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Food and Drink

Choosing The Perfect Tomato

Secrets to choosing perfect tomatoes and seven new recipe ideas.
By Cody McCommas |

Tomato: Summer’s Fruit
It’s the height of the season for these red beauties. Here’s the secret to picking the best ones.

5 Signs of a Tasty Tomato
Noticeably fragrant
Deep in color for its variety
Free of blemishes
Heavy for its size
Slightly squeezable  in palm

Don’t rely on luck when selecting flavorful produce. Follow three simple steps to find juicy, robust tomatoes every time. First, tomatoes ripen to perfection June through September; at any other time, expect them to be bland and disappointing.

Second, avoid purchasing tomatoes from major supermarkets, which truck in under-ripened, artificially-matured tomatoes that are chosen for their firmness and long retail shelf life. This type of tomato is bred for mass distribution and is devoid of flavor and texture. Instead, look for high quality vine-ripened tomatoes and heirloom varieties available at Dallas Farmers Market, Whole Foods, or Central Market.

The third and final secret to flavor lies in proper storage. When tomatoes reach a temperature below 50 degrees, their delicate cell membranes are damaged, retarding flavor compounds and producing a spongy texture. As soon as you arrive home with your bounty, skip the refrigerator. Store your tomatoes stem side down at room temperature and away from direct sunlight, whether in a pantry or on the counter.

Did You Know?
Most supermarket tomatoes are actually picked green so that they will remain firm during shipping. Later they are sprayed with ethylene gas to change their color to red. Once off the vine, these tomatoes cannot ripen and do not develop the texture, aroma, and flavor of those that mature naturally.

Tomato How-Tos
PEEL Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil. With a sharp knife, cut a small Xon the bottom of each tomato. Immerse the tomatoes in the boiling water for 15-30 seconds until the skin just begins to wrinkle around the X. Remove tomatoes and plunge them into a bowl of ice water. When slightly cooled, carefully peel away the skin with a paring knife.

OVEN DRY Wash, core, and slice tomatoes 1/4-inch thick, and place on a wire rack. Place rack in a 150-degree oven and cook for six to eight hours, turning it several times.

RIPEN firm, vine-matured tomatoes by placing them in a paper bag with an apple. Poke several holes in the bag. Store at room temperature for two to three days.

Tasty & Good For You
Tomatoes are naturally low in sodium and calories. They possess significant amounts of vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease. Tomatoes also contain potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins A and B.

Water: The Essence of Tomatoes
Tomatoes possess a clear juice that looks like water, but has all the intense flavor of the fruit itself. This water can heighten sauces and braising liquids and complement seafood dishes.

In a food processor, puree 12 large tomatoes with one tablespoon of salt until smooth. Pour into a strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl. Wrap bowl, strainer, and cheesecloth in plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator, allowing the water to drip out overnight. Store water for three to four days in the refrigerator or several months in the freezer.


Simple Tomato and Goat Cheese Napoleon with Balsamic Vinaigrette

If you find the flavor of goat cheese too strong, try using half goat cheese and half cream cheese.

 4     large vine-ripened tomatoes
        Salt and pepper to taste
 1     cup goat cheese
 1     teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
 2     tablespoons fresh basil, chopped, divided
 1/4  cup balsamic vinegar
 1     tablespoon shallot, minced
 1     clove garlic, minced
 1     teaspoon Dijon mustard
 1/2  cup olive oil

Slice bottom off tomatoes, allowing them to stand. Slice each tomato into 4 equal slices, keeping slices in order for reassembly. Season with salt and pepper.

In bowl combine goat cheese, black pepper, and half of basil. Mix well. Reassemble tomato slices, spreading goat cheese mixture between each slice.

In bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, shallot, garlic, and mustard. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on serving plates. Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with remaining basil.


Arugula and Bread Salad on Tomato Carpaccio

Traditional carpaccio is thinly shaved raw beef fillet, but this tomato version is hard to beat on a warm summer day.

 1/2  loaf good crusty bread
 2     tablespoons unsalted butter
 3     cloves garlic, minced
 1     tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
        Salt and pepper to taste
 2     large vine-ripened tomatoes (mix colors for added appeal)
 1/2  cup tomato vinaigrette, divided (recipe follows)
 1     tablespoon fresh Parmesan, grated
 2     cups arugula, washed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a serrated knife, remove the crust from the bread and cut loaf into 1/4-inch cubes (about 3 cups). Melt butter in a saut pan over medium-high heat, cooking just until the butter begins to brown. Add garlic and sau about 30 seconds. Add bread cubes, sage, and salt and pepper and toss to coat evenly.

Transfer cubes to cookie sheet in a single layer, keeping them close together. Bake approximately 10 minutes, moving them around often. Do not cook croutons all the way through. The outside should be crispy while the inside remains chewy. Set aside.

Slice tomatoes as thin as possible. Divide and arrange in overlapping circles on 4 plates. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss the croutons with 1/4 cup of vinaigrette and Parmesan cheese. Mound bread mixture on top of the tomato slices. Toss arugula with remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle leaves around the tomato slices.


Tomato Vinaigrette

This versatile dressing is great on salads, over seafood, and as a dip.

 5     fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
 1/4  cup red wine vinegar
 1     clove garlic, chopped
 2     tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
 1/2  cup olive oil
        Salt and pepper to taste

Blend tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, and basil in food processor or blender until liquid. With blender running, slowly drizzle in olive oil and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.


Roasted Tomatoes filled with Quinoa, Feta, and Grilled Asparagus

Couscous, orzo pasta, or barley can be substituted for quinoa.

 4     large beefsteak or yellow tomatoes
        Salt and pepper to taste
 12   asparagus spears, trimmed
        Olive oil
 2     cups quinoa
 1/2  cup feta, crumbled
 2     tablespoons parsley, chopped
 1     tablespoon red wine vinegar
 1/4  cup kalamata or nioise olives, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut a 3/4-inch slice off bottom of each tomato, reserving them for lids. Scoop out seeds and center flesh, sprinkle inside with salt and pepper, and place them stem side down on a baking sheet. Put tops on and roast in oven for 10 to 12 minutes or just until tomatoes begin to soften. Remove and allow to cool.

Preheat grill or grill pan. Brush asparagus with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Allow to cool. Slice on the bias about 1 inch thick.

Bring 8 cups salted water to boil in large saucepan. Add quinoa and cook until soft. Drain and rinse under cool running water. Drain again. In medium bowl, combine quinoa, chopped asparagus, feta cheese, parsley, red wine vinegar, olive oil (2 tablespoons), and olives. Season with salt and pepper.

Increase oven to 350 degrees. Spoon mixture into roasted tomatoes, replace lid, and cook in oven just long enough to warm tomatoes throughout, about 2 minutes. Place tomatoes on plates. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.


Yellow Tomato and Golden Raisin Chutney

This golden-colored chutney adds sweet spice to pork tenderloin or chicken sandwiches.

 3        pounds yellow tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
 1        large yellow onion, diced
 1        cup golden raisins
 1        cup light brown sugar
 1        cup cider vinegar
 3        tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
 2        jalapenos, seeded and minced
 1        teaspoon ground mustard
 3/4     teaspoon ground cumin
 1/4     teaspoon ground allspice
 1 1/2  teaspoon salt

Heat large saucepan over medium high, add all ingredients, and stir. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture thickens, about 30 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature over your favorite pork, chicken, or duck dishes.


Broiled Salmon in Tomato Water

Any seafood may be substituted in this dish, since the tomato water is the real star.

 5        pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
 1        tablespoon salt
 1 1/2  cups pearl onions
 4         8-ounce salmon fillets, bones and skin removed
 2         tablespoons olive oil
            Salt and pepper to taste
 1         tablespoon butter
 2         tablespoons tarragon leaves

In a food processor, pure tomatoes with salt. Place tomato mixture in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a large bowl. Store in refrigerator. Allow tomato water to drip overnight. Reserve tomato pulp for future meal requiring tomato sauce.

In saucepan, bring 3 cups salted water (not tomato water) to boil. Add pearl onions and boil until soft when pierced with knife, about 3 minutes. Submerge onions in ice water. When cool, trim root ends with small knife and pop onions out of their skin by gently squeezing. Reserve.

Preheat broiler. Rub salmon fillets with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place salmon on greased cookie sheet. Broil for about 2 minutes per side, turning once. Flesh should be opaque and moist with a slightly pink center.

Bring tomato water to simmer and remove from heat. Whisk in butter. Season with salt and pepper. Place each salmon fillet in small bowl. Pour tomato water on top. Sprinkle with pearl onions and tarragon.


Olive Oil-Poached Tomatoes on Sweet Peas with Beef Stock Reduction

This dish may take a long time to make, but it is very simple and well worth the wait. The leftover poaching oil makes a fantastic vinaigrette or cooking medium for fish.

 8      vine-ripened roma tomatoes
 2      cups olive oil
 1      tablespoon butter
 1/2   shallot, minced (or 1 tablespoon yellow onion, minced)
 1      clove garlic, minced
 1/2   cup red wine
 2      tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
 1      can beef stock or broth, low sodium
 1      cup sweet peas shelled (or frozen)

Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Slice tops off tomatoes and arrange in a small roasting pan. Add enough olive oil to cover tomatoes. Cover pan with foil. Cook in oven for 10 hours or overnight. Remove pan from oven and allow it to come to room temperature. Carefully peel tomatoes. Remove as many seeds as possible from cut sides.

In saucepan over medium-high heat, add butter and saut shallot and garlic about 3 minutes. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half. Add tarragon and beef stock and cook until reduced by half. Strain sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve.

Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Add peas and boil until warm and tender “only a matter of seconds. Strain. Spoon sauce onto each plate, make a bed of peas, and place 2 poached tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

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