I’ll say it right here and now. It is physically impossible for me to get through a summer season without indulging in a few hundred juicy tomatoes. Seriously, summer tomatoes are addicting. How can you resist the plump red fruits as you pass by their in-store displays or a produce stand? And when you set your sights on the glorious purples, deep greens and yellows of heirloom varieties, the temptation increases exponentially.
Let’s face food facts. The humble tomato is a workhorse in the culinary world. Relied on by chefs and home cooks alike, tomatoes provide substance to sauces, sweetness to salads, bold color to pastas and dimension to slow-simmered stews. But how do you choose which type of tomato to incorporate into your dish?
Let’s look at the basic options:
Fresh, Vine-Ripe Tomatoes – What you see is what you get – plenty of juice, seeds, skin and everything in between. This is the perfect choice for salads, sandwiches and eating exactly the way nature intended – straight from the vine. Look for tomatoes that are blemish free, and firm to the touch but not rock hard. When possible, opt for organic tomatoes that have been grown under optimum circumstances.
Heirloom Tomatoes – Open-pollinated and not hybridized. Heirlooms are interesting because they are often physically flawed by irregular skins and shapes. Color varies from deep purple red (as shown in photo) to pale yellow. Heirloom tomatoes are flavor-packed and more expensive than standard vine-ripe tomatoes. But, they are the perfect choice for slicing and eating all by themselves.
Tomato Paste from a Tube – If you do not have this in your pantry, buy it now! What makes this form of tomato paste so appealing is that it can be used, one teaspoon or tablespoon at a time – with no waste! Though ounce-for-ounce it is far more expensive to purchase than tomato paste in a can, the fact that you will not waste a drop makes this choice economical.
Fire-roasted Diced Tomatoes – No kitchen should be without canned diced tomatoes – the ultimate time saver to enhance flavor quality of your foods. But diced tomatoes come in many varieties – unsalted, salted, seasoned, and fire-roasted with seasonings. I love the fire-roasted type for the extra kick of smoky flavor they add to every dish. For less than a dollar a can, these tomatoes are culinary gold.
Cherry Tomatoes – The perfect summer snack, any time of day, any time of night. Super sweet and bursting with flavor, cherry tomatoes make even picky kids converts. Look for a similar variety – grape tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are somewhat more oblong in shape but just as sweet.
Tomato Paste – Traditional, from-a-can tomato paste is concentrated tomato flavor in a thickened puree.
Dehydrated Tomato Powder – Tomato powder is the ground result of dehydrated tomatoes. It can be easily measured by the teaspoon or Tablespoon as an addition to all types of recipes. Extremely concentrated in flavor and wonderful to perk up store-bought soups and pastas.
Sun-dried Tomato Pesto – A loose interpretation of “pesto”, this thickened sauce often combines dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts, sometimes with the addition of Parmesan cheese. Check the ingredient listing on products that interest you. Again, the addition of one Tablespoon of sun-dried tomato pesto can transform a simple white sauce and can enrich a sauce made from stock. Excellent spread on toasts and served with fresh mozzarella.
Sun-dried Tomatoes – Most often, “sun-dried” tomatoes are actually oven-dried or dehydrated on slow heat to extract moisture and retain powerful flavor. Their appearance is flattened and wrinkled. Traditionally, tomatoes were dried outdoors in this way on hot, sunny days when moisture evaporates naturally over time (usually at least eight hours). Now, home cooks can achieve the same effect by slow drying tomatoes in the oven on 150 degrees or by using a food dehydrator. The benefit of using sun-dried tomatoes is that you can attain full tomato flavor in a recipe even when they are out of season. Simply reconstitute the desired quantity of tomatoes in boiling water until plump then add to recipe as directed.
No matter how you choose to incorporate tomatoes into your meals, you can’t go wrong. And the best solution of all? Grow your own tomatoes at home and harvest a fresh crop whenever you need it!
I eat these tomatoes by the spoonful! They are wonderfully rich and make the perfect spread for Italian bread or sauce for fresh pasta. Oven-dried tomatoes also are a fabulous addition to soups, stews and omelettes.
2 quarts grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon sea salt
- Wash and clean tomatoes, removing stems.
- Pierce tomatoes with tip of knife to release juices. Toss in 9×13″ baking dish with olive oil, Italian seasoning and sea salt.
- Bake at 300 degrees for at least 2 hours. Stir frequently to mix flavors. If your oven has a 200 degree setting, you can begin to bake the tomatoes in the morning and check on them in the afternoon. (The first time you make these, please watch your tomatoes carefully to gauge the strength of your oven.)
- The longer you cook these tomatoes, the more dry and flavor-concentrated they become. It’s okay to let the skins char a bit, but do not let them burn and completely dry out.
- Watch tomatoes carefully in the last 30 minutes of baking time.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in airtight container, refrigerated, for up to several weeks.
Enjoy your tomatoes!