“There ain’t nothing better in life than true love and a homegrown tomato.” – Anonymous
We tomato lovers all know how much personal joy and anticipation the purchase of fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes brings to our lives. The only thing better is picking those warm red tomatoes off our own vines in the garden. Sometimes, of course, when we’re having a tomato craving, we buy them at the store, and there it’s the luck of the draw as far as taste goes.
Unfortunately, grocery store tomatoes sometimes lack an important quality in tomatoes: flavor. This is said to be because they’re picked days before they’ve ripened, they’re tossed into a cold storage truck, and sent on their way across the country to grocery stores. The problem with this is that there are enzymes in tomatoes that develop the tomatoes’ flavor as they ripen, but picking and chilling halts that process. This is also why home growers are advised not to place tomatoes in the fridge, as a rule.
Well, good news: There are solutions. Here are some tips for keeping your tomatoes fresh longer and increasing the flavor of chilled tomatoes.
1. According to scientist Jinhe Bai, if you have too many tomatoes and want to refrigerate your fully-ripe tomatoes to keep them from spoiling, immerse them in 125-degree-Fahrenheit water for five minutes first, then let them cool to room temperature. They can then be refrigerated, Bai says, retaining their flavor and freshness longer. Always bring them to room temperature again before eating.
2. According to the food geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen
, tomatoes off the vine lose their viability by the entry of airborne bacteria at the stem end. There are two ways to keep bacteria from entering as easily through the stem end, they say. First, store at room temperature on a completely flat surface with the stem end down, so that air cannot easily reach it. Most of us store them in bowls on the counter, soon finding a drippy, messy tomato amongst the fresh ones. This will help that issue! Don’t have enough space to spread out all those tomatoes? Then try…
3. Place a piece of tape on the stem end, sealing it off from air exposure. The test kitchen folks say that the tomatoes will keep at least a week this way, as opposed to a couple of days without it. What a simple solution!
Now that we know how to extend the life of our fresh tomatoes, let’s talk about the best part: eating them!
I know that my favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes involves fresh bread, salt and pepper, and Duke’s Mayonnaise,
but after that, there are other ways I like to use the beautiful produce. Here here some of my favorite recipes to try; you check them out while I go tape my tomatoes.
Mama Steph’s Parmesan vegetable skillet bake
3 small or two large zucchini squashes
1 large sweet onion (Like Noonday or Vidalia, if possible)
2 large or three medium tomatoes
1 or 2 cups of sliced white or baby Bella mushrooms (optional)
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
1. Slice zucchini, onion, and tomatoes into uniform, thin slices.
2. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. (substitute your favorite fat, if preferred: butter, coconut oil, etc.) Add onions, and saute in the oil until they become translucent, then remove to a bowl and set aside.
3. In the same skillet, make a single layer of zucchini slices across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. 4. Use half the onions, spreading them across the zucchini layer.
5. Top onions with a single layer of tomatoes.
6. Sprinkle half of Parmesan cheese over the tomatoes.
7. If using mushrooms, (which you’d need to saute in oil or butter ahead of time), add them now, spreading across the Parmesan layer.
8. Repeat layers: zucchini, onion, tomatoes, Parmesan.
9. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, or until cheese on top is nicely golden brown.
Serve with a nice crusty baguette if you’d like, which makes the perfect tool for sopping up the delicious juices in the pan. Grilled chicken or fish or a nice pork tenderloin would be the perfect protein to serve this delicious side alongside.
Savory tomato-basil pie
- 3 medium to large peeled tomatoes, cut into about 15 slices
- sea salt
- 1 deep-dish pie crust (9 inches), thawed
- ½ loosely packed cup chopped fresh basil
- ½ cup chopped green onions
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- ½ cup crumbled cooked bacon (optional)
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Place the tomato slices on a baking rack placed in a sink or over a sheet pan. Lightly salt the tomato slices and let them sit until they give up some of their juice, about 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prick the bottom and side of the pie crust with a fork a few times (see Note). Bake the crust until it just begins to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Let the crust cool for about 15 minutes. Leave the oven on.
4. Pat the tomato slices dry with paper towels. When the crust has cooled, arrange half of the tomato slices in the bottom. Scatter ¼ cup each of the basil and scallions over them. Add the rest of the tomato slices and top these with the remaining ¼ cup each of basil and scallions.
5. Combine the mozzarella and Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, cayenne, and bacon, if desired, in a small bowl. Spoon the cheese mixture over the tomatoes and, using a knife, spread it out as evenly as you can.
6. Bake the tomato pie until browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Then, carefully arrange a loose tent of aluminum foil over the top of the pie to shield the crust from over browning. Continue to bake the pie until the cheese has browned and the filling has firmed up, about 15 minutes longer. Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Savory Stuffed Tomatoes
3 large plump tomatoes, halved
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup of breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Grated parmesan cheese, for topping.
Preheat your oven to 375F. Lay out the tomatoes seed side up, in a large oven-proof baking dish. Scoop out some of the seeds to make more room for the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley. Using a small spoon, fill the tomatoes with the breadcrumbs mixture. Drizzle with some olive oil, top with parmesan, and bake for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are softened and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and goat cheese
2 pounds of heirloom grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup torn fresh basil
3 to 4 ounces goat cheese, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar (or substitute balsamic)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon crumbled bacon (optional)
1. Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt in a small bowl to make vinaigrette. Set aside.
2. Place tomato halves in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle basil over the tomatoes, then drizzle with the vinaigrette. Toss to coat. If possible, allow to marinate 30 minutes.
3. Top with chunks of cheese and sprinkle with bacon, if using.
Note: If using dried herbs, use 1/4 the amount called for when using fresh. Add slightly more if desired.
What are your favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Copyright 2017 Stephanie Hill-Frazier. All rights reserved.