50 juicy ways to eat tomatoes
By Janet Rausa Fuller
August 19, 2009
There are a multitude of reasons to love August in Chicago. Let’s whittle it down to the two most obvious ones:
It’s not winter. And, tomatoes.
What is it about tomatoes that makes us gush as if recalling our first kiss?
What other vegetable — or fruit, technically — prompts even the most timid gardeners to get their hands dirty in their urban plots (or pots), and goads veteran green thumbs to one-up themselves with each season, filling their gardens with all sorts of gorgeous, misshapen heirloom varieties?
“More than any other vegetable, it’s immediately accessible,” says cookbook author Ronni Lundy, whose own affair with the tomato caused her to write a book on it, In Praise of Tomatoes (Chronicle Books, 2006). “You don’t have to do anything. You just have to let it ripen to the point that it’s ready to burst.
“Then you can take it off the vine and put it in your mouth and bite, and what you get is that essence of summer and growing. You taste the sun, you taste the earth. That sounds really fanciful, really poetical, but it’s literal. It is literally the truth.”
The other truth about tomatoes — and excuse us as we wipe the drool from our keyboard — is that now is the time to start tasting the best.
Get out of the supermarket produce section; if you can, head to a farmers market. Or make nice with that green-thumbed neighbor of yours. Tomatoes are summer, folks. Lap it up.
If you grow your own tomatoes, you soon will find yourself with more than enough. If you know someone who grows their own, you might find yourself the lucky recipient of some of that bumper crop (tomato people are usually generous that way).
Either way, here are 50 ideas for using up tomatoes and making the rest of your summer an especially fruitful one. No offense, zucchini.
1. Slice, sprinkle with salt and eat.
2. Slather a bagel with cream cheese and top with sliced tomatoes. On a related note, cookbook author Ronni Lundy recommends spreading butter on toasted bread, topping with sliced tomatoes and dusting with salt and pepper. “Incredible,” she says.
3. Snack as the Spaniards do on pan con tomate. Rub slices of grilled bread with a cut garlic clove, then a tomato half. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Top with cheese, ham or an anchovy if you like.
4. Freeze extras. You’ll thank yourself this winter. Wash tomatoes and remove stems and cores. The University of Illinois Extension suggests either leaving them whole or halving or quartering them before placing in freezer bags. Or, stew them first before packing in bags. Frozen tomatoes are best used in soups, stews and sauces.
5. Turn sliced tomatoes into a gratin, with a topping of bread crumbs and grated Parmesan and a finishing splash of heavy cream.
6. Toss warm pasta with cherry or grape tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, herbs and Parmesan or pecorino cheese.
7. Make a cold soup — gazpacho.
8. Make a warm soup — Mark Bittman’s Charred Tomato Bisque from his new book, Kitchen Express (Simon & Schuster, $26).
Broil thinly sliced tomatoes with a few smashed garlic cloves, olive oil, salt and pepper until tomatoes start to blacken; remove garlic when golden. Puree everything with cream and basil leaves. Warm and serve (though Bittman says this is great cold, too).
9. Build a BLT. Thick-cut bacon, bibb lettuce (or iceberg, or arugula, or whatever green you prefer) and mayo on toasted bread. Gild the lily with sliced avocado, as is done at Chicago’s Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine shops.
10. Make a quick salsa by mixing together chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, minced chile pepper, cilantro and lime juice.
11. Slow-roast gobs of plum tomatoes. Drizzle halves (you also can use grape, cherry or pear tomatoes) with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for a few hours on low heat (250 degrees or so) until soft and shriveled. Store in olive oil in the refrigerator. Use in pastas and salads, on sandwiches, with cheese and crackers.
12. Grill hefty slices of beefsteak tomatoes. Enjoy in a sandwich, on salads or on their own.
13. Make your favorite pasta sauce.
14. Dip cherry tomatoes in mayonnaise, then in sunflower seeds — a fun finger food idea from the inimitable Martha Stewart.
15. Make jam. Here’s a version from the playbook of canning fiend Paul Virant, chef and owner of Vie in Western Springs:
Blanch, peel, seed and dice 10 pounds of plum tomatoes (reserving the juice). Cook tomatoes in 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper until dry. Add 1/2 pound of sugar and cook until caramelized. Deglaze with reserved tomato juice and a bottle of white wine. Cook until thick. Cool and refrigerate.
16. Make carpaccio out of very thinly sliced tomatoes, sprinkled with salt, pepper and capers.
17. Toss with watermelon for an unusual, refreshing salad. At Province, 161 N. Jefferson, chef Randy Zweiban combines heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and avocado with an aged sherry vinaigrette.
18. Give Heinz a break — try your hand at homemade ketchup.
19. Cool down with tomato sorbet.
“Most people do not associate tomatoes as a dessert, but by definition, tomatoes are considered a fruit and have a blend of sweet and savory properties,” says Four Seasons Chicago pastry chef Scott Gerken. “When you bring those out, it makes for a ‘wowing’ dessert.”
Gerken serves an heirloom tomato sorbet with sweet corn creme brulee and caramel popcorn at the hotel, while chef Michael McDonald of one sixtyblue, 1400 W. Randolph, makes a yellow tomato sorbet to accompany a spicy Bloody Mary gazpacho.
20. Dip thick slices of firm, green tomatoes in milk, dredge in cornmeal and fry.
21. Stuff cherry tomatoes with herbed goat cheese.
22. Stuff large tomatoes with any number of salads — tuna, egg, chicken, rice.
23. Construct a Caprese salad — sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, torn basil leaves, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Make it portable by threading skewers with cherry tomatoes, basil leaves and mozzarella chunks marinated in olive oil and garlic.
24. Another salad combo to try — tomato, fennel, arugula, orange segments and shaved Manchego cheese. It’s a favorite of chef James Gottwald of Rockit, 22 W. Hubbard.
25. Combine tomatoes with other summer fruits — peaches or plums — for an out-of-the-ordinary crisp or crumble.
26. Make a consomme. Here’s Kendall College chef John Bubala’s favorite recipe:
Pass 18 plum tomatoes, diced, and 2 fennel bulbs, diced, through a juicer; you should have about 4 cups of liquid. Slowly bring liquid to a boil in a saucepan; it will separate. Skim foam off the top and strain the clear liquid through cheesecloth.
Season with up to 2 teaspoons sugar (depending on ripeness of tomatoes) and salt to taste. Serve hot or cold.
Or, Bubala jokes, “Add a shot of vodka and your mother-in-law will think you are drinking water instead of Bloody Marys.”
27. Combine chopped tomatoes with chunks of bread, cucumber, onion and a vinaigrette for panzanella, an Italian salute to day-old bread and, of course, tomatoes.
28. Clean a copper pot. Tomato juice works just as well as lemon because of its acidity, says Shelley Young, owner of the Chopping Block cooking school in Lincoln Square and the Merchandise Mart.
29. Shake up the Tomato Mojitonico, a signature of Nacional 27 mixologist Adam Seger. It’s a muddled concoction of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, a lime wedge, a handful of herbs, rum and tonic water.
30. Roll out a pizza Margherita with slices of ripe tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves.
31. Simmer together tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onions and bell peppers to make ratatouille, a Provencal stew.
32. Make subzi, a Middle Eastern version of ratatouille and one of author Lundy’s favorites. Saute chopped onions in olive oil until soft. Grind cumin seeds, coriander and cloves; add to onions along with sliced garlic. Add chopped summer squash, chopped tomatoes with their juice, a bit of turmeric and salt. Cook for 30 minutes. Serve over rice, couscous, even cornbread, Lundy says.
33. Enjoy a no-frills Filipino breakfast of sliced tomatoes, fried fish or longanisa (a sweet pork sausage), a hard-boiled egg and rice — all doused with fish sauce.
34. Layer sliced tomatoes over ricotta cheese or another soft cheese in a pastry crust for a savory tart. Dress up the cheese with herbs or roasted garlic, says chef Mark Mendez of Carnivale, 702 W. Fulton. If you parbake the crust first, it won’t get soggy, he says.
35. Use tomato juice or shredded tomatoes in chocolate cake or zucchini bread as a tenderizer. “If a recipe calls for milk, you can use the juice instead,” the Chopping Block’s Young says.
36. Make a savory play on cherry clafoutis, a French dessert kind of like a big baked pancake, by baking tomatoes in a bath of eggs, cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano, suggests French cooking authority Patricia Wells suggests.
37. Whip up a tomato vinaigrette. Here’s the preferred method of one of my best friends, who picked it up out of a magazine long ago: Simply rub tomato halves on the side of a box grater. Whisk in red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic and herbs, if you like, and salt and pepper.
38. Go Greek. Toss tomato wedges with feta, oregano cucumbers and red wine vinegar.
39. Have a low-maintenance fish dinner, courtesy of Diana Henry’s Pure Simple Cooking (Ten Speed Press, $21.95). Roast olive oil-slicked cherry tomatoes, potatoes and fennel, place fish fillets seasoned with salt and pepper on top of veggies and pop back in oven until fish is cooked through.
40. Dress tomato wedges with a perky mint vinaigrette — extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, minced garlic and chopped mint.
41. Poach in olive oil. Carnivale’s Mendez throws tiny tomatoes, a few garlic heads and a handful of herbs in a pot and covers all with olive oil.
“We won’t even cook ’em,” Mendez says. “Just put them in a very warm place in the kitchen, like above the stove, and leave them there.” The tomatoes get super soft; when the skins start to slide off, they’re ready.
Serve poached tomatoes with grilled fish, or puree with a bit of the steeping oil and vinegar for a sauce or vinaigrette.
42. Mix chopped tomatoes with chopped olives, capers, onion, parsley (and any other herbs you like), olive oil and red wine vinegar. It’s a lovely relish for fish.
43. Gently cook down peeled, seeded tomatoes with olive oil. Stewed tomatoes can go far as a base for sauces, soups, vinaigrettes and more, says chef Chris Pandel of the Bristol, 2152 N. Damen.
44. Try with peach wedges for another summery combination.
45. Make a Romesco sauce. Spiaggia chef Tony Mantuano’s version in Wine Bar Food (Clarkson Potter, $27.50) is a puree of plum tomatoes, roasted peppers, bread, ancho chili, garlic, almonds, hazelnuts, parsley, sherry vinegar and olive oil. It’s the perfect vehicle for dipping grilled veggies.
46. Fold chopped tomatoes, onions and Cheddar into scrambled eggs.
47. Make fattoush, a lemony Lebanese salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, radishes, mint, parsley and toasted pita pieces.
48. Toast as Martha (Stewart, that is) does — pour a cocktail of chilled aquavit or vodka and fresh tomato juice, made by pureeing tomatoes in a food processor and straining the juice.
49. Make Tomatoes Provencal the Julia Child way, from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom (Knopf, 2000). Fill halved, seeded and juiced tomatoes with a mixture of 1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons minced shallots or scallions, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
50. Top slices with blue cheese, drizzle with oil and broil until oozing.