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Creative ways to eat tomatoes

Chilled shrimp salad served inside a ripe tomato

Chilled shrimp salad served inside a ripe tomato is the epitome of summer. Photo Credit: Doug Young

Gardeners and farm stand habitués wait all year for tomato season, when dozens of varieties of juicy summer specimens are suddenly available for constant enjoyment. And then the bounty becomes a burden. After the BLTs, caprese salads, and pizzas, how many other ways can you enjoy local tomatoes while they last?  

Larger tomatoes, including Beefsteaks, Brandywines, and Cherokee Purples, are good for slicing and sandwiching. They can also be hollowed out and stuffed, cut into wedges for salads, or cubed to make panzanella or bruschetta. Cherry tomatoes like the super-sweet Sungolds, tiny Currants, and alluringly dark Black Zebras, can be tossed with larger tomato wedges to add flavor and visual interest to salads. They also work well, halved or quartered, in salsas and pasta sauces. Paste tomatoes, like Romas and San Marzanos, have dense, relatively dry flesh, which make them perfect for cooking into sauces, but not as desirable in raw preparations like the ones described below.

Tomatoes are best enjoyed ripe from the vine immediately after picking. Look for specimens that are free of blemishes and bruises, with no splits that ooze juice. That doesn’t mean that they have to be picture-perfect. Very often, heirloom varieties will have deep cracks and bumps, and are variegated in color. Fruit should be firm, but not rock-hard, and feel heavy for its size. Ripe, locally grown tomatoes will have a sweet, earthy smell, in contrast to supermarket tomatoes, which smell like nothing. These tomatoes spoil quickly. Keep them on the countertop, stem sides down, to prevent bruising, for 2 to 3 days.

Here are some ideas: 

Panzanella: This traditional Italian dish, devised to use leftover bread, is also a great way to deal with an abundant tomato crop. Start with 3 cups of country bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes. If the bread is still fresh, dry it out in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Cut 1 ½ to 2 pounds of tomatoes into cubes or thin wedges, and toss with the bread, adding ¼ cup of olive oil, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Chopped basil leaves are a welcome addition, or add other chopped fresh herbs to taste. Throw in half a minced garlic clove and/or some chopped pitted olives if you’d like. A little bit of seeded and sliced cucumber could be added as well. For richness, stir in some diced mozzarella or crumbled feta cheese. To make a main course salad, top with shrimp, chicken, or thinly sliced steak.

Tomatoes, Beets, and Burrata: One of the most beautiful tomato salads that you can make at this time of the year, and also one of the easiest. Arrange tomato wedges and roasted beet wedges (you can buy these precooked in the vegetable aisle of the supermarket) on a platter around a round of burrata cheese. Shower with basil, mint, or thyme leaves, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with crusty bread on the side.

Shrimp-, Crab-, or Lobster-Stuffed Tomatoes: Chilled seafood served inside a ripe tomato is the epitome of summer. Core medium tomatoes and then carefully hollow out their insides with a small spoon. Fill each tomato with half cup of your favorite shrimp, crab, or lobster salad (if your fish market makes a good one, go ahead and use it). Wondering what to do with the scooped out tomato pulp? Refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 3 days and use it to make fresh tomato Bloody Marys or gazpacho.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Grilled Corn: This classic combination of summer vegetables and pasta, this dish can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Toss 12 ounces of cooked pasta with a pint of halved cherry tomatoes and two ears’ worth (about 1 ½ cups) of grilled corn kernels (leftover grilled corn from the night before is fine). Moisten with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste and garnish chopped basil. Variations are easy: Stir in some cooked and crumbled bacon or cooked and sliced sausage. Add crumbled feta or goat cheese. Moisten the pasta with pesto instead of olive oil. Add a diced avocado, some chopped chipotle chile, and squeso fresco.

Fresh Tomato Bloody Marys: Maybe the most fun way to deal with a tomato surplus is to mix up a pitcher of fresh tomato Bloody Marys. Combine cored and chopped tomatoes, a handful of ice cubes, lime juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to a pitcher and stir in chilled vodka. Pour into glasses and garnish with celery sticks and lime wedges.

Peach and Tomato Salsa: Add some chopped fresh peach to tomato salsa recipe for a sweet and spicy chip dip. Or use it on top of simply grilled fish or chicken. Combine a diced peach with two diced tomatoes, half of a chopped garlic clove, a chopped jalapeno, some chopped cilantro, and the juice of one lime.

Tomato Bruschetta: Brush slices of country bread with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill on both sides until golden. Rub each slice with a peeled garlic clove and top with diced fresh tomatoes for a minimalist version of bruschetta. Or get creative: Spread herbed ricotta cheese over the toasted bread before topping with tomatoes; combine chopped cooked shrimp or white beans or chorizo with chopped tomatoes; drape a slice of prosciutto over each toast before serving.

Tomato Sandwich: The summer classic is easy to prepare and enjoy: Spread mayo on two pieces of toasted bread and sandwich some ripe, juicy tomato slices in between them. Switch it up by stirring some chopped chipotle chile, sriracha, or garlic into the mayonnaise; adding a few slices of avocado, lettuce and bacon, or sliced hard-boiled egg; griddling with a slice of cheddar cheese

Zucchini Ribbons with Tomatoes and Pine Nuts: When it’s too hot to cook, make a salad of raw zucchini and raw tomatoes. Use a vegetable peeler or a spiralizer to cut two medium zucchini into ribbons. Cut a half-cup of cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and some chopped fresh mint. Sprinkle with crumbled ricotta salata and toasted pine nuts.

Tomato Granita: During a heat wave, serve an appetizer straight from the freezer. Coarsely chop 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes in a food processor. Transfer to a metal baking pan, stir in a chopped garlic clove, a teaspoon of sugar, a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze. Transfer the cubes to a food processor and process until slushy, scoop into small bowls, and serve, garnished with basil leaves.

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