Fresh Pick: Tomatoes

Your weekly guide to seasonal fruits and veggies

August 15, 2014
candied tomatoes

To me, tomatoes bursting with vine-ripened sweetness are the ultimate edible symbol of high summer. If you’ve ever plucked a ripe sun-warmed tomato from the vine on a hot summer day, you know the magic of this fruit (which, of course, is more commonly used like a vegetable). Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants and potassium, making them healthy as well as delicious.

While I’m particularly fond of the intense sweetness of “dry-farmed” tomatoes, I revel in the gorgeous array of tomatoes gracing every market come the peak of summer: From green zebra stripes, to beefy heirlooms in sunshine hues, to the tiniest yellow pears and garnet red cherry tomatoes … there is literally a rainbow of tomato goodness to indulge in!

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More from Fitbie: 10 Fresh Fruit Salads for Summer 

In season: While a trickling of nice cherry tomatoes finds its way to market in late spring, tomatoes really start to hit their stride in mid to late July. And thanks to a strong dose of summer heat, it’s a tomato bonanza come August. In parts of the country where the hot weather continues into September, tomatoes will maintain their reign until the cool fall weather takes over.
 
How to pick it:
Unless you want to specifically cook green tomatoes (a la Fried Green Tomatoes fame), let the fruit fully ripen before picking. If you see a green area surrounding the stem, the tomatoes aren't ripe and will be disappointing in flavor. Look for a consistent, vibrant coloration on your tomatoes -- deep reds, yellows, and oranges. The best tomatoes will be full and juicy, firm to the touch with just a little give when you squeeze 'em. FYI: Never eat the leaves -- they’re toxic!
 
How to store it:
Don’t keep your tomatoes in the fridge -- cold temps can negatively impact the flavor and texture. Store your tomatoes on the counter top out of direct sunlight. And don’t cut them until you’re ready to eat them: Once cut, tomatoes will spoil quickly. Like most produce, ripe tomatoes are best eaten within a day or two of purchase.
 
How to use it:
Add it to oatmeal for a savory twist, muddle it for a cocktail, toss it on the grill -- tomatoes have a place in nearly all your meals. In high summer, we eat tomatoes every which way -- from Insalata Caprese, to Greek salads, to simple tomato-basil bruschetta to quinoa taboulleh, to gazpacho to fresh bloody mary’s … We can’t get enough! You can also try adding a few cherry tomatoes to your next kebab skewers: You’ll find that the heat of the grill only heightens the sweet juicy nature of the fruit. And if you’re anything like my family, you’ll find yourself unable to resist picking up a ripe tomato, sprinkling on a little sea salt, and eating the juicy beauty over the sink.

Recipe: I love to prolong the pleasure of eating tomatoes into the winter months. By roasting tomatoes in a low oven with a little olive oil, salt, and sugar or agave nectar, you end up with a slightly caramelized and intensely flavorful “candied” tomato that lends itself well to storage. In August and September, I roast up crates of Dry-Farmed Early Girl tomatoes, tuck my candied tomatoes into freezer bags, and savor them throughout the colder months. Nothing tastes more heavenly come January than adding Candied Tomatoes -- a taste of summer brightness -- to your winter stew.

Candied Tomatoes from Yummy Supper
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

You'll Need:

4 pounds tomatoes (I'm partial to dry-farmed Early Girls -- they may not look fancy, but the flavor is unbeatable)

2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt for sprinkling

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or 1 tablespoon light agave nectar

How to Make It:

1. Preheat your oven to 250°F. 

2. Slice small or medium tomatoes in half and spread them out, face up, over a large baking sheet. (If you are using huge heirloom tomatoes, cut them into large wedges.) Lightly drizzle the olive oil over the tops of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt. I like to sprinkle on a bit of sugar or drizzle on a bit of agave nectar to enhance the caramelization of the slow roast. Slide the baking sheet into the warm oven.

3. After 4 to 5 hours of roasting, your tomatoes will be ready. They will have shrunk in size significantly and the flavors will have concentrated. The tops will be caramelized, but the tomatoes will still be nice and juicy.

Tip: To save some Candied Tomatoes, fill a resealable plastic bag or two and store them in your freezer. When you pull them out in deep winter, you'll smile as you taste a bit of summer.

Not sure what to do with your in-season produce? All summer long, our experts are bringing you the facts on the freshest fruits and veggies at your local supermarket

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