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How to Cook the Perfect Tomato

Sarah West

By Sarah West

Tomatoes as an ingredient hardly need an introduction. Once you’ve located a quality specimen, they are one of those foods that you want to alter as little as possible. Perhaps the only best way to eat a ripe tomato is still warm from the vine, their leaves’ zesty perfume wafting from your fingers to mingle with the fruit’s sweet sorcery. But, lucky for us, tomatoes are more versatile than that; perfection comes in many forms. The following recipes prove that a little manipulation can go a long way to heighten, enhance, and honor the essence of a perfect tomato.

Perhaps the best way to describe what to do with a good tomato is to emphasize what not to do with it: that is, keep your tomatoes out of the refrigerator. Cold temperatures obliterate the delicate texture, fragrance, and flavors of homegrown and farmers market tomatoes. Resist every temptation to put them anywhere but a shady corner of your kitchen counter, and your next tomato masterpiece is already ninety-nine percent complete.

Tomato Water – This deceptively simple sauce-juice-marinade can be enjoyed as a beverage (or cocktail mixer), poured over fresh tomato slices, as a finish for tomato risotto, or anything else you can think of that would do well by a drizzle of pure tomato mojo. (link to recipe)

Drowned Bruschetta – The key to a good bruschetta is getting the bread (aka crostini) as crisp as possible. I slice a baguette diagonally to get long, ¼-inch thick slices that I brush on both sides with olive oil. I toast them on a tray in an oven set at 250-degrees, turning them after about five minutes, until both sides are lightly golden and crisp. While the crostini cook and then cool, I slice my tomatoes into ¼-inch bits and heap them in a bowl (I like to mix colors and varieties, but whatever tomato you like best will do), drizzle them lightly with olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar, salt liberally and grind some fresh pepper on top. I turn in the seasonings with freshly torn basil and let the mixture rest a few minutes while I arrange the crostini on a plate. On top of each, I add a heaping spoonful of tomato topping (not worrying if it slides off or mingles with the topping next door—at my house, at least, bruschetta is a beautiful mess), then drizzle them with the liqueur from the bottom of the bowl, soaking the crostini and, if I’m lucky, even leaving a small pool at the bottom of the plate. A well-crisped crostini won’t get soggy; its buttery crunch gives body to the succulent tomatoes and their luxurious juice.

Tomato & Mint: Mint plays up the sweet side of tomato flavor, while the tomato’s earthier tones ground mint’s flighty disposition. Tabouli, with a parsley and bulgur backbone, makes skillful use of this spirited arrangement. But the two are also delicious just on their own, as in this simple and refreshing summer salad: (link to recipe).

Pomodori al Forno – I clipped this recipe out of Bon Appetit seven years ago and regard its dog-eared, oil-stained place in my kitchen notebook with reverence. A perfect way to ring out tomato season (at a time of year when it’s appropriate again to turn your oven on), this easy recipe feeds you twice: first with the impossibly delicious aromas it unleashes in your kitchen, and second with the mouthwatering, deeply rich accompaniment these pomodoris (and their roasting oil) make to a good crust of bread or a plate of pasta. You could pair them with something else, but I can’t imagine what could compare; whenever these are around I don’t want to eat anything else. (link to recipe)