Locally grown, vine- ripened tomatoes are here.
We've waited 10 months for the return of the juicy ripe tomato, which is unlike any other fruit or vegetable. When the sun-ripened tomato finally arrives, we eat so many that we're almost tired of them by the time the season ends.
When you're shopping at farmers markets or roadside stands for fresh tomatoes, here's how to select the very best.
Choose a tomato that's heavy for its size and smells like a tomato, said Roger Postley of Lexington, who grows 69 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. "Lack of odor may mean they were gas-ripened," he said.
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"Freshly picked tomatoes will have a white to creamy patch where it was separated from the stem. With extended time after picking, the patch turns brown," Postley said.
Ripe tomatoes should not be hard, unless they are varieties intended for salsas or paste, and the tomato skin should "flex" with gentle pressure. Many varieties of tomatoes — particularly the black ones — will have green shoulders, even when they are fully ripe, he said.
Once you've eaten as many sliced tomatoes as possible, there are hundreds of other ways to incorporate the tomato into the dinner menu.
Fortunately, one of the tomato's best mates, basil, is available in abundance now, too.
Here are some tips for handling ripe tomatoes, from the champion of the local-food movement, Alice Waters.
■ To peel tomatoes: Heat a pot of water to boiling and have ready a bowl of icy cold water. Drop the tomatoes, a few at a time, into the boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds, just long enough to loosen their skins. Very ripe tomatoes take less time; thick-skinned, firm tomatoes take longer. Scoop the tomatoes out of the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water to prevent the outer layer of flesh from cooking and softening. Remove them from the water and use a paring knife to cut out the cores at the stem end, then slip off the skins.
■ To seed tomatoes: Cut them in half horizontally, use your fingers to loosen the seeds in their cavities, and squeeze the halves to coax the seeds out. Work over a bowl with a strainer to catch the delicious juice. Once peeled and seeded, tomatoes are ready to be stuffed and baked, diced or chopped for any number of preparations, or sliced and dressed for a salad.
Nothing goes better with fresh tomatoes than fresh basil. A favorite way to eat them both is to place sliced tomatoes on a plate with basil leaves and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with a high-quality olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt.
Even that can get old after a few dozen platefuls, so we've chosen recipes for you to try that use both of these summertime favorites.