The following information, recipe and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com.
“A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins.” Laurie Colwin, novelist
A ripe tomato is the essence of that fleeting moment we love most about summer. As tasty as a summer tomato is, we know those large, juicy tomato days are brief but glorious. We wait all year for tomato season to arrive. I say, it’s good to have a plan in order to maximize the tomato bliss and, if you are like me, that plan is to eat as many tomatoes as possible in as many ways as possible but first, some tomato info is in order.
What is a Tomato?
There are thousands of tomato varieties, many of which are hybrids. Tomatoes are actually fruit of the Solanum Lycopersicum (tomato plant), though they are typically referred to and used as vegetables in cooking. Rich in nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants including beta carotene and lycopene, tomatoes have many health benefits and are a large part of the Mediterranean diet.
- Cherry tomatoes are round, bite-size and so juicy and sweet that they pop when you bite them. They are perfect for salads or snacks, skewers or shish kebabs.
- Grape tomatoes are about half the size of cherry tomatoes with an oblong shape. Like cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes are excellent in salads or eaten alone as a snack.
- Roma or Plum tomatoes are larger than cherry and grape tomatoes. They are sweet and juicy making them a great choice for canning and sauces.
- Beefsteak tomatoes are large, sturdy, and firm enough to hold their shape when sliced, making them perfect for sandwiches, salads and hamburgers.
- Heirloom tomatoes come in many sizes, shapes and colors ranging from pale yellow to bright green and purple. They tend to have a deeper, sweeter taste than hybrid tomatoes as their seeds have been saved and passed down without cross pollinating with other types. They are prized for their taste, making them perfect for canning, sauces, sandwiches and salads.
- Tomatoes on the Vine are sold still attached to the vine, prolonging their shelf life. Some research concludes that vine-ripened tomatoes contain higher levels of antioxidants than those picked before peak ripeness. Large enough to be sliced for sandwiches, these tomatoes are also great for canning, salads and sauces.
- Green tomatoes can be divided into two types: heirlooms that are green when fully ripe and or un-ripened tomatoes that have not yet turned red. Un-ripened green tomatoes are perfect battered and fried or pickled. Tangy and slightly sour, they’re also made into a relish to be served with meats. However, unripe green tomatoes can be difficult for some to digest and should not be eaten raw.
How to Pick the Perfect Tomato
One of the best things about summer-ripened tomatoes is that you don’t have to mess with them too much to make something delicious. From the classic tomato sandwich to tomato salad, perfect tomatoes make it easy for the chef to assemble a tasty meal. When shopping, select tomatoes that are deeply colored and firm. They should feel heavy in your hand with no wrinkles or bruised spots.
How to Store Tomatoes
Keep tomatoes at room temperature on your kitchen counter or on a plate. The “shoulders” near the stem of the tomato are sturdier, so it’s best to perch them upside down. Try not to stack tomatoes as the pressure can be enough to bruise them and invite rotting. Never store tomatoes in a plastic bag. If you want to speed the ripening process, put them in a paper bag with an apple. The gas from the apple will help to ripen them faster. Once ripe, tomatoes will last a day or two. If you have to keep them longer, put them in a cooler place like a cellar or wine fridge. A regular fridge is just too cold and will damage the texture and flavor of ripe tomatoes. Tomatoes that are not fully ripened and refrigerated will become mealy, just about the most disastrous thing that can happen to a tomato.
How to Slice Tomatoes
I like to use a serrated knife or a bread knife to slice tomatoes. When I need to dice tomatoes, I slice them down, avoiding the stem area, then lay them flat and cut then into strips and then dice. The skin of a tomato is remarkably tough and if your knives are not sharp, it can be difficult not to smash the tomato, so cut tomatoes from the tender flesh side on outward if possible.
The following two recipes are summer favorites. The Summer Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil and Buttery Croutons just might be the inspiration for your next patio dinner party. It tastes like summer in your mouth. A light sauté of grape tomatoes and garlic tossed with hot-from-the-pot pasta and fresh basil is my idea of heaven. It might seem like a carb overload, but the crispy croutons add an addictive buttery crunch, so don’t even think about leaving them out. The amount of garlic, pepper flake and basil is a personal thing, so be sure to tailor this dish to your taste buds.
Dinner can become challenging for me at this point of the summer. It’s too hot to turn on the oven and who wants another grilled chicken breast or burger by this time. Lucky for us, now is the time to eat the freshest seasonal produce available. Around here, that means tomatoes and ripe peaches. With ingredients this pristine, it’s best to keep it simple. Combining tomato and peach in a Summer Salad is like any good marriage as one improves upon the other. The sweet peach makes the tomato sweeter and the acid in the tomato gives the sweetness of the peach a little “oooomph”. Buttery avocado, salty prosciutto, basil and a shallot vinaigrette round out this colorful meal. Truly a party on a plate, you want to use only the best produce, salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic for this no-cook meal to hit the high notes. If only I could eat like this every night. Thank you, summer.