Not many foods engender the passion and fond memories that tomatoes arouse in cooks and diners. People can recall, and talk emotionally about the best tomatoes they ever ate. It had the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, it was picked in their grandmother's garden, warm from the sun, and they ate it out of hand with maybe a bit of salt carried in the pocket for just such an occasion, or it was in a classic insalata caprese, ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, served at a restaurant overlooking the Amalfi Coast.
The Impossible Dream
It's not surprising that something so good should be desired 365 days a year. But of course, this is an impossible dream. Oh, yes, there are round red objects labeled "tomatoes" at the supermarket all year long; but although they look like tomatoes, they have no perfume, no real tomato flavor. As a chef, I am amazed that reputable restaurants keep tomato, mozzarella, and basil salads on the menu all year. Or that sliced tomatoes adorn sandwiches in the dead of winter, adding a note of color, but not much else.
In With The Old
Today we should rejoice that tomatoes, real tomatoes, are making a big comeback. From July through October there are long lines at our farmers' market in front of the tomato stalls. People avidly munch on samples of the different varieties. With diverse flavors and whimsical names: Lemon Boy, Early Girl, Green Grape, Golden Jubilee, Green Zebra, Marvel Stripe, Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, Sweet One Hundreds, Oxen Heart, Mortgage Lifter, Black Crimson and, of course, the hefty Beefsteaks. Many are called "heirloom" tomatoes, because they are the results of saving the seeds of old home grown varietals, tomatoes that in the past supermarkets wouldn't stock because when they were ripe, they would bruise. These days, however, many supermarkets are starting to carry an assortment of heirloom tomatoes. Why? Because people are demanding better tomatoes. We long for them in the winter time, and eat them everyday from July through October. And then the party ends, until next summer.
Bring Out The Best
So, when you buy ripe summer tomatoes, please, do not refrigerate them. Leave them at room temperature and eat them within a few days. You don't really need any major recipes or complicated instructions on how to serve them in salads. Just slice, salt or dress with a little extra virgin olive oil and eat. Add a bit of a chopped herb, or a drop of vinegar if you like. For recipes that feature tomatoes, there are two avenues to pursue. If the tomato is the star of the dish it should be prepared with fresh tomatoes, and only when they are in season. If the tomato is a background ingredient, the dish can be prepared all year round, but with canned tomatoes which will have infinitely more flavor than fresh tomatoes that are out of season.
Try Joyce Goldstein's Recipes:
Baked Tomatoes with Garlic, Parsley and Breadcrumbs
Summer Tomato Soup
Tomatoes with Fresh Grape Juice
Joyce Goldstein is a consultant to the restaurant and food industries. For 12 years she was chef/owner of the ground-breaking, award-winning Mediterranean restaurant SQUARE ONE in San Francisco. Joyce is the author of many cookbooks, including her Jewish cookbook series with Cucina Ebraica, Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen; Sephardic Flavors, Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean; and a final book to be released in fall 2002. New for summer 2001 is Enoteca: Simple Delicious Recipes in the Italian Wine Bar Tradition.