According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat more than 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. More than half this amount is eaten in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce. There are more than 4,000 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from the small, marble-size cherry tomato to the giant Ponderosa that can weigh more than 3 pounds.

Tomatoes do not become more flavorful and develop adequate flavor unless allowed to ripen on the vine. They will change color and soften, but the sugar, acid, and aroma compounds are locked in once the fruit is taken off the vine. So, choose vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably locally grown, because the less the tomatoes have to travel, the more likely they were picked ripe. Seek out locally grown tomatoes whenever possible. They may not be as “pretty” as store bought, but beauty, but taste is what you are after.

Select tomatoes that are firm, glossy, smooth, plump, heavy for their size, and free of bruises. Avoid tomatoes that are overly ripe and soft. Fragrance is a better indicator of a good tomato than color. Use your nose and smell the stem end. The stem should retain the garden aroma of the plant, if it doesn’t, your tomato will lack flavor. Since fresh tomatoes are summer fare and off-season tomatoes are rarely flavorful, substitute canned Italian plum tomatoes in cooked dishes. Cook for ten minutes to reduce the liquid and enhance the taste.

Storing Ripe Tomatoes:  

DO NOT REFRIGERATE FRESH TOMATOES! Cold temperatures make the flesh of a tomato pulpy and destroys the flavor. Always store tomatoes at room temperature stem-end down. This prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.

To ripen, place green or unripened tomatoes in a brown paper bag and place in a dark spot for three or four days, depending on the degree of greenness. The bag will trap the fruit’s ethylene gas and encourage ripening. Do not put tomatoes in the sun to ripen – that will soften them.

Tomato Equivalents

Fresh Tomatoes:

  • 1 small tomato weighs 3 to 4 ounces.
  • 1 medium tomato weighs 5 to 6 ounces.
  • 1 large tomato weighs 7 or more ounces.
  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes = 3 cups chopped and drained fresh tomatoes or 2 1/2 cups seeded, chopped cooked tomatoes.
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes = 3 cups pureed tomatoes.
  • 25 to 30 cherry tomatoes = 2 cups chopped tomatoes.

Canned Tomatoes:

  • 1 (16-ounce) can = 2 cups undrained tomatoes = 1 cup drained tomatoes.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can = 3 cups undrained = 2 to 2 1/2 cups drained tomatoes.
  • 1 (35-ounce) can = 4 cups undrained = 2 1/2 to 3 cups drained tomatoes.
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste = 1/4 cup.

Tomato Tips:

  • Add a pinch of sugar to tomatoes when cooking them. It enhances the flavor.
  • To keep baked or stuffed tomatoes from collapsing, bake in greased muffin tins. The tins will give them some support as they cook.
  • If the seeds and skins won’t be noticeable in a dish, keep them in. If you are making a smooth sauce, you can always strain out the seeds and skins later as the skins and seed will add flavor.
  • While the flesh contributes the sugars and amino acids, the flavors of a tomatoes are not just in its flesh, the jelly and juice surrounding the seeds contribute acidity. However, the seeds and surrounding jelly will contribute liquid to the dish you are using it in, which can make uncooked dishes, such as salsa, too watery. The tomato skins also have a way of curling up into tough little bits when they are cooked.

Tips for Freezing Tomatoes:

  • The simplest way to preserve tomatoes is to freeze them whole. Just rinse them, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and freeze overnight. When frozen, put them in a freezer bag and return to the freezer. To use, remove from bag and thaw. When thawed, slip the skins off, and use in your favorite recipes.
  • Peel the tomatoes, puree them in a blender, and then strain them through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to drain off the excess tomato water (this can be used in soups). Freeze the pulp in ice cube trays. When frozen, store the frozen cubes in a freezer bag.
  • Roast halved tomatoes with olive oil and herbs before freezing.

How To Peel Fresh Tomatoes:

* *

In a 5-quart pan over high heat, bring 3 ½ quarts water to a boil.

Prepare a large bowl of ice water that contains enough ice water to cover the tomatoes you want to peel.

With a paring knife, cut an “X” through the skin on bottom of each tomato.

* *

Working in batches of three, plunge (drop) the tomatoes into the boiling water, a few at a time, 10 to 15 seconds.

Do not leave tomatoes in the boiling water for more than 15 seconds as your tomato will become mushy (especially if you are using the tomatoes uncooked in a salad or salsa, you don’t want them in a boiling pot any longer than they have to be, because they’ll start to cook.)

Remove tomatoes from hot water with a slotted spoon.

With a slotted spoon gently place in a bowl or sink filled with ice water to cool them down.

Once the tomatoes are cool, immediately take them out of the water to drain. Leaving the tomatoes in water may cause them to become waterlogged.

Gently pull away the skins, beginning at the points created by the X. The skin will easily slip off each tomato.

You may use a small paring knife or your fingers.

Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes have been grown as a food since the 16th century, though they have in various times and places been regarded as both poisonous and decorative plants. The Italian name for the tomato is pomodoro, meaning “apple of love” or “golden apple,” because the first tomatoes to reach Europe were yellow varieties. Tomatoes were not cultivated in North America until the 1700s, and then only in home gardens. In colonial America (1620-1763), tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and were grown as an ornamental plant called the “love apple.” The odor of the leaves made people think it was poisonous.

According to an article from, The Thomas Jefferson Society, called Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Vegetables by Peter J. Hatch, regarding tomatoes and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States:

Thomas Jefferson was raising tomatoes by 1782. Most people of that century paid little attention to tomatoes. Only in the next century did they make their way into American cookbooks, always with instructions that they be cooked for at least three hours or else they “will not lose their raw taste.”  Jefferson was a pioneer grower of “tomatoes.”  Beginning in 1809, he planted tomatoes yearly in his vegetable garden and  Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, and granddaughters, Virginia and Septimia, left numerous recipes that involved tomatoes, including gumbo soups, cayenne-spiced tomato soup, green tomato pickles, tomato preserves, and tomato omelettes. Tomatoes were also used for presidential dinners during Jefferson’s time, which helped this modern garden favorite get off to a good start.

 Here are a few recipes for you to try when tomatoes are at their best.

Appetizer

Ricotta Crostini with Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • Handful of cherry tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 loaf of ciabatta or another peasant-style bread
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1–1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1.  Place tomatoes in a small oven proof skillet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, set 5″ under the broiler, and leave until the tomatoes have burst and started to release their juices, about 8 minutes. Set aside.
2. Heat a stove top grill pan over medium heat. Cut bread into 1/2″-thick crosswise slices. Drizzle the bread with olive oil. Grill bread slices until both sides have grill marks and slightly charred crusts, 4–5 minutes.
3.  While hot, rub bread with garlic. Spread 1 tablespoon of the ricotta on top of each toasted slice.
4.  Spoon cherry tomatoes on top. Garnish with thin shavings of parmesan cheese and black pepper.
SERVES 4–6

Lunch

Broiled Tomatoes with Farro Salad

Serves: 6
The natural nuttiness of farro matches beautifully with the saltiness of the olives and the sweetness of the broiled ‘Roma’ tomatoes. Serve with a lightly chilled fruity red wine. To save time, substitute a quick-cooking grain or pasta such as couscous, orzo, or instant brown rice for farro.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup Farro
  • 6  plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup  crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Directions:

  1. Cook the farro: Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the farro and gently boil until tender — 40 to 45 minutes. Drain and keep warm.
  2. Broil the tomatoes: Heat oven to 400°F. Arrange the halved tomatoes on a baking pan. Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with the garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper, and roast for 10 minutes. Heat oven to broil and continue to cook until tomatoes begin to brown — about 5 minutes. Remove tomatoes from oven and set aside.
  3. Prepare farro salad: Combine the lemon juice and remaining salt in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup olive oil in a thin, steady stream while whisking continuously. Set aside. Heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Add the cooked farro and toss just until warmed–2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large serving platter or bowl, add the feta, olives, lemon-juice mixture, and fresh thyme leaves and gently toss to combine. Top with the broiled tomatoes and serve immediately.

Roasted Tomato Soup

When tomatoes are oven-roasted at a low temperature, their flavor becomes very concentrated. When they’re then pureed, even dead-of-winter plum tomatoes make a delicious soup that tastes like summer.
Ingredients: 
  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • About 3 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • Basil Leaves

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise through the stem; quarter larger tomatoes. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to coat.
  2. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a large baking sheet and sprinkle with the sugar and salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes for about 2 hours, or until most of their juices have evaporated and they are just beginning to brown. The tomatoes should look like dried apricots and hold their shape when moved.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet. Add the shallots, cover and cook until they are soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the shallots to a food processor, add the tomatoes and puree. With the machine on, drizzle in the chicken stock and process until incorporated.
  4. Pass the soup through a coarse strainer into a clean saucepan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with basil. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve hot.

Dinner

Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Sweet Peppers

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 small red chile, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 3 medium tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Put chickpeas in a medium bowl and add enough cold water to cover by 2”.  Set aside to soak for at least 4 hours, or overnight, then drain.
Place chickpeas in a medium pot, add enough cold water to cover by 3”, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until chickpeas are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a heavy medium pot over medium heat. Add bell peppers, chiles, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, half the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add chickpeas and simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve hot or cold, sprinkled with remaining parsley.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna, Capers, and Herbs

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 medium firm but ripe red tomatoes
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted 
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans Italian tuna packed in oil, drained 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Cut a 3/4-inch slice off the stem end of each tomato and reserve. With a spoon, carefully scoop out the pulp and discard. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with salt and place the tomatoes upside down on paper towels to drain for 1 hour.
In a medium bowl, mix together the capers, pine nuts, parsley, oregano, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add the flaked tuna and mix together gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with pepper. Distribute the tuna evenly among them, cover with the reserved tops, and serve.
NOTE: These can be made several hours in advance and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before serving.

Grilled Chicken Stuffed with Basil and Tomato

Butterflying the chicken — splitting each piece in half and fanning it open like a book — creates two layers to hold tomato and basil.
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Directions

  1. To butterfly chicken breasts: Put halves on a cutting board, smooth sides down, with the pointed ends facing you. Starting on one long side, cut breasts almost in half horizontally (stop about 1/2 inch before reaching the opposite side). Open cut breasts like a book. Sprinkle each piece all over with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate, and coat both sides with garlic and oil. Let stand 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a grill or grill pan until medium-hot. Place 3 basil leaves on the bottom half of each opened chicken breast; top each with 2 slices tomato. Fold over other half of chicken breast, and secure with two toothpicks or short skewers.
  3. Grill chicken breasts, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes. Place on a clean serving platter; garnish with basil. Remove toothpicks or skewers before serving.

 

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