There’s plenty of mythology around tomatoes — they were once thought to be poisonous, and later deemed an aphrodisiac — but these days the bright, juicy treats are staples in virtually every country on the globe. They are also some of the most eagerly anticipated ingredients of summer, bringing to mind fresh, sweet salads and rich, chunky sauces. Read on for our best tips for choosing and working with tomatoes, plus simple ways to prepare them from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Look for: Although you can find tomatoes year-round, the best, vine-ripened ones are at farmers’ markets between June and September. Of course, you can also grow your own! Choose organic tomatoes when you can, as they are likely to be more flavorful. Store them at room temperature for up to 3 days. If they are slightly unripe, put them in a sunny place for several days to ripen them further.
Not sure which varieties to look for? Check out our tomato glossary for an overview of the different types. When fresh tomatoes are out of season, canned (or packaged) imported plum tomatoes, usually called Italian tomatoes, make a good substitute, especially for sauces and other cooked dishes.
Prep tips: Wash and dry tomatoes to be sliced. Cut out the stem end and leave the tomatoes whole or cut them into crosswise or lengthwise slices or into wedges, or chop, according to the recipe. Pull off the stems of cherry tomatoes. Some recipes call for peeled and/or seeded tomatoes, usually when the tomatoes are to be chopped for a sauce — learn how to pull it off here.
Uses: For purists, it doesn’t get much better than a thickly sliced tomato sprinkled with coarse sea salt. But sweet summer tomatoes are also delicious pureed into soups, layered on sandwiches, tossed into salads, simmered for pasta, or roasted for a flavorful salsa.
Variations: Prized heirloom tomatoes are old-fashioned varieties that have been reintroduced by farmers and gardeners. These tomatoes are full of flavor, but they may not keep as long as more commonly available varieties, and they may have thinner skins, qualities that make them less desirable for commercial processing.
Heirloom Tomato Salad: Cut heirloom tomatoes into wedges. Toss with olive oil, vinegar or citrus juice, chopped herbs, cheese and a crunchy add-in. Our favorites: balsamic vinegar, basil, mozzarella and toasted bread cubes; red wine vinegar, oregano, feta and cucumber; lemon juice, tarragon, goat cheese and corn.
Oven-Dried Tomatoes: Stem and quarter 12 plum tomatoes; remove seeds. Place, cut side up, on parchment-lined baking sheets; sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Roast at 200 degrees F until slightly shriveled, about 4 hours. Pack cooled tomatoes into a large canning jar, add 3 thyme sprigs and olive oil; refrigerate up to 1 week. Serve in salads, on sandwiches, or cheese plates.
Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes: In a large bowl, combine diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced shallot, minced garlic, slivered basil and shaved pecorino romano. Top with drained cooked pasta; let stand for a few minutes, then toss.
Tomato and Basil Tart: Place a puff pastry rectangle on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Top with thinly sliced tomatoes, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Sprinkle tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper; brush pastry with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees F until pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes; garnish with slivered basil.