What to do with extra…tomatoes!

This post by special request from a reader – hooray!

So, it’s basically summer now, and some of you are just diving into the height of tomato season. (We in the mountains have a few more weeks, at least, to wait for our summer tomatoes, so lucky you.) Your gardens and markets are, or soon will be, bursting with fresh sun-ripened tomatoes of so many varieties. As I was just recently talking with my mom, this is probably the most exciting eating season of the year.

I’ll start off by first saying that tomatoes are only good eating during the summer. Period. If you’re tomato’s pink and grainy in the middle, and it’s not an heirloom variety that’s supposed to be pink (no good tomato is grainy), you’ve wasted your money on sadness. For a long time, I thought I didn’t like tomatoes because of the fruits available during the winter. Bleck.

Don’t buy winter tomatoes. Stick to canned tomatoes until you can get them from a roadside stand in the middle of nowhere.

Anyway. This most magical time of year may have you harvesting or buying a plethora of tomatoes, simply because this really is the only time of year to get good ones. And now, you’re at home, with a bag or bushel or truckload of tomatoes. Woohoo!

Or, as some of you may be saying, uh-oh. How on earth am I going to use all of this summer goodness before it goes bad? Today, a list of what to do with your tomatoes.

Before I dive into the list, a few notes about storage: for the past several years, I’ve been all about “no tomatoes in the refrigerator,” since I’ve read and heard that refrigerating tomatoes can have negative effects on their taste and texture. I’ll still store most of my tomatoes on the countertop, since we’re liable to use them pretty quickly. However, upon further research, it’s apparently okay to store tomatoes in the refrigerator, as long as you bring them back to room temperature before eating for optimum flavor. Good to know!

Second note: I suggest de-seeding tomatoes for most applications. (This means slicing the tomatoes and setting aside or composting the gooey, almost gelatinous seed pulp.) Why? I’ve found that using the whole tomato, seeds and all, often produces a soggy product (especially with salsa and bruschetta) that turns soupy fast. Not great for chips and bread, in other words. Some people also claim that tomato seeds can cause gastrointestinal distress – I don’t have this issue, nor does my quick and dirty research turn up definite results, so I can’t account for this reasoning personally.

And peeling? I don’t bother with it for too many applications, but I happen to like peels, so. If you want to peel a tomato more easily, try the blanching method: bring a pot of water to a boil, and slice an X into the bottom of each tomato you want to peel. Prepare a separate bowl with ice and water (ice bath). Carefully place tomatoes in the boiling water for 30-60 seconds (the skins around the X will begin to separate), then remove them with a slotted spoon or spider and immediately put them in the ice bath. Peel the skins (you should be able to do this by hand now) when the tomatoes are cool enough to handle.

Final note: any application of tomatoes on bread needs to be made with good, hearty bread that can stand up to a tomato’s juiciness. No soft, terrible, industrial breads here, folks – get yourself a good sourdough or French bread for your good tomatoes.

Now, on with the list:

  1. Slice ’em and eat ’em. This is why we often buy bushels of tomatoes in the first place – we want a taste of a juicy, tangy tomato in all its glory. Do this with the freshest tomatoes, ideally with varieties that hold up well to sandwiching or just plain eating. We’re big fans of the Cherokee purple – it’s a delightful balance of sweet and tangy, and doesn’t spray juice in all directions when slicing. We like ours with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, as well as in a BLT (the link is to my mom’s and my favorite from Southern Living magazine. So. Good).
  2. Fresh salsa. This is a good way to use up two or three extra tomatoes, or more if you really, really like salsa. You can either do a simple pico de gallo with an onion, lime juice, and a hot pepper or two if you’re feeling frisky, or a pureed restaurant-style salsa with the same ingredients, plus salt.
  3. Bruschetta. Summer on a tiny slice! Slice up a french loaf (large or small), toast, and rub each piece with a garlic clove; one clove should be enough for a medium-sized loaf. In a bowl, combine seeded and diced tomatoes with minced garlic to taste, olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste, and chiffonade basil (a fancy way of saying “basil sliced into strips”). Spoon onto bread slices, and top with parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar if desired.
  4. Soups, curries, chili, etc. Summer is a fabulous time to finally use extra fresh tomatoes in our soups, stews, chilis, and the like in place of canned tomatoes. Just sub in the same volume of sliced tomatoes for when a recipe calls for canned or a specific amount. Try them in summer minestrone if you really want to use a lot of your produce.
  5. Gazpacho or hot tomato soup. I’m a fan of both a refreshing cold tomato soup (gazpacho) and a good hot one made with fresh tomatoes. These are both excellent ways to use up more than a few extra specimens hanging out on your countertop. Recipe to come later!
  6. Tabbouleh (and salad in general). I’ll confess, I’ve never been a big fan of salads, but that’s because until recently, I’ve mostly been exposed to “garden salads” – the sort of bland kind you get as a side in many restaurants, mostly made with lettuce and a few more exciting things like tomatoes, croutons, etc. They’re meant to make you feel better about the filthy, cheesy thing you’re about to consume as your entree. However, there is a whole world of delightful, non-lettuce-based salads that use tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables as bases, especially in Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisines that I love. I’m especially fond of a good tabbouleh, particularly one made with a ton of parsley or a mixture of tomatoes and tahini. Recipes forthcoming!
  7. Tomato jam. My mom recently told me about tomato jam, which her aunts and uncles would spread on crackers and cheese as part of a snack board. I haven’t made it yet, but I fully intend to this year, now that I know I’m in love with pepper jelly on a snack board. I’ll be trying out this recipe from NYT, methinks, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
  8. Tomato sauce. I save this one for last, since it’s generally our last resort when we find ourselves with “too many” tomatoes. Tomato sauce can make a bushel of extra fruits manageable, especially if you freeze or preserve what you make. I use the same recipe for tomato sauce as I posted in my homemade pizza post, except with the extra step of breaking down fresh tomatoes rather than using canned sauce. You can choose to peel the tomatoes (I don’t, usually), as well as seed them (I do), dice them, and add them to a pot or skillet with a tablespoon of oil. Cook over medium low heat until they’re broken down and the liquid is reduced by about 1/3, stirring frequently, then proceed with the sauce recipe, increasing or decreasing the other ingredients to taste and according to how many tomatoes you’re saucing.

Have other applications or recipes for a blessing of tomatoes? Put them in the comments! I’ll be back with more ways to use large amounts of other types of summer produce throughout the season. Until then, happy cooking and homesteading!

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