The taste of plump, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes is one of summertime's favorite pleasures. At the peak of the harvest, tomatoes of all types overflow from baskets and bins, and it seems as if their season will last forever. But you should enjoy their sublime flavor while you can: the hothouse-grown or imported tomatoes available the rest of the year just never seem to taste as good.
Tomatoes, however, are about more than just taste. They're rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, riboflavin, chromium, potassium, niacin, folate and lycopene, a bright red pigment with powerful antioxidant properties.
A Tomato Cornucopia
There's a wide range of tomatoes to choose from, and each variety is best for certain types of recipes. The following tips will help you make the most of the season's bounty.
Often no bigger than your thumb, these tiny tomatoes have a slightly sweeter flavor than their bigger counterparts. They're great skewered on kebabs, sliced in half and roasted or tossed into a Snap Pea, Feta & Cherry Tomato Salad
Even smaller than cherry tomatoes, they're oblong, sweet and firm. Their petite size makes them easy to eat in one bite, and kids love their sweet flavor. Grape tomatoes make a quick and satisfying snack. Use them anywhere you'd use cherry tomatoes.
These long, smallish, flavorful tomatoes are a mainstay of Italian cuisine. They have a higher flesh-to-juice ratio than other varieties, so they're particularly good for making sauces. Remove the seeds before adding to sauces or other cooked dishes because seeds may give the dishes a bitter taste. (See sidebar for how to seed tomatoes.)
Also called "slicing tomatoes," they have a nice acidity and are great on a sandwich or in a salad. Because of their size and round shape, they can also be stuffed with your favorite filling. Or try them in a tomato and grilled bread salad.
Among the largest in the tomato family, some beefsteaks can grow to weigh a pound or more! They are usually squat and irregular in shape, and their generously sized slices can top a big burger. As their name suggests, they have a meaty texture. Try them in the classic Italian caprese salad, layered with slices of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves.
Heirlooms date back to before most commercial farming and hybridization of tomatoes began—about 50 years ago. In recent years, there's been a resurgence of interest in these delicious and colorful varieties. Most can be enjoyed with little preparation: try drizzling slices with good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Heirloom tomatoes often have unusual names and appearances—here are a few of our favorites:
These small tomatoes are yellow with dark green stripes and green flesh. They have an intense sweet-tart flavor.
Legend has it that "Radiator Charlie," a radiator repairman, developed this hardy breed and paid off the mortgage on his house with the profits from sales of the seedlings. These red tomatoes are large and meaty, with very few seeds.
Originally grown along the Black Sea coast, these tomatoes came to the U.S. with Russian immigrants. They are brownish-red, with a rich flavor that has a hint of saltiness.
Originating in the Ozark Mountains before 1900, these tomatoes rapidly spread across the Southern states when gardeners discovered how well the plants thrived, even in intense heat. They have a juicy, mild flavor and rosy pink flesh.