Good tomatoes are one of the defining tastes of summer. Right now we have beautiful ones coming into Britain from Italy and Spain, and the plants in my garden are covered with little yellow blossoms. I know that it won't be too long before I am going to be able to enjoy that fresh picked off the vine taste here in my own kitchen.
When you're shopping for tomatoes, pick them up and smell them. If they smell strong and tomato-ey, they're likely to taste good. You want them firm to the touch, and without any soft spots which can indicate spoilage. You often see them "on the vine." They look lovely on the vine, but they're more expensive that way. Truth is they don't necessarily have any better flavour than those off the vine. This is just a gimmick that is used to get you to pay more. If anything it's the variety that makes the biggest difference in taste, not whether they are on the stem or not. The ones on the stem may have a stronger fragrance but that is coming from the stem, not from the actual fruit.
For eating raw, choose sweet cherry tomatoes or bigger, juicier varieties. For stuffing and cooking the dryer textured plum tomatoes are always best. They keep their shape when long cooked and reduce to a sweet and intense tomato sauce better than any other.
I never store my tomatoes in the fridge. (A little tip that I picked up from my mom, thanks mom!) Storing them in the fridge changes their texture and diminishes their taste. I keep mine in a bowl in a corner on my kitchen counter. Tomatoes are not really at their ripest when you buy them at the shops. Leaving in a bowl at room temperature helps them to ripen to their fullest and brings out their best flavours.
Skinning tomatoes is really quite easy. Take your tomatoes and score an "X" lightly with the tip of a very sharp knife on the bottom end. Drop them into a bowl of boiling water and let them sit for 20 to 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a perforated spoon and the skin should peel off very easily. If you have any difficulty at all, return them to the water for a few more seconds.
Here's a delicious salad that I love to make on warm days. Simple to make and with simple ingredients, this really showcases lovely ripe tomatoes at their very best.
*Tomato and Onion Salad*
Serves 4 to 6
Simple and delicious, I could eat a whole plate of this all on it's own, with maybe only a slice of buttered bread on the side. Plan ahead as it needs to sit for several hours before eating.
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced very thinly
6 ripe tomatoes, sliced into thick wedges
2 to 3 tsp dried oregano
(I use Barts. It has nice big flakes)
really good quality extra virgin olive oil
white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Gently layer everything together , seasoning with salt and pepper at you go. Drench with the olive oil and then add a tiny splash of the vinegar. Allow to sit for several hours before eating. Delicious!