By Logan Yost (Guest Author)
If you are one of the people who hate tomatoes, you may want to hate the person that gave them to you rather than the tomatoes themselves. What I find is that most people who don’t love them, have never had them prepared correctly. When done right, tomatoes have all the flavor and freshness most of us associate with summer eating. Although a simple ingredient, people often store them and/or present them in ways that destroy their integrity.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Tomatoes should never be refrigerated.
- Raw tomatoes should always be served at room temperature.
- Tomatoes; even when in season need salt to bring out their flavor.
- If a tomato isn’t ripe, it’s not going to taste good raw now matter how hard you want it to.
So often I find tomatoes being served cold, which does nothing to their taste and can often give them a grainy texture. Unless they’re cooked in some manner and served hot, they should always be stored and served at room temperature. The easy rule is that if it’s chilled at the store, chill it at home and if it’s in that center section of the produce department, keep it at room temperature!
When tomatoes are truly in season, they are so wonderful raw, but when they’re out of season, you can roast them in the oven to condense the flavor. Anytime you start with a good, fresh ingredient and you intend to keep it that way, you should think about what you’re adding to the recipe that will enhance what’s already there. Basil, garlic, tarragon, thyme, buffalo mozzarella, goat cheese and olive oil are all things that work wonderfully with a fresh tomato. Something I find very important is salt. The difference in taste from restaurant to home cooking is almost always salt and pepper. People simply don’t season enough. Things like tomatoes which; even in season; can sometimes taste like nothing; need salt to bring out the flavor that’s already there.
I wanted to give you three tomato recipes that might seem very similar, but in actuality are all very different. The first is Tomato-Basil Linguini. My mother made it for the first time when I was a child and I’ve been told by many since that it’s the best pasta they’ve ever had. The tomatoes are prepared raw, then tossed with hot pasta which ever so slightly heats them. The next recipe is a wonderful Heirloom Tomato Salad and the third is a great roasted tomato crostini, which I do when tomatoes are not at their ripest but I still want them to taste wonderful.
TOMATO AND BASIL LINGUINI:
6-7 on-the-vine tomatoes, cores removed, medium dice
1.25lb good soft Brie, rind removed and torn into small pieces to total about 1lb
1 Cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
6 garlic cloves, finely minced
2-½ t kosher salt
½ t freshly ground black pepper
1-cup good Spanish olive oil (Olave Spanish is incredible and also organic)
1 ½ lb fresh linguine
1 wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fresh pepper for serving
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, Brie, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Lightly toss together, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to marinate at room temperature for a minimum of three hours or up to six, stirring every hour or so.
When serving, cook the pasta to al dente and toss with the marinated sauce until combined. (The Brie will totally disinigrate and become part of the sauce.) Serve immediately with a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a peppermill that can be passed around the table. (I use a cheese cutter that creates long strips of cheese because the Parmigiano hits the tongue differently depending on the cut.)
HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD:
4-5 heirloom tomatoes of various size, color and shape, cut into wedges
1 bunch fresh basil, julienned (about ¾ -1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 T good olive oil
4 T champagne or white wine vinegar
½ – 1 t kosher salt (all depends on how big the tomatoes are, so start slow. Taste, add, and repeat as needed)
¼ t fresh pepper
1 ripe Hass avocado, sliced
In a large bowl, combine the tomato wedges, basil, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss very gently as not to bruise the tomatoes. Allow it to sit for five or ten minutes and then cut and add in the avocado. Stir gently to combine. Check for salt as well as vinegar and adjust accordingly. (I find that after adding the avocado it usually needs a pinch of salt and a little bit more acid from the vinegar.)
Serve immediately, as the vinegar will eventually break down the tomatoes a bit.
ROASTED TOMATO CROSTINI:
For the tomatoes:
6 Roma or vine-ripened tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeds (not cores) removed
Olive oil, for drizzling
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
2 t sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the spread:
1 4-6oz log of good goat cheese, at room temperature
3 T prepared pesto (Trader Joe’s is AMAZING)
2 garlic gloves, grated
1T balsamic vinegar
Splash of heavy cream
Pinch of salt
For the bread:
1 baguette, sliced into twelve pieces on an angle
2-4 T olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
*Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow them to cool to room temperature. While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the spread and the bread.
In a medium bowl, mix the goat cheese, pesto and garlic until well blended. Add in 1T balsamic vinegar, a splash of heavy cream and a pinch of salt.
In a large stainless steel fry or sauté pan, heat 2T olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot sprinkle a pinch of salt in the pan and add a few of the bread slices (My pan is large, so 4-5 usually fit, but less is okay. Just don’t crowd the pan and make sure the down side has complete contact with the pan.) As soon as you put them in, flip them over insuring you have oil on both sides before the bread soaks it all up. Using tongs, turn the bread when needed until the bread is browned and charred on the edges. Set aside as they are done in a single layer, uncovered. (You can also brush the oil onto the bread, salt them, and grill them on an indoor or outdoor grill until charred.)
Spread the goat cheese mixture on the bread and top with a roasted half tomato. Serve at room temperature within an hour or so.
Well, there we have it! Two recipes perfect for summer and one you can make year round! Whenever I serve the pasta, I usually start with a salad and finish with a light dessert because the pasta is very filling. Something like French Apple Tart or Affogato are a great meal ender. The heirloom tomato salad is a great start to any meal, or a nice side for a piece of chicken or fish and you can easily turn the crustini into a meal by pairing it with a salad and a glass of crisp white wine. Regardless of how you use them, tomatoes have the ability to enhance other recipes or stand alone, and when used properly, they can truly be the star of a perfect summer dinner.