5 Ways to Make the Most of Tomatoes
Here’s how to care for one of summer’s greatest foods.
Keep out of the fridge
Ripe, freshly picked tomatoes have a vibrant taste, which isn’t improved by refrigeration. So keep them in a cool place, in a basket or ventilated container, so that air can circulate around them. To help to develop the flavor of slightly under-ripe tomatoes, put them in a paper bag with an apple. Prick the bag with a fork to make a few air holes and leave at room temperature for one to two days.
Hold on to the flavor
Tomatoes freeze well, so it’s well worth preserving some for future use, when they’re at their peak. Grow your own or buy the best available from a farmers’ market or farm gate. Simply cut out the tough core, leaving the rest whole, and arrange on a baking tray. Place in the freezer and, when frozen, transfer to a plastic bag and return to the freezer. They can be thawed and used for sauces, soups and casseroles. The skin will peel off easily if they are left to thaw until they’re beginning to soften on the outside. Or you can run warm tap water over them and then peel off the skin.
Another good way to enjoy the tastiest tomatoes, out of season, is to dry them. Cut into quarters and remove and discard the seeds. Pat the flesh dry with kitchen towel, then place, cut side up, on a large baking tray. Drizzle over a little olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper – together with some chopped herbs or garlic, to taste, if you wish – and place in the oven, preheated to around 150°C, for an hour. Allow to cool, then pack the dried tomatoes in a plastic container. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Avoid chopped canned tomatoes
They’re convenient and can be very tasty, but it is always advisable to choose canned whole tomatoes. That way, you can drain off the accompanying sauce that tends to be rather watery and can have a slightly metallic after-taste. For most recipes you won’t need to chop the tomatoes; you can simply break them up with your hands as you add them to a sauce or casserole. In fact, good canned tomatoes may have a better flavor than fresh ones, especially some of the fresh plum tomatoes on the market, which can be quite tasteless.
Make tomato sauce quicker
A tomato sauce that simmers away gently for several hours may taste wonderful, but one that takes only a fraction of the time to cook can be equally delicious – especially when it’s made with locally grown tomatoes at the peak of their flavor. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat, then add 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until they are golden brown. Stir in about 2 pounds of tomatoes – really ripe ones that have been peeled, deseeded and chopped, or use two 14-ounce cans of top quality tomatoes, that have been drained and chopped. Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until it is thick. Tear 8–10 fresh basil leaves into small pieces and stir them in – herbs such as basil, chives and mint help to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes. This sauce may lack the complexity of its long-simmered cousin, but it’s quick and easy, and still makes a mouthwatering meal when stirred into freshly cooked pasta. It is also far superior to any of the sauces found in jars on supermarket shelves.
The seeds and skin contribute to a tomato’s flavor, so some people prefer to make a coarser textured sauce that includes them. This can be made a little smoother by processing for a minute or two in a blender or food processor.