What They Are:
Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit, but while we do support eating lush ripe tomatoes out of hand as you would an apple or plum, culinarily speaking tomatoes are treated as a vegetable. (Fun fact: the United States Supreme Court has also ruled that tomatoes are a vegetable.) Members of the nightshade family, tomatoes are high in lycopene which is a powerful anti-oxidant.
What to Do With Them:
There is both an art and science to picking a perfect tomato. Great, in-season, summer tomatoes are diverse in size shape and color. To find the best, look for tomatoes without any bruises and breaks in the skin, no mushy spots. (Unless you are making sauce, soup or tomato water right away.) Whatever the color, a great tomato will be deeply colored and perfumed. That’s right, smell your tomatoes. You want a sweet, slightly vegetal or woodsy scent.
Once you’ve got them in your kitchen, never refrigerate tomatoes. NEVER. Also no plastic bags please. Keep your tomatoes at room temperature, with the stem side down. If your tomatoes are under ripe, they will continue to ripen if you leave them alone. If you want to hasten things along, place your tomatoes in a brown paper bag. An apple thrown in will make things even speedier because apples emit ethylene gas, which coaxes ripening along quickly.
When they are ripe, use them in sauces salads, salsas, sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, juices, cocktails. Just about anywhere you can. And use them as often as you can during the all too brief peak season.
What Some Chefs Are Doing With Them:
At Bin 14 in Hoboken they are keeping it classic with a recent weekend specials of Jersey heirloom tomato, cucumbers, Thai basil, mozzarella, with white balsamic. The Southern Peach Caprese salad at NYC's Root & Bone features fried pimento cheese, grilled peaches, pickled green tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, sticky-molasses vinegar, and basil. At Outerlands in San Francisco, tomatoes are bathed in smoked tomato water, a scattering of lovage and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. Chef Ron Eyester at Rosebud in Atlanta recently tweeted a picture of Peekytoe crab stuffed Golden Rave tomatoes that had us ready to book a flight. We had a gorgeous corn-miso soup with sungold tomatoes at Gramercy Tavern. And at Lincoln in Portland, Ore, Jenn Louis is serving up heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers with walla wallas, cuquillo olives and marjoram.
Need more tomato inspiration? Check out all of our favorite tomato recipes in the Cooking District recipe archives
. Try our tomato water weekend project
. And watch this video of chef Vivian Howard making a classic tomato pie.