In this installment of our summer series about enjoying in-season organic produce, learn simple tips for highlighting tomatoes in fresh, well-spiced meals.
By Tom Havran
Fresh, local, vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes may be the highest incarnation of summer produce bliss. Nothing matches the juicy texture and flavor of a fresh tomato with it’s balance of acidic tang and musky, fruity sweetness — unless it’s the concentrated and mellowed flavor of a perfectly home-canned tomato, or the sticky, fig-like, chewy-sweet density of a lovely sun-dried tomato.
Tomatoes come in three main varieties:
- Slicers/beefsteak: Great for fresh use on sandwiches and in salsas.
- Paste/plum: Fleshy with few seeds — great for canning, drying and sauce-making.
- Salad/cherry: Great to snack on and for adorning salads.
Tomatoes also come in a rainbow of colors from red to orange, yellow, green, purple, pink and white. In general, lighter-colored and green tomatoes can be dramatically less acidic and fruity (or dramatically tart and fruity). As the tomato’s color darkens, the richer and more complex the flavor becomes.
How to prepare it: How NOT to prepare tomatoes is the question. Slice and serve them with fresh mozzarella, sweet basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill them whole with onions, jalapenos and garlic, and coarsely puree the mix for an unforgettable fire-roasted salsa. Puree and strain a selection of dense, meaty tomatoes to use fresh as tomato juice.
Spices and herbs to complement: Oregano and sweet basil are both referred to as the “tomato herb,” as they both complement the sweet, tart, vegetal properties of tomatoes. Garlic, likewise, adds a much-needed aromatic, sulfurous depth to the bright zing of tomatoes.
Pairs well with: Mild and creamy fresh mozzarella cheese tames the acidic tang. Dense, substantial starches like pasta, rice and bread are transformed with a dressing of piquant tomato.
5 Tips for enjoying tomatoes:
- Tomatoes need to ripen on the vine to fully develop their unique flavor.
- Buy tomatoes that are ripe, and use them fresh or preserve them by drying, canning or freezing.
- Freezing tomatoes makes for easy processing. Parboil, peel and freeze whole tomatoes, or simply puree and freeze the liquid.
- Thicken pureed fresh tomatoes without cooking. Allow the puree to stand overnight in refrigerator. Ladle the thickened pulp off the top, and use the tomato water underneath as a soup base or as a substitute for water when you cook beans or boil pasta.
- Organize a tomato taste-testing to experience the full range of flavors that tomato varieties offer.
How are you using your tomato bounty this year?
About the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.