Lauren Chattman

Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times. She is the author of 14 books, most recently "Cake Keeper Cakes" (Taunton 2009) and "Cookie Swap!" (Workman, 2010). She has also co-authored several books with former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, including Dessert University (Simon & Schuster, 2004). With artisan baking expert Daniel Leader, she is the co-author of the IACP award-winning "Local Breads" (Norton, 2007). With Susan Matheson, she is co-author of "The Gingerbread Architect" (Clarkson Potter, Fall 2008) Lauren lives in Sag Harbor with her husband and two daughters. She blogs about local food and small-town life at sagharbordays.blogspot.com. Show More

Like most New Jersey natives of a certain age, I consider myself an authority on tomatoes, even though I've never grown any myself.

When I shopped for Jersey tomatoes with my mother in the 1970s, we'd eat them like apples, over the sink, as soon as we got home.

Back then, all we needed to know was the location of the nearest farm stand. The bright red fruit was sure to taste great. Today, because of changing market conditions and farming practices, there are more choices but fewer guarantees.

K.K. Haspel, owner of The Farm in Southhold and an expert on heirloom tomatoes, said that popular Sungold cherry tomatoes are the first to ripen. Following them is a parade of varieties, including Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Great White, Green Zebra and Prudence Purple. Haspel says that, while an early frost can put an untimely end to tomato season, they should be flourishing into October.

Haspel advises that you choose fruit that "looks alive." Tomatoes, whether they're red, yellow, green, or white, should glow with rich and vibrant color. Tomatoes should also have a wonderful tomato aroma. Whatever you do, she says, don't squeeze them. With their thin skins, heirloom varieties will bruise easily if handled roughly.

Once you get your tomatoes home, keep them on the countertop, never in the refrigerator. It's OK to buy farm-grown tomatoes before they're fully ripe. They will ripen over the course of a few days and develop the same great flavor they would have if picked ripe from the vine.

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KNOW YOUR TOMATOES

 Understanding a few key terms will help you come home from the market with the tomatoes that you want:

HEIRLOOM

This term refers to open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, or tomato varieties that have been grown for more than 50 years. Bred by farmers and home gardeners for hardiness, disease resistance and flavor, rather than bright color and smooth skin, heirloom tomatoes might look funny, but they are some of the best-tasting tomatoes around.

HOTHOUSE

Hothouse tomatoes (sometimes called hydroponic) are grown in greenhouses and fed with a nutrient solution delivered directly to the root system. Ripened indoors, they have little of the flavor of tomatoes grown in the field.

HYBRID

In general, hybrid tomatoes are bred for commercial purposes, with the focus on producing fruit durable enough to withstand automated harvesting and days in a refrigerated truck. That said, many local farmers are using sensitively bred hybrid seeds to grow tomatoes that combine the best qualities of two or more varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

ON-THE-VINE

Supermarket tomatoes that are harvested with the fruits still connected to a piece of vine. This does not mean that the tomatoes were actually ripened on the vine. On-the-vine tomatoes, like other commercially bred tomatoes, are picked when green and ripened in storage with ethylene.

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ORGANIC

Certified organic tomatoes are grown without chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The result is a tomato crop with no potentially dangerous chemical residue, and a gentler impact on the local environment.

RECIPES

Food processor gazpacho

1 pound (about 2 medium) tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

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1/2 yellow pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup roasted almonds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar

Salt

Ground black pepper

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish

1. Combine tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, garlic, almonds, olive oil, and vinegar in work bowl of food processor and pulse until smooth.

2. Add some water, a little at a time, if mixture is too thick. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Garnish with parsley or cilantro. Makes 4 servings.

Tomato and bread salad

 Toasting bread cubes in a 350-degree oven dries them out so they can absorb the tomato juice.

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves

4 cups day-old bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, lightly toasted

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 3 large), cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

1. Whisk together oil, vinegar, salt, pepper to taste and basil in a small bowl.

2. Combine bread, tomatoes, shallot, cucumber and olives in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Let stand until bread is softened but not mushy, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Adjust seasonings and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Raw tomato sauce with avocado

1 pound fusilli or other curly pasta shape

1 1/2 pounds (about 3 large) tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 medium avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until just tender.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, olive oil, pepper flakes, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, gently toss avocado, lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Drain pasta and toss with tomato mixture. Divide among pasta bowls. Top each portion with some avocado and serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 Classic tomato sandwich with a twist

 To vary this simple recipe, stir a tablespoon of pesto, a teaspoon of curry powder or a finely chopped clove of garlic and a teaspoon of lemon juice into the mayonnaise instead of the chili.

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chipotle chili in adobo

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

4 slices best-quality white bread or brioche

1 (medium-size) ripe tomato, cored and sliced

Sea salt

Ground black pepper

1. Stir together mayonnaise, chili and cilantro in a small bowl.

2. Spread some mayonnaise on 1 side of each of the 4 slices of bread. Arrange tomatoes on top of 2 slices of the bread. Sprinkle tomatoes with sea salt and pepper and top with the other 2 bread slices.

3. Cut each sandwich in half, and serve. Makes 2 sandwiches.

Quick greek pizzas

 Vegetable oil for greasing grill grids

3 cups arugula

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 (11-inch, burrito-size) flour tortillas

3 ounces crumbled feta cheese

1. Preheat grill to medium. Clean grill grids and brush with oil.

2. Toss arugula, tomatoes, olives, mint, oregano, garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice and salt in a bowl.

3. Brush both sides of each tortilla with remaining olive oil. Grill tortillas until undersides are crisp with grill marks, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and sprinkle with salt. Arrange salad on top of tortillas, sprinkle with cheese, put cover on grill until cheese begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from grill with a large spatula and serve immediately. Makes 2 personal-size pizzas.

 Peach and tomato salad

 1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into 8 wedges

2 ripe peaches, each pitted and cut into 8 wedges

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1. Whisk together the oil, lime juice, curry powder, salt, and cilantro in a small bowl.

2. Arrange the tomatoes and peaches on 4 salad plates, alternating them so they form a pinwheel in the center of the plate. Scatter cherry tomato halves over each portion.

3. Drizzle the dressing over each plate. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.