We wait for sweet, juicy summer tomatoes all year long, and finally they’re here. Celebrate them with these pro tips, plus some new recipe ideas from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen, then check out our tomato guide for more!
Tomatoes: Everything You Need to Know
What to Look For
Although you can find tomatoes year-round these days, for the best tomatoes, visit farm stands and farmers’ markets for vine-ripened tomatoes between the months of June and September—or you can try to grow your own. Organic tomatoes are preferable when they’re available, as they’re more likely to be saturated in flavor. When fresh tomatoes are out of season, use canned or packaged imported plum tomatoes, which are superior in favor and texture to out-of-season fresh tomatoes.
Arguably the most prized summer tomatoes are heirlooms—are old-fashioned varieties that have been reintroduced by farmers and gardeners. These fruits 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.
Not sure which varieties to cook with? Check out this tomato glossary for an overview of the different types.
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. Pick off the stems of cherry tomatoes. Some recipes call for peeled and seeded tomatoes, usually when the tomatoes are to be chopped for a sauce. Learn how to pull this off.
Tomatoes can be stored at room temperature for up to about three days. If they’re slightly unripe, put them in a sunny place for several days, and they will ripen further. Although it isn’t necessary to chill whole tomatoes, if you’ve cut into one and wrapped it in plastic wrap or paper, be sure to keep it in the refrigerator.
Your Tomato Toolkit
- OXO Tomato & Grape Cutter, to slice cherry and grape tomatoes into perfect quarters
- Tomato Hullster, for quickly and easily removing tomato cores
- Italian Tomato Press, for pressing fresh tomatoes into sauce
- KAI for Williams-Sonoma Tomato Knife, for cutting through delicate tomatoes
- Chef’n Tomato Wedger and Slicer, for portioning tomatoes into neat, uniform slices
- AeroGarden 9-Pod Seed Kit, to grow your own tomatoes
Tomatoes at peak season really need no adornment—in fact, purists enjoy tomatoes sliced thick and served with just a sprinkling of coarse salt. They also add color and flavor to the table in a multitude of ways: when puréed into soup, layered in sandwiches, tossed into salads, simmered to toss with pasta or roasted to make salsa. Try making them the star of your next canning or preserving experiment so that you can enjoy a taste of summer all year long. Below are a few fantastic preparations, no recipe required.
Gazpacho: Coarsely chop tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and bell pepper. Puree in a blender until smooth. In a bowl, stir minced garlic, vinegar and olive oil into the puree. Chill before serving.
Panzanella: Cut bread into 1-inch cubes. Saute with olive oil until crispy. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss toasted bread with chopped tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, basil and vinaigrette.
Heirloom Tomato Salad: Cut heirloom tomatoes into wedges. Toss with fresh tarragon, crumbled goat cheese and fresh corn kernels, either raw or blanched. Drizzle with champagne vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil and toss to combine.
Oven-Dried Tomatoes: Stem, quarter and seed plum tomatoes. Arrange cut-side up on parchment-lined baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Roast at 200°F until slightly shriveled, about 4 hours. Pack cooled tomatoes in a canning jar with thyme sprigs and olive oil; refrigerate up to 1 week.
Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes: Toss together diced tomatoes, minced shallot and garlic, slivered basil, shaved pecorino romano, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Top with drained cooked pasta. Let stand a few minutes before tossing.
Tomato & 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 with olive oil, salt and pepper; brush the pastry with egg wash. Bake at 400°F until pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes, and garnish with slivered basil.
For a more elaborate preparation that really highlights the flavors of peak-season tomatoes, try one of the recipes below.
This simple dish is like a warm, oozy insalata caprese. And since it’s prepared on the grill, you can avoid heating up your oven during the dog days of summer.
A tapa like pan con tomate only works if it’s made with the ripest, most flavorful tomatoes, so don’t make this dish anytime other than during the summer. For this version, which comes from chef Ryan Pollnow of Aatxe restaurant in San Francisco, the bread is topped with jamón ibérico fine for an even richer, more complex flavor.
You can use any combination of tomatoes in this luscious Spanish soup, making it an excellent way to use up less-than-perfect tomatoes—ones with splits, soft spots or cracks. Often eaten as a starter, the soup also makes an excellent vegetarian main dish when served with a salad and a wedge of good bread.
When made with tomatoes in a variety of colors and sizes, this elegant tomato tart becomes a showstopper on your summertime table.
Trust us when we promise that our test kitchen’s baked eggs, which arrive to the table studded with crumbles of feta, will be a showstopper at any summer brunch.