This post is all about tomatoes! Everything you need to know about selecting, storing, and eating gorgeous summer tomatoes this season.
A little over one year ago, I started this blog as an outlet to write about my ridiculous fascination with food.
Then, I took a brief hiatus to film a little show called Food Network Star, and spent the last 11 weeks writing recaps about each episode. That was cool and all, but I’m really excited to get back to writing about what this blog was originally intended for: FOOD!
Oh, but wait!
I think it would be rude to continue on without first wishing somebody a belated Happy Birthday. On August 2nd, this blog turned a whole year old. Happy Birthday, TooFullForSchool.com!
You can take a peek at my very first post here. (And you should make that open-face tomato feta sandwich, like, yesterday.)
It’s really no secret that I have a borderline “unhealthy” obsession with tomatoes. If you follow me on social media, or if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you probably already caught on.
Soo… What better time to start writing about food again than smack dab in the middle of my favorite season!?
No, dummy, not summer. Tomato season!
Sorry. I shouldn’t have called you a dummy. But tomato season is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. Late summer, in general, is just magic.
Humidity drops, but warm temperatures, long days, and sunshine stick around. The ocean stays warm too, and hurricane season brings in lots of fun swell, with – hopefully – no actual hurricanes. Tourists go back home, kids go back to school, and beaches go back to being the quiet peaceful places they are the other 9 months of the year. Open windows keep electric bills low, and make sleeping dreamy with gentle breezes and cricket lullabies. In August I get to celebrate my anniversary, and in September, my birthday.
But the best part about this time of year, HANDS DOWN, is the produce.
June brings greens and peas, and yeah, July has summer squash, berries and beans… but August is when the farms and gardens really start putting their best feet forward.
New Jersey is called the Garden State for a reason!
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!
That’s all stereotype.
THIS is the real New Jersey:
Believe it or not, New Jersey is actually loaded with farmland, beautiful beaches, and wildlife reserves. And our rich, sandy soil allows us to grow the best damn tomatoes in the universe.
That’s right, the universe.
But tomatoes are good this time of year no matter where you live. So now that these babies are in their prime, I think it’s appropriate to discuss the best ways to select and store tomatoes.
Sounds boring, I know. But, you might have been doing it wrong this whole time! And I just want to see you get the most enjoyment possible out of these precious gems.
Read over the following suggestions, and hopefully it will change your tomato game forever.
Follow your nose! This applies to lots of fruits and veg. If they don’t smell like anything, they probably don’t taste like anything. Smell the blossom end of the tomato- that’s the bottom – not the stem end (top). They should smell bright and fragrant- like tomatoes!
Don’t be put off by odd shapes or small cracks on the tops. The ugliest tomatoes tend to be the tastiest. Do, however, be mindful of any bruising or torn skin. This will affect the texture and cause your tomatoes to spoil faster.
Different colors, sizes, and shapes will vary in flavor and texture, so try them all out and pick your favorite. Yellow tomatoes tend to be lower in acid than their red counterparts, but there are always exceptions to the rule.
This year in my garden I’m growing sungolds & a sun sugar hybrid, a green zebra, a big zebra, a pineapple tomato, a Oaxacan jewel, a big pink & white stripe, a purple Cherokee, two UglyRipe’s, and an Aunt Ruby’s German Green. They each have their own unique flavor, and make for one colorful salad.
Another rule of thumb, which applies to other fruits as well, is to choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size. I use this especially when selecting citrus. Why? Because the heavier they are, the more juice they contain. Juicy fruits = good fruits!
So you got carried away at the farmer’s market and bought so many gorgeous heirlooms, you’re not sure how you could possibly eat them all.
I’ve been there. Trust me. But, don’t be tempted to refrigerate them. You’ll be doing yourself, and your tomatoes, a massive disservice.
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT store your tomatoes in the refrigerator.
Got it? Good. Now, lets talk about why.
The cold destroys both the flavor AND the texture. You’re left with bland, off-tasting, mealy disappointments.
According to king of the food nerds, Alton Brown, “If they drop below 50 degrees F, a flavor compound called (Z)-3-hexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch … permanently.”
Ever meet someone who says they don’t like tomatoes? They’ve probably been eating them out of the refrigerator their whole life (or, they’re just plain crazy).
So then, what DO you do with all of the quickly ripening tomatoes sitting on your counter? Well, you have a few options. But first, flip them over and store upside down!
That’s right, stem end down, like this:
Cooks Illustrated magazine performed a test in which they left tomatoes out at room temperature, one batch stored stem-end up, and the other stem-end down. The stem-down tomatoes lasted for over a week into the experiment, while the stem-up tomatoes rotted much more quickly.
Cook’s Illustrated states that, “storing a tomato stem-end down prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.”
Which, might be true, but I have my own theory. The tops (stem-end) of tomatoes always tend to be firmer, and less ripe than the bottom (blossom end). When the tomatoes are stored with the less-ripe side down, gravity forces the juices to settle away from the blossom end, keeping it from over-ripening, while helping the stem-end catch up.
How it works doesn’t really matter. What matters is, it works.
But ok, you still have tomatoes sitting on your counter about to go bad. I have a few solutions.
Slightly overripe tomatoes (not rotten) are perfect for making delicious Spanish tomato bread (pan con tomate).
If you have lots of tomatoes to use up, your best bet is to make a simple sauce. Seed the tomatoes and pulse in a food processor until pureed but still chunky. Saute chopped garlic in olive oil, pour in the tomatoes, season with plenty of salt and pepper, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Toss with pasta, freshly torn basil and grated pecorino for some real good summer eatin’.
I like to make a big batch of sauce and freeze it in smaller portions (ice cube trays work great). Sure, canning is an option, but freezing’s easier. That way, you can indulge yourself on a frigid winter night when you just can’t seem to get tomatoes off the brain.
Of course, the best thing to do is eat up as many fresh, juicy tomatoes as you can while they’re still in season. Get your fill now, because in a few months, they’ll go back to being blah.
I’m working on lots of tasty tomato recipes to keep you guys happy for the rest of tomato season. Check back often in the next few weeks for lots of tomato love coming your way.
In the meantime, give these recipes from last season a try: