If you’re a home gardener about to drown in tomatoes rolling in off the vines and demanding to be consumed before they go bad, hang on. Here comes a life preserver!
Everyone knows the delectable bliss of cutting up a perfectly ripe red tomato and enjoying the slices simply seasoned with salt and pepper on a plate next to a steak or macaroni salad or grilled cheese or chicken cutlet or just about anything. And we all know the decadent joy of picking sweet little orange cherry tomatoes off the vine and popping them into our mouths like candy.
But what about when it’s time for something different? Here are a few ideas to get your tomato creativity flowing and help you embrace the garden’s bounty.
First, consider them on sandwiches. Not just as an add-on to standard meat and cheese or tucked into a tuna- or egg-salad creation—although they are definitely delicious that way—but on their own, as well. Half-inch thick slices of fresh ripe tomato between two slices of bread with mayonnaise and a few dashes of seasoning tastes like a bite of delicious summer. Add a few slices of cucumber for added cool crunch, or mix it up with some ultra-thin slices of summer squash, onion or peppers. The dressing doesn’t have to be mayonnaise, either. You can experiment with ranch dressing, hot mustard, relish or other condiments to suit your own taste.
Tomatoes are tasty on hot sandwiches, too. Burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches are perfect places for tomato slices, as are hot meat-and-cheese on bun types that go by the name of heroes or hoagies in different parts of the country.
One of my favorites ways to eat tomatoes on hot bread is to grill Italian or French bread slices, spread it with pesto, add chopped tomatoes, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Yum.
Tomatoes make great salads, too. You probably already include them in tossed salads, from basic everyday side dishes to more elaborate or ethnic concoctions that use everything from feta cheese to walnuts to Asian noodles to corn chips. But tomatoes can be the main ingredient instead of an add-in in salads. Chopped slicing tomatoes or halved cherry or grape types can be dressed up with Italian-style or ranch dressing, fresh or dried herbs such as basil or chives or parsley, chunks or crumbles of any kind of cheese, chopped cucumbers or other fresh vegetables, or bits of bacon or prosciutto.
Tomatoes go wonderfully with pasta. Toss chunks of pasta in with cooked short pasta—I prefer corkscrew types—and your choice of seasonings, dressing, meats, cheeses and other vegetables.
Make a Sauce. Or Eat Them Like an Apple.
Another fun way to enjoy tomatoes and pasta is as a fresh red sauce. I learned this dish from a campsite caretaker many years ago and wrote it down in my little camping journal, and the dish has long outlasted my hiking days. I chop up a small bowlful of fresh very ripe tomatoes, add chopped red onion or scallions, minced garlic, chopped fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. I sometimes add Kalamata olives. I make this dish in the morning and let it set on the kitchen table all day. By evening meal time, the flavors have melded nicely, and I serve it over hot cooked spaghetti noodles and top it with fresh grated parmesan for an easy meal on a hot summer day.
Tomatoes, either slices or cherry halves, are elegant and delicious mixed with fresh mozzarella cheese—either small balls or slices—and drizzled with olive oil and herbs. Full-sized tomatoes are delightful stuffed with cottage cheese and herbs and served cold, or stuffed with bread stuffing and baked or broiled and topped with cheese.
Don’t forget pizza. You can substitute slices of fresh tomatoes for the red sauce, or you can substitute pesto for the red sauce and add tomato slices on top of the cheese.
Cherry tomatoes can be sautéed or broiled. You can add bread crumbs, soft cheese, olive oil, butter, herbs or black olives to complement the lovely tomato flavor.
Tomatoes work well in scrambled eggs, baked eggs, frittatas and omelets. They can be cooked slightly to soften them before adding to egg recipes or added raw in some dishes. Tomatoes are a staple for many soups and casseroles, as well, providing an excellent way to use up yesterday’s fresh broiled or sautéed tomatoes to make room for more fresh ones coming ready in the garden today.
If somehow not one single tomato-eating idea on this list appeals to you, you can always try it my brother’s way. He has been known to pick a ripe tomato off the vine, rub the dust off on his shirt, and eat it like an apple.
A lot of foods from around the world pair nicely with tomatoes, so there is no reason to succumb to a flood of garden tomatoes in August. Try some of these ideas—along with your own recipes and your variations on the ones I’ve suggested—and you’ll be glad once again that you planted so many tomatoes.
Do you have any unique tomato-eating ideas? Share them in the section below: