Gather 'round children and let me tell you a story of the olden days, back when the only tomatoes anyone but adventurous gardeners could find were round and red. We used to think that if only we could get a wider variety of tomatoes – preferably the heirloom varieties those gardeners were growing – all of our problems would be solved.
Well, at the supermarket in my very working class neighborhood last week there was an entire display of heirloom-looking tomatoes in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes.
And who knows? Some of them may actually have tasted good. There’s a lot more to getting great tomatoes than buying exotic varieties. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’d much rather have a common variety of tomato grown by a good farmer than an exotic variety grown by someone who didn’t know what they were doing.
Actually, I’ve noticed just this year what seems to be a resurgence in popularity of the Early Girl, which not so long ago was regarded as the most vanilla of the hardware store varieties. Twice lately I’ve seen them singled out on chefs’ menus. And no wonder – when well-grown, it’s a very good tomato.
If you’re fortunate enough to find an assortment of different varieties of tomatoes that have been well-grown, the best thing you can do with them is a simple tomato salad, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
It goes without saying that coarse salt (for the crunch) and coarsely ground black pepper should be there. And basil, if you’re going in that direction. Tarragon is good, too. If you want to get fancy, add a scattering of pickled sliced shallots.
But nothing more than that. Well, maybe some burrata or fresh mozzarella. Or goat cheese.
OK, let’s face it: If you’ve got an assortment of gorgeous, well-chosen tomatoes, there’s not a lot you can do wrong.
How to choose: Look for tomatoes that have a deep, saturated color (no matter what that color may be). They should be heavy for their size. The skin should feel taut, not sagging (over-ripeness is actually a bigger problem than under-ripeness, because a tomato that is slightly green will continue to ripen if left at room temperature). Be wary of tomatoes that show deep cracks – this seems to be especially common this year because it’s caused by irregular watering. Finally, pick the tomato up and smell it; ripe tomatoes have a wonderful perfume.
How to store: No matter what you do, don’t put your tomatoes in the refrigerator. That will dampen the flavor tremendously and it won’t come back. Store tomatoes in a cool, dry place away from the light. And remember, they’ll continue to ripen if treated well.
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