How to Select and Cook With Tomatoes

  • 01 of 10

    All About Tomatoes

    Variety of heirloom tomatoes on wood surface
    James Baigrie/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Tomatoes are the poster vegetable - the cause célèbre, if you will - of seasonal and local eating. Finding tomatoes that taste like tomatoes may be the biggest single draw to farmers markets around the country. See here how to choose and use these summer gems.

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  • 02 of 10

    How to Choose the Best Tomatoes

    Costoluto Genovese Tomatoes. Photo © Molly Watson

    How often have we all bought perfect looking tomatoes at the store only to bite into flavorless mush? Once is one time too often, quite frankly. While I can't guarantee these tips will forever save you from such a fate, they should keep such incidences to a bare minimum.

    1. Look Don't worry about tomatoes with weird shapes. Even cracked skin is okay, but leaking juice and soft spots are not.
    2. Feel Choose tomatoes that feel heavy for their size.
    3. Smell Tomatoes should smell earthy and tomato-y, never musty or flat.
    4. Taste This is where farmers market shopping really pays off – you can often taste the tomatoes before you buy them.

    Also, for all the hoopla around "heirloom" tomatoes, I fear people sometimes lose sight of the most important indicators of a tasty tomato. The best tomatoes tend to be:

    1. Dry-farmed, which means the tomato plants aren't watered after their flowers set, forcing the plants to work a bit harder to make the tomatoes and leading to better, deeper flavor. Learn more about dry-farming here.
    2. Vine-ripened, that is, the tomatoes were allowed to ripen on the vine before they were picked (not simply left on the vine when brought to the store).
    3. Locally grown, because tomatoes grown as outlined above are delicate creatures not up for long voyages.
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  • 03 of 10

    Tomato Varieties

    Tomatoes at Mill City Market
    Tomatoes at Mill City Market. Photo © Molly Watson

    Gone are the days when tomatoes were necessarily red and beefsteak (although I'd never refuse a well-grown, perfectly ripe sliced beefsteak tomato sprinkled with salt!). Find your favorite variety of tomato with these guides.

    Note that different varieties have different strengths. Soft and juicy heirloom varieties may be best for simply slicing and serving with a sprinkle of salt; drier hybrid Romas or Early Girls are the better choice is making sauce. Many green varieties have a milder flavor, but may be perfect for a salad that needs a lighter hit of "tomato" flavor. 

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  • 04 of 10

    The Best Way to Store Tomatoes at Home

    Heirloom Tomatoes. Photo © Molly Watson

    Treat tomatoes gently. Heirloom tomato varieties, in particular, tend to be quite fragile. So don't pile the tomatoes in a bag where their weight will squash one another, and always pluck vine-ripening tomatoes off their vines (or the vine stem off them) to avoid having the sharp vines poke holes in your precious cargo.

    Above all never refrigerate tomatoes. Temperatures under 50°F turn tomatoes mushy and mealy.

    Better to store them in a wide bowl at room temperature and use them quickly. 

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  • 05 of 10

    Simply Stunning Summer Tomato Salads

    Caprese Salad (Tomato Salad). Photo © Molly Watson

     Sliced and salted or chopped and tossed into salads are an easy and delicious way to enjoy the wonderful flavor of really ripe and well-raised tomatoes. 

    Craving still more? See these Tomato Salad Recipes for more.

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  • 06 of 10

    Quick & Easy Recipes Featuring Raw Tomatoes

    Corn, Bean, Tomato Pasta. Photo © Molly Watson

    Raw tomatoes are yummy in more than just salads. These recipes keep the bright flavor of perfectly ripe raw tomatoes at the forefront. Some of just plain no-cook recipes, while others have cooked elements while keeping the tomato absolutely fresh:

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  • 07 of 10

    Easy Summertime Cooked Tomato Recipes

    Burst Tomatoes
    Burst Tomatoes. Photo © Molly Watson

    Use these yummy recipes to get started cooking with tomatoes. These were all developed to take advantage of the bright flavor and ripeness of fresh, local tomatoes.

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  • 08 of 10

    Turn Those Tomatoes Into Sauce!

    Image of Fresh Tomato Sauce
    Fresh Tomato Sauce. Photo © Molly Watson

    There are more tomato sauces to make in this life than there are dreams to dream. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you thought tomato sauce was tomato sauce, give one of these bad boys a try:

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  • 09 of 10

    Keep That Great Tomato Flavor Around a Bit Longer

    Tomato Paste. Photo © Molly Watson

     Extend the tomato season with these recipes.

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  • 10 of 10

    How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes

    tomato plant
    Tomatoes on the Vine. Louise Heusinkveld/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

    Now that's local! All the clichés about tomatoes warm from the sun from grandmother's garden can't take away from the fact that no tomato tastes quite as good as one fresh from the vine, eaten with your feet still standing on the soil covering the roots. See here how to grow your own organic tomatoes