I love berries as much as the next person, but tomatoes are the real reason for the sunny season. These jewels of the vine have so much to give, and sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the potential deliciousness. To help get the most out of the season, here are some of the best ways to eat this delicious, sweet, and tangy fruit.
Embrace Bready Bliss With Sandwiches and Toast
Putting tomatoes on a sandwich is painfully obvious, but that's actually not what I'm suggesting. I'm suggesting you make tomato sandwiches, a deceptively simple and vastly underrated lunch. The problem with tomato sandwiches is that people put too many non-tomato things on them. A tomato sandwich has four ingredients: bread, tomatoes, mayo, and salt. I know some heathens who use Miracle Whip. I know some rebels who crack some pepper on there.
I'm usually a "you do you" type when it comes to food and eating, but this is one subject on which I am a purist. The key to a good tomato sandwich is the tomato. If you don't have a good tomato, make a different sandwich. Conversely, if you do have a good tomato, do not add ingredients that obscure its god-given magnificence. Do not add cheese. Do not add stupid lettuce. Pick a basic bread without distracting seeds or grains of whatever. I recommend white sandwich bread.
In terms of "good tomatoes," I recommend you get them from the farmer's market or a friend's garden, or an actual farm, and I recommend you smell them. If they don't have that characteristic, slightly woody, sweet aroma that makes your brain scream "THIS IS SUMMER," leave it behind. They should also be fairly firm and heavy with just a touch of give, but don't squeeze them too much, as that's kind of rude.
With toasts, you have a bit more leeway, as a "toast" can be anything you want it to be, the only rules being that the bread has to be toasted and you have to post a photo of it on Instagram. There are really an infinite number of ways to make tomato toast, but I'm going to try and focus on a few basic categories.
I'm sure you all know about bruschetta, but there are other ways to tomatoes on toasty bread. (We'll start with bruschetta though, because it's really freaking good.) If you want something a little more warm and comforting, you can use a little heat to draw out even more sweetness from your tomatoes. (This is a good use for those tomatoes that aren't quite worthy of the sandwich treatment.) Flavorful ideas include:
- Make bruschetta. Like all other truly brilliant tomato recipes, bruschetta is best kept simple. Break down your tomatoes to your preference — you can simply halve cherry tomatoes or puree bigger ones in a food processor — and mix with olive oil, a bit of vinegar, garlic, and maybe some basil. Spread on some little crostini and eat until you are sated. (Extra credit if you puree the garlic in with the tomatoes.)
- Good crusty bread topped with fresh goat cheese and olive oil-roasted cherry tomatoes. Bonus points if you drizzle them with a little maple syrup before popping them in the oven, as Epicurious does here.
- Whole wheat toast with a good brown mustard, some ham or turkey, swiss, and thick slices of tomato, made bubbly and brilliant by the broiler. Top with an egg if you're a mad man/woman.
- Top an English muffin with some cheddar and a tomato slice. Broil it. Fry some bacon and throw it on there. Wonder why you don't eat this every damn day.
- Keep it super simple and roast cherry or halved plum tomatoes until they are blistered and melty. Grab a baguette, halve it, and slather it with garlic butter. Toast that, and smush your roasted tomatoes on top. Hedonists might add some fresh mozzarella or basil, but it's really not necessary.
As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to putting tomatoes on bread, but I still maintain that the best is the deceptively plain tomato sandwich.
Liquify Your Assets
I like chewing a tomato, but I also enjoy drinking and slurping them in their liquid form. Sauces, soups, salsas, and Bloody Marys are some of my favourite tomato consumption methods. We shall start with sauce.
There is no shortage of tomato sauce recipes out there, and they vary greatly in complexity. The simplest is just a halved tomato, grated down to the skin. Add some garlic and basil to the sweet pulp, and toss with hot pasta for a super fresh meal. (Oh, and don't throw out those skins. Use them to prolong your summery mood by making tomato salt.)
Levelling up only slightly in effort, we have this one-pot pasta where everything — pasta, tomatoes, cooking water, onion, garlic, oil, and herbs — is chucked in a pan and cooked until it transforms into a pot of perfect dinner.
The key here is to not add too much water (you'll want 4 ½ cups for every 340g of pasta and 340g of cherry tomatoes), so as not to dilute the starchy goodness that leaks out of the pasta, which is the secret to holding the whole operation together.
Getting even more liquified, we have tomato soups, broths and water. In what some call "kind of shocking," you can make a creamy, dreamy pot of tomato soup in about an hour without opening a single can. Though I constantly deviate from it, I use Queen Ina Garten's recipe as a template, starting with a ratio of 3 cups of stock and ¾ cups of cream for 5 large tomatoes. From there, it's just a matter of adding the broth and chopped tomatoes to some sauteed vegetables and garlic, letting it all simmer for about 40 minutes, and then blending in the cream and straining.
If a hot, thick bowl of creamy tomato soup is a little warm to fathom this time of year, a broth may be more your speed.
Not only is tomato broth super versatile (use it as you would any broth) and packed with umami goodness, but it could not be easier to make. Just dice a tomato up and mix with an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil and steep for a bit (a half an hour is plenty). You can either strain out the tomato chunks for a light and bright broth, or you can blitz it all with your hand blender for a richer, soupier experience.
Of course, we cannot forget gazpacho, emperor of summertime soups, which happens to be extremely easy to pull off. Start with a couple of pounds of tomatoes, a cucumber, and some olive oil (The Kitchn recommends ¼ cup for every 1kg). Chuck in some garlic, peppers, vinegar, and anything else you think would taste good in a cold bowl of refreshing, savoury soup. Blend it all up and consume. (Alternatively, you can run it through a food mill for a super smooth consistency, but who has the time?)
If you want to go even lighter, tomato water is the perfect project for those specimens that are ever-so-slightly past their prime. Just chop 'em up, throw them in a food processor of blender with some salt (a teaspoon for for six medium tomatoes), and strain through a coffee filter-lined sieve overnight. This glorious liquid is now ready to be stirred into cold salads (chicken, tuna, potato, pasta: it's all good), used as a poaching liquid, or into savoury martinis.
Speaking of tomatoes and booze, I dare say that (besides the tomato sandwich) there is no higher calling for a tomato than the Bloody Mary. To make your own super fresh mix, I humbly offer my own methodology:
- Puree 2 ½ pounds chopped, fresh tomatoes with ½ a pound of chopped, peeled cucumbers.
- Strain, and mix with 2 ½ cups of your favourite pickle juice (Clausen, tbqh), 4 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, 4 teaspoons of prepared horseradish, and the juice of 2 lemons.
- Funnel into one of those glass IKEA bottles and shake, shake, shake. Enjoy within 24 hours with your spirit of choice, adding hot sauce if you're one of those spice hunters. If you want a thicker mix, swap out the pickle juice for pureed pickles.
Once you've done that, take a look at our guide to building a better Bloody Mary bar and get your garnish on.
You Can Win Friends With Salad
I chuck tomatoes into pretty much every garden salad I eat, but my favourites are those where the tomatoes, not leaves, are the star of the show. My main squeezes:
- Caprese: When it comes to tomato-centric salads, caprese is king. Almost every type of tomato works well here, but the best move you could probably make is to mix a variety of different shapes, sizes, and colours to create a medley of excellent tomato flavour, as suggested by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats. From there, get some good mozzarella, some fresh basil, and some high-quality olive oil for drizzling. Good flakey salt and some freshly ground pepper come next. I like just a bit of balsamic to get a hit of acid in there, though Kenji disapproves, as he feels very strongly that the stuff masks the flavour of the tomatoes.
- Panzanella: OK, so technically bread is the star of this particular salad, but tomatoes are a close second. To make this summery, yet substantial dish, cut some stale bread into cubes and throw it into your cast iron with some olive oil and fresh herbs. Once your glorified croutons have some colour on them, chop up some tomatoes and toss them in a big bowl with your bread. Drizzle in some olive oil, and choose your add-ins. I like a little hard-cooked egg, some thinly sliced red onion, a bit of parm, and capers. Season with salt and pepper, hit it with some lemon juice or vinegar, and chow down.
- Tomato Crowns: Yes, these are the ultimate in retro kitsch cuisine, but how can you be mad about an excellent tomato that is stuffed with an excellent chicken or tuna salad? To prepare your tomato for a good stuffing, slice off the top with a serrated knife and carefully cut around the edge where the firm flesh meats the gel. Gently scoop out the insides, being careful not to pierce the skin (a grapefruit spoon works best for this). Salt the insides to draw out liquid and let them drain upside down for a half hour or so. (This will prevent juices from leaching out into your salad and making it gross and watery.) Fill with chicken, tuna, or any other mayo-based (or tahini-based!) salad of your choosing.
Try These Other Delicious Uses
Then there are the other uses for tomatoes that don't necessarily fit into the above categories, but are still delicious enough to be mentioned and consumed.
- Fried Tomatoes: Fried green tomatoes are a southern staple for a reason. They're great on their own, as an appetizer or side, or on a sandwich, like a super bomb BLT. To make them, coat slices in a bit of flour and dip in a simple egg wash (½ cup of milk + 2 eggs). Drag 'em through some seasoned bread crumbs (perhaps enhanced with a bit of zest?), and fry them in vegetable oil (or bacon fat) over medium heat until they are brown and crispy on both sides.
- Tomato Pickles: If you've eaten your share of fried things, and still have a surplus of green tomatoes (and don't want to wait for them to ripen) you can make tangy green tomato pickles. You can use this recipe from the New York Times, or you can quick pickle them using a ratio of equal parts vinegar and water and four times the sugar to salt (start with two tablespoons salt and a half cup of sugar and scale up as needed.)
- Tomato Pie: -Savoury pies, especially veggie-heavy ones, don't get enough glory, and the tomato pie is nothing if not glorious. Being of southern descent, I favour a pie that features cheese and mayo, such as this one from Epicurious.
- Tomato Vinaigrette: If you have 3 or 4 tomatoes that have gone a bit mushy, transform them into a super-flavorful vinaigrette by pushing them through a fine mesh strainer, collecting the resulting juice. Note the volume of juice collected. Blanche a few sprigs of oregano blend them up in some safflower oil. (You want a 50/50 mixture of juice to oil, so use as much oil as you have juice.) Strain the oil through cheesecloth and whisk into the juice. Season with salt and a couple of tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar.
If you don't want to do any of that, just slice them and sprinkle some salt on there for a super easy, super tasty snack or side. Just don't make your own ketchup. In a world where there's Heinz, homemade ketchup is rarely worth it.