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How to Choose, Prepare and Enjoy Tomatoes

Created May 22, 2019
Betty’s quick guide to making the most of the year’s best tomatoes is here just in time for us to enjoy fresh Caprese salad and meltingly delicious BLT sandwiches.

Juicy, in-season tomatoes freshly picked from the vine (or from the market) just taste better. Which is why we think summer’s most-anticipated produce deserve the kind of care and attention a Nonna might prescribe! And just in case you don’t have an Italian granny to show you the way, here’s our guide to buying, preparing, and cooking with tomatoes. So get ready to turn your prize fruits—yes, it’s true, technically—into the silkiest sauces, brightest salads and so much more!

Common varieties of tomatoes

There are so many varieties of tomatoes, it’s almost hard to keep track, and there are even more ways to prepare them. So whether you’re looking for the best tomatoes to make into a sandwich or a sauce, we’ve got you covered with this list of noteworthy varieties and delicious recipes to make with them.

Beefsteak tomatoes

  • What’s are beefsteak tomatoes? Beefsteaks are large, irregularly shaped tomatoes that slice well and taste delicious raw or cooked. Some of the most popular types of these plump and juicy tomatoes are smoky Cherokee Purples, acidic Brandywines, and sweet Big Rainbows.
  • What are the best things to make with beefsteak tomatoes? These meaty, juicy tomatoes really shine on their own, so use them in simple dishes, like salads or sandwiches.
    • If you find yourself with a few Cherokee Purple tomatoes, we recommend making a tried-and-true BLT sandwich. This dusky-rose varietal compliments toasty bread, crisp lettuce and smoky bacon unlike any other.
    • If the pink Brandywine tomato is growing in your garden, try Brie, Lettuce and Tomato Salad for a new take on Caprese salad—these wonderfully acidic tomatoes will balance out the creamy brie cheese for a delightful summer dish.
    • Handfuls of Big Rainbows? These tomatoes are sweet as can be and would be delicious in this recipe for Garlic-Basil Tomatoes with Fresh Mozzarella where spicy garlic, fresh basil and soft mozzarella cheese keep the sweet tomato flavor perfectly balanced

Roma tomatoes

  • What are Roma tomatoes? Also called plum, paste or Italian tomatoes, Romas have an elongated shape and are great for cooking and making sauce and paste, because when fully ripe they have fewer seeds and less water than other tomatoes. Romas also taste great roasted. In the oven, their flavors concentrate and sweeten. The most common type is a Traditional Roma—meaty, very rich in flavor, easy to peel and perfect for sauces!
  • What’s the best way to make Roma tomato sauce? A great recipe for Roma tomatoes is our Make-Ahead Roasted Roma Tomato Sauce. With just a handful of ingredients, this tasty sauce can be made ahead and frozen to help you out of weeknight dinner jams later on.
  • What are the best ways to use Roma tomato sauce? There’s an endless variety of meals that can be made with a Roma tomato sauce, but here are some of our favorites
  • Instead of jarred sauce, this Spaghetti Pizza uses the sauce for a new take on pizza.
  • Love chicken parmesan? This Chicken Parmesan Meatball Skillet uses our easy make-ahead sauce for a flavorful twist on a classic dish.
  • Try these Italian Style Sloppy Joes that replaces store-bought marinara with our sauce for an added depth of tomato flavor.

Cherry tomatoes

  • What are cherry tomatoes? Cherry tomatoes are small and round (about 1 inch), reminiscent of large cherries. Cherry tomatoes are usually falling off the vine in the late summer months but lucky for us, this variety is widely available in grocery stores year-round.
  • What are the best things to make with cherry tomatoes? Cherries are the most congenial of tomatoes. They’re as good tossed in salads or pastas as they are roasted or baked in a tart. They’re also perfect garnishes and great snacks.
  • This Bacon Avocado Caprese Pasta Salad has all the best components of a Caprese salad but with the added bonus of avocado and bacon!
  • For a fun take on a classic dish, try our Tomato Basil Veggie Pizza—sliced cherry tomatoes on top of a cream cheese base gets a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for the perfect summertime dinner. All the flavors of your favorite summer sandwich, in pasta form!
  • In this Spicy Shrimp Sheet-Pan Dinner recipe, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes gets concentrated during roasting until they collapse in on themselves providing the perfectly contrast to briny, spicy shrimp.
  • This BLT pasta has smoky bacon, tender greens, sweet cherry tomatoes and toppings that’ll make this meal stand out—like chives, basil, parmesan and black pepper.

Heirloom tomatoes

  • What are heirloom tomatoes? Also called heritage tomatoes, these old-fashioned, often-forgotten, non-hybrid varieties of tomato can be found in a wide assortment of colors, shapes, flavors and sizes. They’re generally considered to be tomatoes that have been passed down through several generations because of certain valued characteristics. Heirloom tomatoes have become increasingly popular and more readily available in recent years and can be very flavorful. Don’t be deterred by their funky shapes and colors, that’s what makes them taste so good!
  • What are the best things to make with heirloom tomatoes? Since heirlooms are so beautiful and delicious on their own, we love to keep recipes simple, so their bright and juicy flavors are celebrated. Try slicing up a few with fresh mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. This Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad is the epitome of summer, the perfect way to add some color to your table.

How to pick and prepare tomatoes

plate of fresh garlic-basil tomatoes and mozzarella

Growing juicy tomatoes in your garden

  • This late-summer fruit tastes best when allowed to naturally ripen in the sun. Ideally, they ripen slowly on the plant so that their flavor can fully develop.
  • You can speed ripening by placing enclosing underripe tomatoes in a brown paper bag for a day or two.

How to buy the best tomatoes

During the growing season, we recommend visiting your local farmers market, stopping at farm stands or picking out locally-sourced tomatoes from your grocery store. The shorter the distance tomatoes travel, the better they’ll taste. You’ll know a ripe tomato when you smell a sweet aroma and spot a vibrant leafy top. Ripe fruits are also heavy for their size, because they’re so juicy.

How to store tomatoes

Once you’ve stocked up on baskets and bushels of this juicy fruit, you’ll need store it properly.

  • To keep tomatoes fresh and plump, store at room temperature.
  • It’s a common mistake to put tomatoes in the fridge—any temperature below 50°F will cause the flavor and quality of the tomato deteriorate.
  • Bottom line, this precious summer produce belongs safely on your counter or fruit bowl.

How to prepare tomatoes

Learn these common methods of preparation to make cooking with your tomatoes simple.

How to peel tomatoes

Sauce recipes often call for peeling tomatoes, as they’re easier to cook down and make for a smoother sauce once skinned.

  1. To peel tomatoes for sauces or pastes, heat a large stockpot of water to boiling.
  2. Score your tomatoes by lightly cutting an “x” across the bottom—end without the stem—this will encourage their skins to loosen and begin to peel in boiling water.
  3. Carefully place scored tomatoes in the boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Transfer to an ice-water bath with a slotted spoon or tongs.
  5. After tomatoes have cooled to the touch, peel.

How to core tomatoes

To remove the core, cut a small circle around the stem end with a paring knife and remove. Coring tomatoes can be a useful technique for when you want to stuff your tomatoes with rice, cheese and other tasty fillings.

How to seed tomatoes

To seed, cut the tomato crosswise in half and gently squeeze or spoon seeds into a bowl. Keep in mind that it may be beneficial to a recipe, but the seeds have the highest concentration of vitamin C and boast much of the tomatoey flavor.

How to roast tomatoes

Now perhaps for the most underrated preparation method, roasting! Roasting tomatoes brings out an intense, concentrated flavor, without all the juice. Romas are particularly good for this method. Once roasted, enjoy your tomatoes with pasta, on toast, on top of chicken or shrimp—the possibilities are truly endless.

  1. To roast Roma tomatoes, you’ll want to turn on your oven to about 425°F.
  2. Line rimmed cookie sheets with foil and coat with cooking spray—you’ll be glad you did this when it comes time to cleanup.
  3. In a large bowl, toss halved tomatoes with olive oil and salt and arrange cut side up.
  4. Roast 55 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes or until tomatoes are charred on edges.

Freezing tomatoes

When you’re overwhelmed with tomatoes, sometimes the best thing you can do is freeze them for future use. Then, you can use your frozen tomatoes the same way you would use canned.

  1. To freeze fresh tomatoes, peel, seed and chop; do not drain.
  2. Place tomatoes in plastic containers or plastic freezer bags and freeze up to three months.