Ingredient of the Week: Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

I’ve been waiting, worrying, pestering the farmers at the Boulder Farmer’s Market. “You ARE going to have tomatoes this year, right? Is it time yet? Maybe next week?” With our fickle weather and short growing season, you never know – some years tomatoes are abundant, other years there are none at all. Blame it on a late snowstorm in May, not enough sun, too much sun, too wet, too dry, pestilence, or even bad luck. It’s too early to know what tomato season will look like here in Colorado, but I’ve seen the first heirlooms from Red Wagon Farm with the promise of more to come from one of the workers at Cure Organic Farm, and I’m pretty darned excited about it.

Supermarket tomatoes sold year-round are nothing like the tomatoes of summer, with their juicy flesh, sun-ripened sweetness, and seductive aroma. A summer tomato is bursting with life. In Tender, Nigel Slater writes, “I find the scent of a ripe tomato, especially that of its stem, faintly erotic.” A ripe tomato is heavy for its size, voluptuous, gives slightly under the embrace of your hand… A ripe tomato brings out the greed in us, the desire to possess, and it’s all too easy to get caught up in a tomato-induced fervor, only to return home with more than we could possibly eat. Alice Waters understands human nature, and addresses this issue in Chez Panisse, advising “If you find yourself with too many ripe tomatoes at once, make them into a quick sauce.” Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday, and you’ll find plenty mouthwatering recipes for cooking with tomatoes during summer.

Enjoying your own hand-picked tomatoes fresh from the garden is possible for anyone provided you’ve got a sunny spot. Tomatoes don’t need a spacious garden, and will happily produce fruit when grown in a container on a warm and sunny apartment balcony. They take a long time to mature and produce fruit, so it’s best to start with a small store-bought plant, rather than sowing seeds. If you live in a shady apartment with little sun like I do, the farmer’s market is the place to find freshly harvested tomatoes grown locally. The delicate tomato was not built for long-distance travel, and big agriculture has bred tomatoes with thick skins to withstand cross-country trips without bruising, resulting in a uniformly red product that’s devoid of flavor and life. Part of the joy of summer tomatoes is in the ugly heirlooms, with their freakish, irregularly-shaped bodies cloaked in colors ranging from green to gold to blushing pink. Many varieties of tomatoes can be found, from tiny cherry tomatoes (and even tinier currant tomatoes) to grande beefsteaks, and I encourage you to try them all.

Carefully carry them home and store the tomatoes in a single layer on the countertop at cool room temperature. Never store tomatoes in the fridge, which nullifies their flavor and turns their texture mealy. Reading Chez Panisse Vegetables, I learned that a good tomato doesn’t have to be vine ripened. Alice Waters suggests that a tomato should be picked just as it starts to change from orange to red, and then left to ripen indoors at room temperature for a few days. The theory is that if a tomato is left to ripen on the vine, its sugars peak and start to dissipate before the fruit is even harvested. Allowing tomatoes to ripen on your counter yields a sweeter, more flavorful fruit.

Tomatoes are the ingredient of the week at la Domestique, where we’ll be sharing fresh inspiration for cooking with this harbinger of summer. Eating a perfectly ripe tomato sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil is pure joy, but we also love them in salads, pastas, pizzas, egg dishes, and salsas. The wait is over, tomato season is officially here!

Do you have a favorite variety of tomato? Tell us about it in the comments section. Click Here.

 

14 Comments

  1. No tomato is unwelcome on my plate, but I’m kinda partial to Green Zebras – they aren’t always the sweetest, but I adore their green stripes and how they stand out from the rest of the bunch.

    Reply
    • Carrie,
      Green zebras have a delightful acidity and are great to pair with sweeter tomatoes (or fruits) in salads. Great pick!

      Reply
  2. I just picked some tomatoes up from our farmer’s market and a farmer told me about the trouble with his crop. It was pricey for a pint of tomatoes from his farm, but they are so, so worth it.

    Reply
    • Nicole,
      Those tomatoes will probably taste even better because they are so precious. I look forward to seeing what you do with them.

      Reply
  3. Looking forward to ur ideas! My father-in-law has given us lots (20+) to enjoy!

    Reply
    • Thanks sis! You’re lucky to have such a great source for home grown tomatoes!

      Reply
  4. TOMATOES. I like them all! I’m growing purple cherokees and sungold cherries right now, but I’m definitely buying a bunch of others at the farmer’s market too–especially the big goldenrod yellow beefsteaks. What are they called? Who knows?

    Reply
    • Eileen,
      I don’t think I’ve ever seen purple cherokees- I’m going to have to start looking for them.

      Reply
  5. Oh boy, this will be an exciting series. I am loving the cherokee heirlooms I see everywhere right now.

    Reply
    • It’s going to be a fun week, Nico! Thanks for popping by and saying hi!

      Reply
  6. Yes, summer is here. We picked our first heirloom tomato from the garden two days ago along with half a pint of sungolds.

    Reply
    • How exciting Nikki!

      Reply
  7. I am absolutely in love with pineapple tomatoes. They are an heirloom variety that ripen into huge masses of sweet, intense flavor. Sadly, my pineapple tomato plant became diseased this year, so I had to pull it up and throw it out. It was like losing a family member (no, not really–but you must believe me when I say I was absolutely crushed).

    Reply
    • Elizabeth,
      It’s so disappointing to have to pull up a diseased plant in the garden. I hope you find a local source for your favorite pineapple tomatoes. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply

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