that were a vibrant red color deceived the consumer and tasted very lackluster.

Today the tomato trend is more positive and alluring. Farmers are seeking out old varieties known as heirloom tomatoes in all shapes, colors and sizes. More varieties are showing up every day at farmers markets, farm stands and even supermarkets.

You can now have your choice of tiny tomatoes called currant tomatoes, yellow and red pear-shaped miniatures, flavorful multicolored jewels called toybox tomatoes. If you’re in the market for the larger varieties, there are Oxharts, Green Zebras, Early Girls, Purple Princes, Brandywines, Taxis and Marvel Stripes (my favorite), all with their own distinct flavor and personality. A good-tasting tomato should have a smooth balance between sweet and acid.

Lucky for us in California, most of these are locally grown and are available until mid-November, so keep them in mind for the approaching holidays. An oven-braised brisket with tomatoes and onions served at Rosh Hashanah, a fresh tomato soup for Sukkot and a tomato-pita salad to break the fast incorporate the goodness of summer in the following dishes.

Tomato and Onion Braised Brisket

Serves 8

1 piece brisket, 4 to 5 lbs.

salt and pepper

1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano

1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme

2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄4 cup olive oil

2 large onions, thinly sliced

2 cups coarsely chopped heirloom tomatoes

Trim almost all of the excess fat from brisket and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make a paste of the oregano, thyme, garlic and olive oil. Spread over both sides of brisket. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place brisket in a roasting pan. Cover with onions and then with tomatoes. Cover pan tightly with foil.

Bake 31⁄2 to 4 hours, basting every hour with accumulated juices. Remove brisket and tomato mixture to a platter. Degrease pan juices and pour over meat. Refrigerate overnight for easy slicing. Slice, reheat with tomato mixture and pan juices, and serve.

Fatoush (Lebanese Tomato-Bread Salad)

Serves 8

Three 6-inch pita breads, toasted and broken into small pieces

1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice

1 English (hot house) cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

6 ripe medium size red and yellow tomatoes, diced

1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley

6 fresh mint leaves, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin seed

1⁄2 cup olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, moisten pita with 3 Tbs. of lemon juice. Add cucumber, scallions, pepper, tomatoes, beans, parsley and mint. Toss again. In a small bowl whisk remaining lemon juice, garlic, cumin and olive oil together. Toss with salad and add salt and pepper.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].