Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Grilled Halloumi Plate on wooden table
Tomatoes are the Star: A Quick Guide to Summer’s Best Produce & How to Use Them

There’s something about a perfectly ripe summer tomato, dripping with juice, needing nothing more than a sprinkle of flaked salt to deliver bliss. It has that perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, moisture and texture – and that isn’t easy to come by. To grow properly the plant needs the right amount of sun, water and heat, which will produce a delicate fruit that doesn’t travel well in a shipping container. We’ve all experienced hard, mealy and tasteless tomatoes that grocery distributors are known to trade in – such a disappointment. This is why local, in season tomatoes are worth getting excited about.  

When you have the opportunity to snatch up a basket at a farmer’s market, off of the vine in your very own back yard, or from a specialty grocery, how should you care for them at home? And importantly, how do you take full advantage of their flavor? Here’s a quick guide to get you the best tomatoes, followed by a few great ways to use them:

Tips for Using & Storing Tomatoes

When purchasing tomatoes, look for smooth, shiny skin with few blemishes or cracks. Pick one up, but don’t squeeze. It should feel heavy and slightly soft.

Vine ripened tomatoes are great if you are using them that day, but if you plan to store them for a few days, look for semi-ripe tomatoes. They will continue to ripen on your countertop and will still be as delicious as the vine ripened tomato. Note that just because tomatoes are still attached to their vine, does not mean they are vine ripened. Typically you will only come across vine ripened tomatoes at a farmers market, or your own garden.

Do not refrigerate your tomatoes. It will change the texture, causing them to become mealy. Store them away from direct sunlight on your countertop, either stem up or stem down. The only exception to the refrigeration rule is if the tomato has been cut. If you have leftover sliced tomatoes, they should be refrigerated. 

Treat cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes the same way as larger varieties, storing them at room temperature, if possible. However, if they are ripe and you are concerned that they could rot or get moldy, it’s okay to put them in the refrigerator to extend their life. Their texture will not be as affected as a regular tomato.

A Selection of Tomato Recipes:

Heirloom Tomato & Trout Tartine with Whipped Goat Cheese

A tartine is a French dish that is in essence an open-faced sandwich. Typically eaten with a knife and fork, they can be a nice light lunch, or served as a hearty appetizer. Here, a creamy whipped goat cheese makes the base for juicy ripe tomatoes and savory smoked trout, topped with scallions and capers. This recipe comes from my cookbook, Zest: Simple Ways to Elevate Your Favorite Foods.
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Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Grilled Halloumi Plate

This versatile dish can stand in as an hors d’oeuvres, appetizer, or side dish. The cheese will firm up as it cools off, so it is best to serve it soon after assembling, with crusty bread to sop up the juices if you like. If you can’t find pomegranate seeds, try substituting a similarly sweet/tart fruit such as blackberries, pitted cherries, or diced peach.
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Summer Tomato & Peach Salad

I can’t count how many times I make this during the summer months. It’s the easiest side dish, and always gets the most rave reviews. I give options for which vinegars to use, because often I grab whatever I happen to have closest to me when I’m tossing it together. White wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar and even lemon juice all work beautifully. It’s the ultimate easy-breezy summer side. Other types of cheese work well if you’d like to try something different than the feta, such as burrata or goat's cheese.
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