Few things add flourish to a dish like a gorgeous garnish. And, thanks to the tomato's versatility, there are plenty of ways to make it the co-star of any plated affair. From easy salad toppers to advanced sculptures, these brightly colored orbs offer playful ways for a home chef to make a signature mark. Even if you're not a master with a menu, it's hard to go wrong with a tomato. We'll let you in on a few timesaving tips for garnishes that only look complicated -- and settle a few debates along the way. Does a tomato really belong in the vegetable aisle? We'll cut through the legalese on the next page.
Looking for a low-effort way to add pizzazz to a salad? Dot it with a garnish of cherry tomatoes. As the name implies, these tiny tomatoes are small enough to be eaten whole (some are the size of peas) and are typically high in sugar, which makes them a tasty addition to leafy greens. But, if you've got the impression that cherry tomatoes are only round and red (who wouldn't, with a name like that?), then it's time to redraw your mental boundaries. Cherry tomatoes can be round, but they're also oblong, gourd- and pear-shaped, and they range in hue from rosy red to orange, green and gold. There's even a "black cherry" variety that will add a shot of dark brown color to any dish. The best part about garnishing with cherry tomatoes? Zero prep time. Just wash these mini-fruit, plunk them on top and voilà!
The next time you decide to take dinner presentation up a notch, don't overlook this simply elegant garnish: the lowly tomato wedge. Sure, a tomato wedge isn't normally sexy, but with one quick change it can go from so-so to so chic. First, of course, you'll need to forego slicing the red orb. Opt instead for perpendicular wedges. And, because of the tomato's penchant for juiciness, it may work better to use a beefier variety with plenty of flesh, such as a Roma. Once you've sliced it into wedges, use a sharp knife to separate the skin from the interior flesh. The key is to cut the tomato skin about halfway up the wedge. This will create a flap, which you will bend backward into a graceful arch as you place the wedge upon the plate. The opposing lines and brilliant color make an unexpected statement, which is exactly the idea behind a successful garnish.
The tomato rose is a classic, and better yet, it's something even a novice home chef can tackle with ease. Start with a firm tomato. It should be ripe, but just barely, because you don't want a mushy mess on your hands. You can use a tomato of nearly any size, but until carving this garnish becomes second nature, a medium-size tomato will present the easiest option. Using a really sharp knife, like a small paring knife, begin peeling the skin from the top of the tomato to the bottom -- in one long strip. If you've ever tried to peel an apple so that you have one long coil of skin when you're finished, it's the same basic principle. But, here's a trick: It's more important to keep the skin intact while peeling than it is to remove all the skin. So, if you end up with a long strip of tomato skin, you've succeeded -- even if there are still splotches of skin left behind on the tomato flesh. To fashion your tomato rose, lay the skin flesh-side down and roll it from one end to the other, tucking the end under the base to make a rose. Simple, right? You can even add fresh basil leaves to give your newly formed rose even more star power.
This delectable garnish not only has visual appeal, but it will leave your taste buds singing, too. Whip up a raw tomato garnish by chopping a couple of chilled tomatoes and adding a shallot (a relative to the onion, only smaller and with a milder flavor). For the finishing touch, mix in a tablespoon each of balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. This raw tomato sauce is brightly flavored and makes the perfect addition to a colorful vegetable, like asparagus or Brussels sprouts. Steam the vegetables or blanch them for a moment or two in hot water to preserve the green hue. Top them with this red garnish to create a visual impact that's almost too pretty to eat. Plus, the temperature of the chilled sauce will drop as it interacts with the warm vegetables, enhancing its flavor.
This savory garnish is an upscale (and far more healthful) version of fried tomatoes, but with the same wholesome appeal. Imagine a warm, garden-chic version of a traditional apple crisp and you'll get the gist of this dish. In addition to three cups of cherry tomatoes, you'll need a couple of slices of whole wheat bread, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and fresh Italian parsley and thyme.
Begin by halving the cherry tomatoes. Then in a food processor, crumb the bread with three tablespoons each of shredded Parmesan and parsley. Add a teaspoon of thyme and two cloves minced garlic. Drizzle the mixture with about a tablespoon of olive oil, add salt and pepper. Now, for the magic: Place half the tomatoes in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish, top them with the crumb mixture, then the remaining tomatoes, and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Warm, savory and colorful, this garnish will add instant appeal.
OK, admittedly, the last garnish took some work -- or a hot oven, at least. But even if you're short on prep time and ingredients, you can still add a colorful tomato garnish that will make any dish delicious.
The next time you're making a dash through the local market, grab a jar of sundried tomatoes. They're usually near the bottles of olives and other tasty accoutrements. Decorative and flavorful, they'll dress up any dish -- fast. Imagine plating a grilled fish fillet. Blah, right? Pop open your handy cylinder of sundried tomatoes, drain the oil, cut the tomatoes into strips and arrange them atop your main dish for a no-longer-beige meal. Of course, you can do all sorts of things with sundried tomatoes, from savory dips to sauces. What we like best, though, is using them as our secret garnishing weapon.
You may not literally stir your soup with a tomato garnish, but it will certainly stir things up. Top a bowl of hot soup with a central dollop of chopped tomatoes and you'll add depth and interest -- not to mention fresh flavor. Chopped tomatoes are fast and easy, and you can use any variety you have lying around, from a tiny grape tomato to the largesse of an heirloom. And if you don't have the fresh variety, remember the jar of sundried tomatoes you now stock in your pantry? Slice a few of these yummy olive oil-basted treats to add mileage to the same old soup.
This advanced garnish is a showstopper that's worth the work. For the first time in our food-garnishing foray, you'll need a special tool, though. In addition to a sharp paring knife, you'll need a v-chisel knife. These usually come in sets designed for fruit or vegetable carving and are relatively inexpensive -- about $20. The knife is named for its v-shaped sharp end, which comes in handy for making decorative cuts. To transform a tomato into a basket, you'll first need to fashion a handle. Lay the tomato on its side and make two slits from stem to stern, about one-half centimeter from each other. Then form the sides of the basket by using a v-chisel knife to score along the length of the tomato. Core out of the flesh, and you should be left with a one-half centimeter handle and a basket in which you can put decorative or edible items, from fresh blossoms to vegetables.
Tomato slices are an underrated garnish. Simple, flavorful and elegant, they can dress up any plate by their mere placement. Add a bit of flair by topping them with fresh basil leaves and this garnish will taste as good as it looks.
If you'd like to blur the garnish/salad lines, layer the tomato slices and basil leaves with slices of fresh mozzarella. The arrangement of colors is stunning, and when the accoutrement is layered with precision, it adds a professional elegance. To add yet another level of flavor, mix crushed red pepper and garlic into extra virgin olive oil and drizzle the whole affair. Delish!
The next time your dinner guests ask what's on the menu, letting the words "tomato concasse" roll off the tongue may seem a little self-indulgent. But your invitees never need to know how simple this garnish really is. A close cousin to marinara sauce, concasse is a bit more refined. It begins by removing the tomato skins (remember what we said about blanching?), and then cutting the orbs through their equators and gently squeezing out the seeds. Then, dice what's left and add it to garlic and olive oil that you've heated over a low flame. Top with basil and parsley and let the mixture cook a few minutes to allow the tomato juices to release. With that, you're done with this complicated-sounding garnish. It's versatile enough to pair with many kinds of vegetables or main dishes, and sophisticated enough to serve company.
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