Tomato season is well under way, and here are a few suggestions for using them.
How to choose a tomato
Remember you can’t judge a tomato by its cover. By that I mean, the best tomatoes may well be the ugliest. They have not been sorted to meet some regulation as to size, shape and color. They can even be marked “Geneva,” “Lausanne” or “Vevey”, and never have had a root in the earth. Tomatoes can be grown hydroponically just about anywhere, so the fact that it’s marked with a local name is not absolute assurance that it will be full of flavor like a summer tomato should be and that it has been grown using traditional methods.
There are a lot of resellers in farmers markets, and then there are direct producers. Don’t hesitate to ask the vendors in your farmers market if they grew their tomatoes in a field or if they were grown hydroponically or in a greenhouse (often referred to as sous tunnel or en serre). “Field” tomatoes are obviously likely to have more taste.
The best way to be sure is of course to grow them yourself, but we do not all have the possibility, of course.
The appearance is just one factor. Smell is just as important. A natural, ripe tomato smells fragrant when you put it to your nose. A small tomato can have as much taste as a big one. Tomatoes should be soft, but not blemished or split open. If they are hard and are not aromatic, they are probably not field tomatoes.
A tomato can have hard black “calluses” on it, but that has no effect on its flavor. Simply trim them off.
In general the darker the color, the stronger the taste and the more acidic. Yellow and orange tomatoes are sweet, rather like fruit. Red tomatoes have more pizzazz. The darker, purplish ones are strong-flavored and not to everyone’s taste.
Green tomatoes tend to be more acidic. Most people prefer them cooked rather than raw, but this is a matter of taste.
How to eat a summer tomato
There are million ways to eat tomatoes, but ripe summer tomatoes need very little.
My favorite way of eating them is simply with salt and pepper, and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil. A beautiful addition to any summer lunch is a large plate of sliced tomatoes of different colors, served in this way. It is always a hit, both aesthetically and as a dish.
Tomatoes are also good grilled over the coals. For this, choose medium-size tomatoes, so they won’t fall through the grille. Simply cut them in half and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. This intensifies the flavor, giving it what the French call a confit flavor. What it really does is evaporate most of the water, leaving behind the most flavorful part, the flesh. The natural sugar in the tomato also caramelizes, making it taste sweet rather than acidic.
Tomatoes, courgette (zucchini), and aubergines (eggplant) — the classic Mediterranean vegetables — are all in season at about the same time. There are endless recipes one can think up, but one of my favorite is to mix finely diced tomatoes, zucchini and chopped onions marinated in a generous helping of vinaigrette made with Balsamic vinegar, Chardonnay vinegar and olive oil.
And then there’s the all-time favorite: mozzarella served with tomatoes and fresh basil. This too can be livened up by using tomatoes of different colors.
This article was originally published by Geneva Lunch.