Everything You Need to Know About Tomatoes
Tomatoes are such a staple in Canadian cuisine: tomato sauce on pasta or pizza, as a base for fresh salsa, or in a spicy, fragrant curry. There’s also nothing better than dunking a grilled cheese sandwich into a bowl of creamy tomato soup, or slicing them and eating them fresh on a classic BLT sandwich.
Ontario’s outdoor growing season ranges from July to September, but we are fortunate that locally grown greenhouse tomatoes are readily available even most of the winter months, so our tomato cravings can be cured even when it isn’t the middle of summer.
There are so many varieties of tomatoes, but the general categories are globe, beefsteak, Roma (otherwise known as plum tomatoes), pear, cherry, grape, cocktail and Campari.
Globe and beefsteak tomatoes are what people envision when you think of a classic tomato, and they are most commonly used in everyday salads and sandwiches. Plum and pear tomatoes are ideal for sauces because of their robust flavor.
Cherry, grape (both red and yellow) and cocktail tomatoes are smaller and typically eaten fresh, either in salads or out of hand, because of their small size, bright flavour and juicy texture.
Campari tomatoes (or cluster tomatoes) are classified as a cocktail tomato. They are larger than a cherry tomatoes, but smaller than a plum tomato, and are hydroponically grown and ripened on a vine, eliminating the need for pesticides.
How to Select and Store Tomatoes
Tomatoes that are brightly hued, plump and without bruises or blemishes are best. They should be firm, but not rock hard and have a nice, earthy tomato-y smell. They should be heavy for their size, as ripe tomatoes will have more water content.
Store them at room temperature in an open basket if they’re ready to eat for up to a week, but if you want them to ripen faster, place them in a paper bag with an apple or an onion.
Avoid storing ripe tomatoes in a plastic bag or in the fridge, as the cold causes them to turn mealy and they lose their delicious tomato flavour. They are best enjoyed when served at room temperature.
With tomatoes in abundance, many people buy crates of tomatoes to preserve them and enjoy in the off season.
How to Prepare Tomatoes
Tomatoes are extremely versatile since they can be eaten fresh, in sauces, soup, salad, or even stir-fry. Always begin preparing tomatoes by washing them in cold water.
To prepare tomato slices for sandwiches, slice them horizontally with a very sharp knife (serrated/bread knives are a good choice). Dull knives may squish tomatoes instead of cleanly slicing through the skin.
For soups or sauces, you may want to remove the tomato skin by first scoring the bottom of the tomato with an X, then blanching in boiling water quickly for about 30 seconds. Remove and place immediately in an ice bath. Once blanched, the tomato skins loosen and are easily peeled off; now they’re ready for use in sauces or soup.
For salad (or even stir fry), slice the tomatoes in half vertically and cut the stem out by slicing a V around the hard part of the stem. Continue to slice in wedges, perfect for eating on their own, in salad, or tossing in the last couple minutes of cooking a stir-fry.
- Balance the natural acidity of tomato in recipes with either a pinch of salt or sugar or even a bit of baking soda, especially in soup. If you’re making tomato soup, it’s always a fun chemical reaction to share with the kids: let them sprinkle in baking soda and stir it in to see it bubble and foam.
- Be sure to watch for bruises or holes in your tomatoes as they will decay quickly. Avoid these ones at the grocery store.
- If you have an abundance of tomatoes in the summer, preserve them by canning.
- Tomatoes carry a lot of juice, which can cause a soggy sandwich – especially if you don’t eat it right away. To prevent this, bring tomatoes in a separate container and put them on your sandwich right before eating. For salads, add them at the end to prevent them from diluting the dressing.
- Beefsteak tomatoes are the largest in size, and are quite wide and squat with substantial weight. Many have thin skins, giving them a short shelf life so be sure to consume them quickly after purchasing.
Tomato Goes Well With
Tomatoes go well with almost anything! Of course, they are especially delicious when paired with Italian flavours like oregano, balsamic vinegar, capers, olive oil, garlic, bocconcini or fresh mozzarella cheese. Or Mediterranean-inspired flavours like olives, feta cheese, and cucumbers.
They can also be enjoyed with Parmesan cheese, basil, bacon, rice, mushrooms, pasta, onion, avocado, crusty breads, strawberries, chickpeas, eggs, fennel, parsley, pepper, watermelon and Worcestershire sauce.
Tomato Serving Ideas
- Enjoy ripe tomatoes by eating them fresh in salads and sandwiches. You can kick it up a notch and try halving them and grilling them on the BBQ, or stuffing them with rice, cheese and herbs and roasting them in the oven.
- Add tomatoes to flatbread for an easy and tasty lunch.
- You could make your own tomato bacon jam for a great condiment to spice up your regular sandwiches or barbecued burgers.
- Enjoy fresh tomatoes topped with salt and pepper alongside your eggs and bacon in the morning.
- Make your own fresh salsa to serve along tortillas or on baked potatoes.
- Chop tomatoes and add fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and red onion to make a perfect bruschetta topping for a baguette.
- Try making your own kimchi tomatoes for a bold and flavourful side dish.
- Bookmark this recipe for fresh Ontario greenhouse tomato-basil soup and serve it with crispy grilled cheese sandwich.
- Make shakshuka for breakfast to impress weekend guests, serve it your family for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.
Indicative of their bright red hue, tomatoes are high in lycopene, which is reported to be an antioxidant that helps your body eliminate free radicals. One medium tomato has only 22 calories but packs 26% of your daily Vitamin C, 20% of Vitamin A, 12% of Vitamin K, and is also a source of potassium, manganese, fibre and iron.