ILLUSTRATION BY EDGAR STEWART
When tomato season really gets under way in New England it can feel like a race against time. For two, maybe two and a half months there are local tomatoes galore, starting with a bang in late July and ending—just as abruptly—with the first frost in mid October. Tomatoes are everywhere: beautifully displayed at farmers markets, highlighted on every menu and prized by local chefs, quietly ripening in gardens, on farms and in patio pots across the region. The season is short, but we make the most of it here.
Whether you’ve grown your own favorite varieties at home, invested in a flat of multicolored heirlooms at the farmers market or been the lucky recipient of a bumper crop from a generous neighbor or friend, you’re well aware that as soon as a tomato is plucked from the vine its clock is ticking. Highly perishable and susceptible to bruising, fruit flies and blight, these precious fruits must be handled carefully, never refrigerated and eaten as soon as possible. With so many stunning varieties—in a rainbow of colors and diverse flavors—and only a few short weeks to enjoy them, you’ve got to come up with as many ways to eat tomatoes as you can, indulging daily at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Towards the end of the season, most farmers markets will sell “seconds” at a discounted rate, still just as delicious as their pristine counterparts but readier to eat, so to speak. To find your local market in the five counties of Eastern Massachusetts, see our Farmers Market Listing on our website, edibleboston.com, sponsored by Iggy’s Bread of the World.
When your tomatoes are just this side of overripe, make the most of them with the following recipes
• Sauté diced tomatoes with garlic and onion in a skillet until fragrant and releasing their juices, then season with salt and pepper and crack four farm eggs on top; cover and steam until the eggs are cooked to your liking. For the of-the-moment Middle Eastern breakfast called shakshuka, add feta and warming spices to the sauce—like cinnamon, cumin and coriander—and shower the finished dish with lemon juice and cilantro. For a decidedly more Italian take on tomatoes with eggs, make them “in Purgatory,” using chili flakes and basil in the sauce and topping the eggs with finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano and tons of cracked pepper. Serve both dishes with plenty of toasted bread for dipping.
• Make your own “sun-dried” tomatoes, seasoned with garlic and herbs, using the lowest setting on your oven and the convection fan (or a dehydrator if you have one). Use in place of fresh tomatoes on your next BLT for an extra-strength punch of concentrated tomato flavor, slathered with homemade basil aïoli for good measure. • Slice the biggest heirlooms you can find into thick slabs, removing any bruises or skin splits, and arrange on a rimmed oven-safe platter. Drizzle with olive oil, scatter sliced shallots, peeled garlic cloves and sprigs of fresh thyme over the top, season heartily with salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven until slumped and fragrant. Bring the hot platter to the table with a basket of toasted peasant bread, a bunch of basil, a few balls of cream-filled burrata and a bottle of syrupy aged balsamic vinegar for make-your-own caprese sandwiches. Blend any leftover roasted tomatoes with a dash of cream for the most delicious cream of tomato soup you’ll ever eat.
• For a really traditional Spanish gazpacho, fill a blender with chopped tomatoes (skins, cores, seeds and all), a few diced cucumbers, peppers and a quartered white onion. Add 2 slices of bread, torn, a dribble of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar, a handful of fresh herbs of your choice and a hot chili if you’re so inclined. Blend, adding water if needed, season with salt and pepper and serve chilled on a hot night.
• Slice a pint basket of mixed cherry tomatoes into half moons and toss with sliced scallions, lime juice, chopped cilantro and a minced jalapeño. Fold in a diced avocado at the very last minute and spoon over grilled fish or chicken.
• To really stretch the tomato abundance into another season, take a late summer afternoon and make sauce to put up in sterilized jars or, for a much easier task, coarsely chop your extra-ripe tomatoes and freeze in zip-top bags. In mid-winter, make sauce for a burst of summertime flavor in the coldest season.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org