Making the Most of Tomatoes

  • Making the Most of Tomatoes

    Scottish Tomatoes at Ardross Farm Shop. Photo © Elaine Lemm

    One of the simplest pleasures of summer food is the tomato. Not the fraudulent red bullets on sale in supermarkets but the juicy fruits, picked from the vine, on a sunny afternoon. One hint of the musky aroma and I salivate; it is my favourite fruit. I could give up many foods but never tomatoes.

    A ripe, juicy fresh tomato is nature's fast-food; they need little or no work at all. A dash of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and a few leaves of basil for a straightforward and delightful salad....MORE Overripe tomatoes make a sauce in less than fifteen minutes.

    Make the most and the best of them while you can. Cook while fresh, or preserve for the cold winter months in sauces and purees. First, unless you are growing your own, make sure you choose the best, store them correctly before cooking or eating. Read on to find out how to make the most of the tomatoes.

    Choosing and Storing Tomatoes

    • To tell if a tomato is fresh, it should be faintly aromatic, and the stalks and leaves should look fresh and green. Most of the scent in a tomato comes from the leaves and stem rather than the fruit itself, which is why vine tomatoes have a stronger aroma.
    • Always store tomatoes at room temperature, never in the fridge. The fridge deadens the flavour but if you absolutely must put them in then remove and allow to come to room temperature before using. Placing an over-ripe tomato in the fridge makes them go soft more quickly.
    • Under-ripe or over-ripe tomatoes? To ripen place in a paper bag with one ripe tomato and keep at room temperature and watch the magic. Under ripe - use for making chutney, conversely, overripe for sauces and soups or tomato juice, healthy and also an excellent hangover cure).

    Tips for Using and Cooking Tomatoes

    • To skin a tomato, first cut a tiny cross in the base of the tomato with a sharp knife, plunge into boiling water for 10 seconds, then iced water for a further 10. The skin will just fall away.
    • To skin or not to skin? For salads or grilling, no. If the dish is sieved or also strained no, but chunky pasta sauce or similar from fresh tomatoes, then yes.
    • Mint, parsley, basil and oregano are perfect herb partners for tomatoes.
    • A teaspoon of sugar in cooked tomatoes (sauces, purees, etc.) will bring out the sweetness.
    • Use plum tomatoes on the barbeque rather than the standard round as their firm flesh keeps them on the skewer rather than slipping off between the bars.
    • Bathe your winter kitchen in the sunshine by preserving tomatoes in sauces, soups and purees when they are at their best in the summer (the sauce recipes below make great preserves).
    • If your tomatoes are lacking in flavour, then try oven-drying to intensify the flavour (or in the sun if you live in the right climate).

    Recipe Ideas for Tomatoes

    Quick Tomato Sauce - Great for Freezing