Tomatoes might be grown year round, but nothing comes close to the flavor of the sun-ripened August fruit. This week, we look at how to maximize that summery flavor.
Tomatoes | Family: Solanaceae
From the Farmer: Our wet spring and late summer has impacted this year’s tomato crop. Many farmers had to replant because of the cold and wet weather (and that’s not to mention the hail). “Interestingly, backyard gardeners often have a better shot at tomatoes than commercial growers do,” Eric Skokan of Black Cat Farm says. “The city heat bumps the temperature up a couple degrees—especially for warm nighttime temperatures—and that helps them ripen.” Skokan grows about 20 varieties and he favors the Black Prince for large slicing tomatoes.
Good for You: Anyone looking to eat healthily would do well to include tomatoes. In addition to being an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, the fruit is rich in lycopene, a carotenoid partially responsible for the fruit’s deep color and a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from free radicals. Tomatoes are also good for heart health because they help lower cholesterol.
At the Market: “Buyers can be rough on tomatoes,“ Jacquie Monroe or Monroe Organic Farms says. “Look at it, but don’t squeeze.” Find fruit that’s unblemished and free of bruises and soft spots. Perhaps the best indicator is smell—the more fragrant the better tasting the tomato. Just inspect carefully, pleads Monroe, who regularly hauls several boxes home of damaged fruit home from the market. Once you get home, leave tomatoes on the counter; do not refrigerate them.
Around Town: Tomatoes are a chef favorite because they’re versatile, colorful, and the ingredient has both savory and sweet tendencies. At Fruition Restaurant, the summer fruit is marinated and plated with house-made Burrata, grilled baby romaine, and kalamata olive tapenade. Consider it a remake of caprese, bolstered with Caesar dressing. At Duo Restaurant, the panzanella—which might be the most quintessential of all tomato dishes—is summer on the plate, livened up with mint–black olive chermoula. Chef Troy Guard of Guard and Grace serves tomatoes two ways: in a compressed tomato ravioli with tomato compote, chimichurri, and basil, and as a salad with house-made ricotta and baby radishes.
In Your Kitchen: “There’s no recipe for tomatoes. You just eat them,” Mark Guttridge of Ollin Farms says. Follow his lead (add a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt), or find creative ways to incorporate the summer fruit. Of course, there’s the classic caprese salad with basil and mozzarella, but try swapping out the basil for mint and the cheese for Burrata or ricotta. And there’s nothing like a BLT in the summer when at-their-peak-tomatoes offset thick-cut bacon—try it on Babettes Bakery’s olive bread and with a smear of tomato jam. Make gazpacho, the chilled vegetable soup puts tomatoes’ sweet acidity front and center. And a good way to use up a bounty is by making a tomato tart, where you layer the salted slices with fresh herbs and cheese. As all of these recipes illustrate, you don’t want to do too much—just let the fruit shine on its own.