All About Tomatoes
Featured Recipe: Polenta Gratin With Tomatoes, Corn, and Basil
Featured Recipe: Oven-dried (or oven-roasted) cherry or plum tomatoes
More Ideas for Tomatoes
Ideas for Green Tomatoes
All About Tomatoes
Pick tomatoes that are firm and uniformly colored. DO NOT STORE THEM IN THE FRIDGE. Tomatoes quickly lose flavor if stored in the fridge. Store tomatoes at room temperature, away from direct sunlight and with the stem scar facing down (the UC Davis link about freezing tomatoes, below, suggests the stem scar should be faced up, but apparently tomatoes rot more quickly that way). Tomatoes may taste even better the next day, but they are best eaten within a few days and will start to shrivel within seven days or so. I haven't figured out a good way to store half-eaten tomatoes, so I make sure we never have any. However, apparently tomatoes stored in the refrigerator can regain some flavor by being placed on the counter for an hour, a few hours, or a day or so. And, Food52 offers suggestions for storing cut tomatoes other than in your stomach.
Tomatoes picked unripe can be ripened in a paper bag in a cool, dark place. Here are some more detailed instructions. Some may take longer to ripen, and green tomatoes are also edible and delicious. We provide some ideas for using them below, such as frying, pickling, or adding to curries.
Ripe tomatoes can be frozen, canned, or oven-dried. Here and also here are some good instructions for freezing tomatoes raw or stewed. They can also be cooked into sauces, soups, or stews and frozen. If I'm making tomato sauce I always triple the recipe and freeze some. Here are instructions for oven-drying, also provided below.
Featured Recipes: Tomatoes
Every summer, I eagerly anticipate the tomato, harvest in part to make gratins based on recipes from the Greens restaurant. The various components can be made a few days ahead, allowing for a beautiful and delicious meal for guests with minimal prepping around dinnertime: just assemble before guests arrive, and bake while enjoying hors d'oeuvres. Gratin is really just a fancy name for casserole, but made with peak-of-the-harvest vegetables this won't feel mundane. I like to serve the gratin with deeply colored vegetables — green beans, sauteed greens, a kale salad, roasted eggplant—and the gratin can also be served with meat, chicken, fish, or shellfish. Here is another similar gratin made with artichokes, tomatoes, and olives. Both recipes are from the Fields of Greens cookbook.
For a vegan-friendly dinner, skip the cheese or use a cashew cream, and use a butter substitute in the polenta and gratin.
Following the gratin recipe are instructions for oven-drying cherry tomatoes. These are easy to make and a wonderful item to have in your freezer or preserved in olive oil for the winter.
polenta (see recipe below)
fresh tomato sauce (see recipe below)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
3 ears of corn, shaved (about 2.5 cups kernels)
3/4 pound tomatoes, cored and seeded
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 or 2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and thinly sliced
2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated, about 3/4 cup
How to make it
- Make the polenta, and while it's cooling, make the sauce; remove the bay leaf just before assembling the gratin.
- Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the corn. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the corn is tender; season with 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- While the corn is cooking, cut the tomatoes into large pieces — you should have about 1-1/2 cups.
- Marinate the tomatoes in the olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of fresh-ground pepper.
- Cool the corn and toss with the tomatoes, half the bail, and half the chilies.
- Add salt, pepper, and chilies to taste.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pour the sauce into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish, overlapping the triangles slightly; use all of the polenta.
- Spoon the vegetables right into the spaces between the polenta triangles, separating the rows as you go.
- Sprinkle with the cheese.
- Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes, until the gratin is bubbly.
- Sprinkle on the remaining basil and serve.
Serves four to six.
Tip: Taste the corn. If it's tough, add a little water to the skilled; cover and steam until the kernels are plump. If it lacks flavor, add a few pinches of sugar before steaming to sweeten it.
(This can be made a day ahead, probably two)
6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, about 1 1/2 ounces) (or provolone, cheddar or smoked cheese)
Lightly oil a 9-by 13-inch baking dish and set aside. Bring the water to a rapid boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt, then vigorously whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat and cook at a low boil for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the grains have opened up and the polenta is smooth. (Jackie notes: I have seen tricks for making polenta without stirring. I find the microwave method produces polenta that is much less fluffy than with stirring. Cook's Illustrated suggests a pinch of baking soda, which worked for texture but affected the taste.)
Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the pepper, cayenne to taste, the butter, and the cheese. Pour the hot polenta into the baking dish and set aside to cool. For polenta gratin, cut it into 12 squares, then cut each square into two triangles.
Makes 24 polenta triangles; serves 6.
(Can be made up to a few days ahead)
1 tablespoon light olive oil
½ medium-size yellow onion, diced, about 1 cup
½ teaspoon dried basil
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup dry red wine
2 cups fresh tomatoes or 1 16-oz can tomatoes w/juice, chopped
1 bay leaf
Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan; add the onion, basil, ½ teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Sauté over medium heat until the onion is soft, about 7 to 8 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and simmer a minute or two to reduce; when the pan is almost dry, add the tomatoes and the bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf before assembling the dish.
Makes about 2 cups.
Oven-dried (or oven-roasted) cherry or plum tomatoes
(from Smitten Kitchen)
Cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes
Whole cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Herbs such as thyme or rosemary (optional)
Preheat oven to 225°F. Halve each cherry or grape tomato crosswise, or Roma tomato lengthwise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle herbs on, if you are using them, and salt and pepper, though go easily on these because the finished product will be so flavorful you’ll need very little to help it along.
Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about three hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside–this could take more or less time depending on the size of your tomatoes.
Either use them right away or let them cool, cover them with some extra olive oil and keep them in the fridge for the best summer condiment, ever.
Once cool these can also be popped into the freezer in an airtight container.
Here are instructions for packing them in oil.
Jackie Starr is a LexFarm founding member who has been a flexitarian home cook for 25 years. Her recipe selections and adaptations are informed by experiences living abroad, by having spent many years in the Bay Area and Seattle, and by a delight in local, seasonal bounty.
More Ideas for Tomatoes
While the weather is still warm, make gazpacho.
- There's the recipe we featured in last week's (week 10) newsletter.
- You could grill all the vegetables.
- Try a version with a Mexican twist topped with grilled shrimp.
- For even more inspiration, here are a dozen more ways to make gazpacho, some with tomatoes and some not.
And, on cooler days, make hot tomato soup to go with a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Try a simple tomato soup, substituting fresh tomatoes for canned.
- Cream of tomato soup is a classic.
- Using roasted tomatoes makes the soup exceptionally sweet and flavorful, as in this simple one or this one with quinoa.
- Tomatoes complement shrimp deliciously for your main dish. Try baking shrimp with tomatoes and feta or sauté them together with arugula.
- Add tomatoes to a stir fry, such as Thai shrimp or substituted for red pepper in lacquered tofu.
- Stuff your tomatoes with this Greek filling. You can use the filling from any stuffed pepper or squash recipe to make your own version of stuffed tomatoes.
- Use tomatoes in the filling, as used for these Turkish stuffed eggplants.
- Add tomatoes to a gratin, such as this week's featured recipe with tomatoes, corn, and basil or a similar one with artichokes, tomatoes, and olives.
- Tossing raw tomatoes with pasta along with goat cheese and olives is a summer treat.
There are so many variations on tomato sauces. They freeze well too, to remind you of summer in the colder seasons.
- Try this classic from Marcella Hazan with butter and onion.
- Add peppers to tomato sauce. This recipe can be easily quadrupled or even sextupled depending on how many tomatoes and peppers you have.
- Roast the tomatoes until they fall apart for this roasted tomato sauce.
- Cook the tomatoes as the base for a shrimp ragu.
- LexFarm board member Linda Levin recommends this sauce made from the milder and sweeter yellow tomatoes.
- Go international and try the Catalan sauce Salbitxada or the Spanish Romesco sauce.
Tomatoes are natural stars in all manner of tarts. Between us, we have so many favorites!
- There's a French tomato tart with mustard, goat cheese and honey.
- A comforting tomato pie enclosed in biscuit dough or another with corn too.
- A tarte tatin, baked with the crust on top, flipping it over to serve. Here's one accented by olives and basil and another that adds just onions, but suggests several variations.
- Use breadcrumbs to make the crust for this one.
- This one layers tomatoes with pesto and fresh mozzarella.
- Try puffed pastry topped with not much more than roasted tomatoes.
- An almond and pepper crust spread with ricotta cheese is topped tomatoes drizzled with basil oil.
- You must make a Salad Caprese with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (visit Tutto Italiano in Lexington Center) and basil drizzled with olive oil. For a spicier version, try this one.
- The Middle East offers many salads with tomatoes: a simple tomato-cucumber salad, Turkish Shepherd's Salad with feta, or a Greek tomato salad.
- Add bulgur for tabbouli.
- Fattoush is another Middle Eastern salad made with stale (or toasted) pita bread in addition to the fresh vegetables. Here's a version with tangy sumac (available at Penzey's in Arlington). Here's a version from the cookbook Jerusalem, made with a homemade sort of buttermilk. And if you're short on time, you can always cheat and use pita chips from a bag.
- One of Betsy's favorites is panzanella, a bread salad moistened by the juice of fresh tomatoes. Try this recipe or this or this.
- Sliced tomatoes add fresh taste to any sandwich, hot or cold.
- Try a tomato and mayo sandwich at least once this summer. It works well with Italian Scali bread.
- Tomatoes are key to a BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato salad): basic, with bacon mayonnaise, with basil mayo, or avocado.
- Roast tomatoes topped with herbs for Tomatoes Provencal.
- A tomato bread pudding made with stale bread and fresh tomatoes makes a rich and comforting side or a vegetarian main dish.
- For a simple appetizer, make bruschetta. Or for a whimsical appetizer, spike cherry tomatoes with vodka.
- For breakfast, try shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish with eggs cooked in tomato sauce.
- Make your own salsa, basic or with spicy chipotle, or guacamole.
- Make tomato-basil jam. Eat one jar now and save the rest for winter (or give as gifts). This jam is great on a grilled cheese sandwich or spread on crackers with a creamy cheese.
- Make a Bloody Mary "poptail" (a frozen cocktail).
- Make granita — no ice cream maker required.
Ideas for Green Tomatoes
At the end of the summer, you might have some green tomatoes to enjoy.
- Make fried green tomatoes.
- Grill them and use in tostadas with black beans, avocado, and cilantro.
- Use on top of pasta.
- Make a green tomato tarte tatin.