There is nothing quite like the taste of a vine-ripened tomato picked out of your own garden. Supermarket tomatoes in any season are pale, watery imitations of what real tomato-y goodness can be, and therefore not worth buying, in my book. (Fortunately, canned tomatoes will get us through the winter.) Fresh-picked tomatoes are the essence of summer; they command us to stop and savor, because the time when we will have them is so fleeting.
When I was a kid, I remember the freedom of summer days as punctuated each lunchtime by a walk out to my father’s garden to pick a tomato. I’d fry up a little bacon, slather toast with mayonnaise, add a modicum of lettuce and thick, juicy slices of the tomato, still warm from the sun. I’d eat the sandwich at the table with the book I was reading in hand, tomato juices likely running down my chin. The remembered warm sweetness of truly ripe tomatoes is just what I would imagine sunshine would taste like.
Today, a tomato sandwich is still one of my absolute favorite ways to consume a ripe tomato out of my garden (although I’ve now replaced the bacon with cheddar cheese). But I never seem to tire of eating fresh tomatoes in all kinds of ways, which is good because I can barely keep up with what my first-year garden is producing. Whether it’s the soil or these 100+ degree days or some other factor, I’ve gotten mounds of tomatoes this week. Here are some other of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes:
- Simple tomato salad: Slice them and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for about 10 minutes to release the juices, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a few drop of red wine vinegar. Eat alone or combine with fresh herbs, greens, cucumber or red onion.
- Tomatoes with cheese: Like all fruits, tomatoes go great with cheese. Mozzarella is a natural pairing; slice a ball of fresh mozzarella into disks, layer with thick tomato slices and basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make insalata caprese. Tomatoes also taste divine with a sharp cheddar or a creamy gorgonzola.
- Tomato vinaigrette: Halve small cherry, grape or pear tomatoes (preferably a combination of colors) and sprinkle with salt. Let sit 10 minutes, then combine with a simple vinaigrette. Use as a sauce for grilled chicken or fish.
Never, ever refrigerate tomatoes. The cold will kill the wonderful flavor, and the texture will get mushy. Just leave them out in a bowl where you can admire them. Slightly underripe tomatoes will continue to ripen out on the counter. Once ripe, eat within 2 days.
Of course, you can cook tomatoes, but I think when they’re dead ripe, they’re best showcased raw. Still, if you get more tomatoes than you can possibly eat, it’s time to make tomato sauce. I make as much sauce as I can and freeze it in 1-cup portions, so I can recapture that flavor of summer once the dreary winter months are here.
In order to make tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, you will probably want to peel the tomatoes. Here’s a quick and easy way to do that.
How to Peel a Tomato
- If the tomato is large, core it (an apple corer works really well for this). If it is small or a roma, skip this step, but do remove the stem.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Slip in 5 or 6 tomatoes and blanch them about 15 seconds, or until the skin starts to split.
- Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking.
- Slip the skin off — it should come away easily.
- Repeat with remaining tomatoes.