There's nothing like a fresh, homegrown tomato to brighten a green salad or elevate a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich to gourmet status. Tomatoes are the basic ingredient in lots of classic recipes and provide the thick, luscious zip in dipping sauces and condiments like ketchup that taste like summer in a jar. Imagine those tortilla chips without salsa, or that linguini without a thick, rich marinara sauce to breathe life into those limp noodles. Tomatoes are the No. 1 vegetable crop for backyard gardeners, and there's a lot more you can do with those precious red globes than just slice them onto your grilled burgers.

Although tomatoes require very little preparation other than a good washing in cold water when sliced or diced fresh into salad, tacos or stir fry, if you're after rich a tomato base for your recipes, you'll probably want to cook them into a sauce, puree or paste. Making your own tomato sauce, pico de gallo or stewed tomatoes is a wonderful way to use the bounty from your garden to create wholesome, flexible tomato-based dishes for cool autumn comfort foods like lasagna and stew. Most cooked tomato recipes require blanching, peeling and seeding tomatoes before using them. The prep necessary isn't quite as simple as slicing and dicing fresh veggies into a salad, but it goes fast if you have a plan.