There are few things more enjoyable than a fresh, vine-ripened, picked-at-its-peak, juicy summer tomato. While most of us are familiar with beefsteak, grape, and roma tomatoes, there are more than 10,000 tomato cultivars. As for their uses, they too are nearly endless and are used extensively throughout the Mediterranean. When you have a really good tomato, some would say that it requires nothing more than a pinch of coarse sea salt to appreciate and savor it in its most basic and pure form. Beyond that, here are 10 suggestions on how to use the best of summer tomatoes:
1. Homemade tomato sauce is the absolute best at the height of summer when you have a bounty of tomatoes. One of the best ways to preserve them to be enjoyed all year long is to transform them into tomato sauce. Traditionally, the San Marzano tomato, which originated in the San Marzano sul Sarno in the Campania region of southern Italy, is renowned for its sweet, low acid, tomato-y taste. This has a lot to do with the fact that genuine San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the rich volcanic soil at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, not too far from Naples. As for making homemade tomato sauce here in the States, use your favorite tomato variety or varieties, as long as they are fresh and fully ripe.
2. Sun-dried tomatoes are a familiar sight in the summer in the Mediterranean, especially in southern Italy and Sicily. When dried in the sun, tomatoes lose most of their water content, which concentrates their ﬂavor. You can achieve this same eﬀect by seasoning tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and fresh herbs (e.g., thyme, oregano) and slowly roasting the seasoned tomatoes in the oven, at a low temperature for several hours.
3. Tomato fritters/pancakes (Domakeftedes) are a specialty of the Greek island of Santorini, an island known for its rich, volcanic soil, chockfull of minerals and nutrients, which is ideal for growing, among other things, tomatoes. The fritters, which are a combination of chopped tomatoes, herbs and spices, and fried in Greek olive oil, are a staple of seemingly every restaurant and household on the island.
4. Gazpacho is a tomato-based soup from southern Spain. Because it’s comprised solely of fresh/raw ingredients (tomatoes and raw vegetables) and chilled before serving, gazpacho is a refreshing, light soup ideally suited for warm summer days. Traditionally, it’s made with Sherry vinegar, which is nuttier and less sharp than other types of vinegar. The addition of olive oil acts as an emulsiﬁer, lending a thickness to the soup.
5. Shakshuka is a spicy egg dish of North African (Tunisian) origin and a popular breakfast dish throughout Israel. While there are many takes on shakshuka, a traditional rendition consists of eggs poached in a spiced tomato and green pepper stew with onions and garlic, sometimes ﬁnished with a sprinkling of sharp, salty feta cheese.
6. Tomato-bread traditions of the Mediterranean are numerous. Pan con Tomate or Pa amb tomaquet is Spanish-style toast featuring tomatoes. Nothing more than thick slices of toasted bread rubbed all over with ripe tomato and garlic, sprinkled with sea salt, and drizzled with quality extra virgin olive oil—sometimes topped with cured anchovies or jamon iberico. As simple and delicious as food gets. Brushcetta is Italy’s version of tomato toast. Chopped fresh tomatoes with garlic, basil, olive oil, and vinegar, served on toasted slices of rustic Italian bread. Dakos is a Greek or Cretan version of tomato toast or Greek bruschetta. But instead of toasted bread, barley rusks, which are twice baked (which makes them dry, crunchy, and crisp) are used. The rusks are topped with chopped tomatoes, mizithra cheese, a fresh sheep and/or goat’s milk cheese, dried oregano, and a generous dose of Greek extra virgin olive oil. As the tomato juices and olive oil seep into the rusks, they soften and infuse the rusks with tomato ﬂavor.
7. Stuﬀed tomatoes are an easy, quick family meal. Hollow out a large, ripe tomato, leaving the bottom intact. Chop the tomato ﬂesh and combine with canned tuna or cooked quinoa. Add your favorite ﬂavorings (scallions, herbs, olive oil and vinegar) and stuﬀ the mixture back into the tomato. Voila!
8. Caprese salad is a salad that is best when tomatoes are at the height of the season. Slice ripe tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper for a juicy summertime treat. Arrange on a plate, and add sliced mozzarella and torn basil leaves in between each of the tomato slices.
9. Pappa al pomodoro is a rustic, thick, and hearty Tuscan tomato and bread soup that was born of necessity, that is, as a way to use up stale bread. The key is to ﬁnish the soup with a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
10. Ezme salad is a classic, spicy Turkish salad of ﬁnely hand-chopped tomatoes. It’s reminiscent of a fresh salsa, albeit with a few additions, namely sumac and pomegranate molasses (both of which impart a fruity-tart ﬂavor). Chiles add heat and depth of ﬂavor.
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