Q. What are certain characteristics I should look for when selecting different types of tomatoes for recipes?
A. Although tomatoes are enjoyable year round, summertime is when tomatoes are tasty -- and plentiful. Whether you have a few plants in the backyard, stop at farm stands, or shop weekly farmers' markets, summertime is the time when tomatoes are at their peak.
Check the tips below for choosing, storing, and preparing tomatoes. Then try some of the quick ideas below.
Types: Globe tomatoes, which are either red or yellow, are the most common tomatoes. They are considered all-purpose tomatoes, good for eating raw or for cooking. Plum tomatoes, sometimes called Italian or Roma tomatoes, are small and oval in shape. Since they are fleshier than globe tomatoes, they are a good choice for sauce making. Bite-size cherry tomatoes are ideal for snacking, salads and garnishes. Tiny pear tomatoes are shaped somewhat like pears and can be used in the same ways as cherry tomatoes. Cherry and pear tomatoes are usually red, but yellow varieties are sometimes available.
Buying: Look for plump, heavy tomatoes that are brightly colored and have a pleasant aroma. They should be firm but not hard. Avoid soft tomatoes, which may be watery or overripe.
Storing: Never refrigerate uncut tomatoes, because cold temperatures cause their flesh to become mealy and lose flavor. Instead, store them at room temperature away from direct sunlight. Leftover portions of tomatoes should be covered and refrigerated.
Preparing: Remove the core and stem before slicing or cutting tomatoes into wedges. A serrated knife works best.
Before cooking tomatoes, you may wish to peel and seed them. Tomato skins tend to shrivel and toughen when cooked, and tomato seeds in sauces are unattractive.
To peel, drop ripe tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds (firm ones for 20 seconds), then into cold water. When tomatoes are cool, slip off their skins. To seed tomatoes, cut them in half crosswise. Holding each half over a bowl, cut side down, gently squeeze to remove the seeds.
Quick Ideas for Tomatoes
- Place tomato slices on a bread-style pizza crust brushed with olive oil or basil pesto. Sprinkle with Parmesan or mozzarella cheese and bake or grill until hot. Serve as an entrée or appetizer.
- To make a simple uncooked salsa, chop tomatoes and combine with minced onion, jalapeño pepper, and fresh basil. Serve with grilled chicken breasts.
- For an easy salad, marinate tomato wedges or cherry tomato halves in Italian dressing and serve on lettuce leaves.
- Add chunks of tomato to stir-fries at the last minute; gently stir until tomatoes are hot.