Tomatoes 101

Here's the 4-1-1 on a summer staple

Regardless of pronunciation, the tomato is much more complicated than its simple red packaging.Getting to know the varieties that will suit your meal best can take your dishes from simple to sophisticated. For instance, using a tomato with a higher acidity in a salad probably would not suit everyone’s palate; but, a sweeter tomato – like a cherry, grape or plum tomato—would.  Here's a breakdown of which to use and when:

For sauce: The Roma tomato is ideal for sauces and pastes because of its higher solid content and more concentrated flavor. It has a relatively low acid content, so if you plan to can your sauce creation, you can add your own acidity like lemon juice. You can also use sweeter varieties like the San Marzano tomato, which is available canned and fresh. 

For salad: Plum, grape and cherry tomatoes are ideal for salads because of their smaller size and their sweetness. You can quarter them for a garden salad or leave them whole and toss them with basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Additionally, an heirloom tomato can add that extra oomph to your Caprese salad.

For sun-drying or roasting: The less juice content, the better a tomato is for sun-drying or roasting. Most heirloom tomatoes are good candidates for this because of their more concentrated flesh and lack of juicy insides. Their thinner skin also helps. The same tomatoes you would use for paste –like Romas or San Marzanos—would work well, but some heirlooms may also lend themselves to the process.

For sandwiches: The bigger, thicker and juicier, the better the sandwich tomato. Many of the heirloom varieties will do. 

For salsa: For a sweeter salsa, go with cherry or quartered grape tomatoes. For a bolder tasting salsa, go with a variety of heirlooms – and keep in mind the color you want. Do you want a basic red salsa, dotted with cilantro and red onion, or a funky-vibed chip-topper with purple, red and green tomatoes?

For juicing: A glass of tomato juice or the perfect Bloody Mary mixer is only as good as what you put in. Think of juicing tomatoes the same way you would juice apples – you generally want a bit of a variety. If you want the overall taste to be sweet, use mostly plum tomatoes. If you want a more robust tomato taste, go with one of the heirloom selections. 

Categories: Dine & Dish, Food + Drink