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Summer is for tomato lovers. After suffering through the long winter months of dry, flavourless fruit, now is the time to enjoy tomatoes at their finest.
Today, enthusiastic gardeners and farmers looking for the best taste and texture are planting heirloom tomatoes, varieties that have been passed down through generations through seed preservation.
Whether red, purple, orange, yellow or striped; grape size, pear-shaped or round, they have one thing in common: flavour. They are fruity, sweet and balanced with acid. They could be compared to a delicious wine. I love bandywine, Cherokee, zebras, low-acid yellow tomatoes and the sun-kissed yellow cherries, often called sun gold, which are as sweet as candy.
Raw, roasted, preserved, juiced, dried, made into a rich tomato sauce, or juicy tomato sandwiches, they always deliver.
Watch out for hardened clefts or scars on the skin. They develop when the temperatures are cool during pollination. Although harmless, they can spoil the look of the salad, and should be cut out if they are deep. Unless using right away, pick firm, slightly underripe tomatoes that feel heavy in your hand . They will ripen in a day or two.
Unless they are exceptionally soft, store tomatoes at room temperature, as the cold makes them mealy. Slice tomatoes with a serrated knife that grips the skin easily. Remove the stem, place the tomato stem side down and slice vertically. The slices retain more juice when cut this way, rather than horizontally.
Although it’s a chore, skinning tomatoes is the best way to get all the natural flavour. The skin can be tough or bitter
, but it is a personal choice. Most good chefs skin their tomatoes. Drop whole tomatoes into boiling water for 20 or 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon. The skin will slip right off. Skinned tomatoes are especially good in salads and gazpacho, or as an uncooked tomato sauce for pasta if you remove the seeds. Perfect for tomato water too. To make deliciously refreshing tomato water, a perfect ingredient for summer cocktails or a refreshing soup; let the skinned tomatoes drain in a cheesecloth-lined sieve overnight, refrigerated. Use the resulting liquid mixed with a drop of sherry vinegar and a scattering of basil for soup, unadorned for cocktails.
To make tomato salads, use a good-quality extra virgin olive oil, skip the acid. There is enough acid in the tomatoes to mingle with the oil. Slice the tomatoes, unpeeled or not, add a glug of oil and a good sprinkling of salt. Basil marries well with tomatoes, as do oregano, chives, thyme and tarragon.
If your tomatoes refuse to ripen near the end of the season, green tomatoes make a great chutney, especially when mixed with Indian spices. But they star as fried green tomatoes. Dip in buttermilk or egg, dredge in a mixture of cornmeal, salt and flour, and fry for about 2 minutes a side in about ¼ cup (50 mL) oil. The tartness of the tomato, the crunchiness of the batter and the lick of oil makes them irresistible, especially with fried chicken. Although deemed a Southern recipe, they were brought to the U.S. by 19th-century European Jews fleeing persecution, some of whom settled in the South.
One caveat: Plum tomatoes, not heirlooms, are best for tomato sauce.
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