August 9, 1996 in Features

Tomato Time The Premier Vegetable Is Hitting Its Prime And It’s Time To Make The Most Of Its Culinary Opportunities

Martha Stewart New York Times S
 

It’s August, and the wait for red, ripe, juicy tomatoes is finally over.

In the weeks to come they will be plentiful - on vines in gardens, in supermarkets and at farm stands.

My plants produce so many luscious tomatoes that at this time of year I cook with them almost every day. I never grow tired of them, and I don’t want a single tomato to go unappreciated or unused.

To help you make the most of these tomatoes while they’re available, here are some tips for harvesting, storing and preparing them:

If you’re growing tomatoes, check your plants often for ripe ones. Harvesting daily means you’ll be sure to get each fruit at its best. Never tug or pull on tomatoes to release them from the vine; a gentle twist will do. A perfectly ripe tomato will almost fall right into your hands.

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, varying in shape, size and color. If you didn’t plant different kinds this year, do so next spring. Experiment with varieties that you’ve never tried before, such as Orange Sungold, a tangerine-colored cherry, or Stupice, a salad tomato that produces even in short, cool seasons.

Two good sources for seeds are the Tomato Growers Supply Co. (P.O. Box 2237, Fort Myers, FL 33902; (941) 768-1119) and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Foss Hill Road, Albion, MA 04910-9731; (207) 437-9294).

Unlike many other fruits and vegetables, tomatoes should be kept at room temperature. Refrigeration will dull their aroma and flavor. They’ll look beautiful in a large, shallow ceramic bowl on your kitchen counter.

Place underripe tomatoes in a sunny spot or in a brown paper bag for about two to four days to ripen. Check them every day to make sure they don’t go bad. A ripe tomato is firm but gives slightly to the touch.

For salads, slicing and uncooked sauces, large, juicy tomatoes, such as beefsteaks, are the best choice. However, for cooked sauces and soups, tomatoes with less juice and fewer seeds, which can become bitter when cooked, give better results. Try plum tomatoes.

Many recipes call for peeled tomatoes. Once you know the trick, peeling tomatoes is simple.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water. Cut a small X into the bottom of each tomato.

Immerse a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water and leave them there until the skin starts to loosen, 10 to 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water immediately. The skin will peel off easily.

If a recipe calls for seeded tomatoes, just cut them in halves crosswise and squeeze each tomato half gently to force the seeds out; any seeds that remain can be scraped out with a small spoon.

Fresh ripe tomatoes are so delicious that I like to serve them simply, as the main ingredient in a salad or sauce. Here are two easy preparations:

Tomato salad

Drizzle sliced tomatoes with the finest olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and fresh chopped herbs. Prepare about an hour before serving; the salt will make the tomatoes juicier and the flavors will blend and develop. If you like, a vinaigrette can be used in place of the oil.

I use tomatoes in a variety of sizes and colors (from tiny cherry tomatoes to large yellow ones), making overlapping layers on a large platter. Thin rounds of sweet onion or slices of rich, fresh mozzarella are a wonderful addition.

Uncooked tomato sauce

A marinated, uncooked tomato sauce has endless variations and uses. To make a basic sauce, seed and coarsely chop fresh tomatoes and add salt, minced garlic, olive oil and a mix of chopped fresh herbs to taste.

Toss together gently and let stand at room temperature, covered, for an hour or two.

Develop your own variations by adding ingredients such as chopped sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers, red-pepper flakes, sweet onion or roasted red peppers.

Toss the sauce with hot, freshly cooked pasta and serve warm or at room temperature.

This sauce can also be used to make bruschetta, an Italian appetizer: Brush slices of good-quality country bread with olive oil, and toast on the grill or under the broiler. Rub a cut clove of garlic on one side of each toast, and top with the tomato sauce.

Or serve the sauce as a salsa with tortilla chips or quesadillas, or with grilled meat, chicken or fish.

When the season’s over, always buy good-quality canned plum tomatoes, preferably ones without preservatives. Those from San Marzano, Italy, (check the can’s label) are particularly good.

Or look for the tomatoes that come in cardboard cartons; they taste very fresh and contain no preservatives and very little salt. Pomi brand is available at many supermarkets.

But in the meantime, just enjoy the abundance of summer’s fresh tomatoes. They’ll be gone all too soon.

MEMO: Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail. Her address is: mstewart@msl.timeinc.com.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Martha Stewart New York Times Syndicate

Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail. Her address is: mstewart@msl.timeinc.com.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Martha Stewart New York Times Syndicate


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