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Summer Ingredient Essentials: Tomatoes

Derived from the Nahuatl word tomatl, the tomato is the incredibly scrumptious fruit we treat like a vegetable. That may be due to its role as a nutritional powerhouse, rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and a slew of antioxidants that ward off free radicals. Tomatoes are low sugar though they taste juicy and sweet, and with a punch of fiber bring all this goodness together for under 30 calories a cup.

How do I pick the best tomatoes?

There are five types of tomatoes to choose from. Globe tomatoes, also known as Beefsteak tomatoes, are big, juicy and red, weighing up to 2 pounds. Cherry tomatoes, the same size as cherries, are the sweetest of the bunch. Heirloom tomatoes are very juicy and come in a variety shapes and in a spectrum of color, from reds and yellows to purples and browns. Roma tomatoes, also known as plum tomatoes, are less juicy and more mild tasting than the other varieties. Lastly, pear tomatoes are cherry sized and pear shaped, and though sweet are not as juicy as their cherry tomato cousin.

With all of this variety, how do you pick the juiciest, most flavorful tomato without taking a test bite? First identify the variety. Some types are juicier and sweeter than others, so choose accordingly. Next inspect the outside of the tomato. Choose one that is free of any blemishes, marks, or tears. Steer clear from black spots which indicate rot. For cluster tomatoes, such as Cherry and Pear, or those ripened on the vine, look for a bright green, fresh looking vine.

Then it is all about feel. Hold the tomato as you would a baseball and lightly squeeze. The tomato should remain firm to soft pressure but have some give. It should also feel heavy for its weight and be uniform all the way around. Beware of soft spots and soft, overripe tomatoes. For heirloom tomatoes especially, what matters is the feel of the tomato. With these tips you’ll find the juiciest tomatoes right at your fingertips, the way your kitchen intended.

What can I make with tomatoes?

There is a lot that you can make, bake, or broil with tomatoes. A savory tart, light salad, stuffed tomatoes with guacamole, roasted soup, grilled tomatoes, a homemade pasta sauce, sliced as a pizza topping, or enjoyed as an apple or pear, the possibilities are endless. Preparation is simple. Rinse tomatoes off with warm water and pat dry. Then chop, slice, mince, pulse and process into a delicious tomato based treat.

Storage? For the greatest flavor, it is best to leave tomatoes at room temperature until ready to use. They will remain fresh for up to 3 days. To prolong their shelf-life, tomatoes can also be stored in the refrigerator though it greatly diminishes their bright flavor and affects texture. If you have an overwhelming amount of tomatoes, opt for freezing them. Chop tomatoes into cubes and lay out on a cookie sheet. Transfer to freezer and freeze until solid. Wrap in plastic wrap and bag the tomato pieces in Ziplock baggies and return to the freezer. Frozen tomatoes can last up to 8-10 months and are perfect for soups, stews, and sauces.

Recipes to try include: Tomato Salad with Cotija Cheese, Olives and Mint, Tomatoes Stuffed with Guacamole and Roasted Tomato and Pepper Soup.

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