A variety for each dish
Here it is midsummer, and most of us have already had our first BLTS of the year, along with tomato salads, homemade salsa, pasta sauce and so much more. Our farmers markets are full of both hybrids and heirlooms, and they seem particularly good this year, — plump, sweet and juicy. In several recent years, we’ve waited until mid August for good local tomatoes.
The best way to find the varieties of tomatoes you prefer — if you don’t grow them yourself — is to talk to their farmers.
If, for example, you want to prepare homemade salsa, Lazaro Calderon of The Patch will recommend his favorites.
If you’re looking for tomatoes for a summer pasta sauce, ask Dan Magnuson of Healdsburg’s Soda Rock Farm which ones he prefers.
Ma & Pa’s Garden’s’s little tomatoes are ideal for filling with little mozzarella balls and chermoula, as are The Patch’s Early Girls.
There are dozens of farmers growing delicious tomatoes throughout Sonoma County, and it is always best to start with the farmers market nearest you.
In a few weeks, it will be time to start thinking about preserving the harvest to enjoy until the next season begins but, for now, indulge in one of summer’s most delicious offerings.
Essential Tomato Tips
When buying tomatoes, look for those that feel heavy for their size.
Do not store whole tomatoes in the refrigerator. Store them, blossom end down, on a platter or wire basket (so air can circulate). Below about 58 degrees, a tomato’s flesh turns mealy and their flavors decline. Keep them away from heat and sunlight.
To prolong a tomato’s life, chop it, toss it with a little olive oil and store it, covered, in the refrigerator for a day or two.
To cut a tomato into slices, cut parallel to its equator.
To cut a tomato into wedges, cut through its poles.
To peel a fresh tomato, pierce it through its blossom end with a dinner fork and turn it over a hot burner to scorch the skin. Set aside briefly to cool and use your fingers to peel off the skin. Do not plunge tomatoes into boiling water to peel them, as this cooks the outer quarter inch or so and dilutes the flavor.
The most important element in chermoula, a traditional Moroccan condiment, is a balance of acid and spices so be sure to taste as your prepare it. Chermoula is excellent with sliced tomatoes with or without roasted sweet peppers, sausages, bread salad, soup, grilled and roasted seafood, poultry and meat and, simply, over plain yogurt. It is also delicious spooned over sliced avocado and sliced mozzarella fresca.
Makes about 1-¼ cups
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon hot Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette or chipotle powder
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 small red tomatoes, such as Early Girl or Shady Lady, cored and cut into small dice
Black pepper in a mill
½ cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
Put the garlic into a suribachi or large mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to grind it into a paste. Add the paprikas, cumin and piment d’Espelette or chipotle powder and the lemon juice. Stir and season with several generous pinches of salt.