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Seasonal Produce: Tomatoes

Nothing says summer quite like juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes still warm from the sun. Native to South America, tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family along with potatoes and eggplant, and were first thought to be poisonous by Europeans. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that tomatoes became a staple in the U.S., where they are now the third most popular vegetable. Although botanically a fruit, tomatoes have been classified by the U.S. government as a vegetable for trade purposes.

Purchasing

  • Select plump, heavy tomatoes with a rich color and pleasant aroma.
  • They should be free of blemishes and soft spots.
  • When gently squeezed, they should yield slightly and feel somewhat firm. Soft tomatoes are usually watery or overripe.
  • If purchasing tomatoes off-season, select fresh plum and cherry tomatoes as they have slightly more flavor than large globe tomatoes.
  • Store unwashed ripe tomatoes at room temperature for up to 3 days. Never refrigerate tomatoes before cutting as the cold temperature makes them lose flavor and become mealy in texture.
  • Unripe tomatoes can be ripened by placing them in a paper bag. Do not place them in the sun to ripen.
  • Refrigerate cut tomatoes in plastic wrap for 2 days, though flavor and texture will be diminished.

Preparing

  • Wash tomatoes under cold water just before using.
  • For sandwiches and salads, remove the stems and cores with a paring knife. Slice, dice or cut into wedges with a serrated knife.
  • To core a tomato, place it on its side. Insert the tip of a serrated paring knife at an angle into the stem end. Rotate the tomato at the same time you cut with a sawing motion. Continue until the core is separated and can be easily removed.
  • To seed a tomato, cut it in half crosswise. Hold the tomato half over a bowl, cut side down, and gently squeeze to remove the seeds. Use a small spoon to remove any remaining seeds, if necessary.
  • To hollow out a tomato for stuffing, cut in half or cut a slice off the top. Scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon. Invert the tomato shell and place on paper towels to drain for at least 15 minutes before stuffing.

Nutrition

  • Excellent source of potassium
  • Provides a good source of vitamins A and C.
  • Low in sodium.

Serving

  • Whip up easy homemade salsa with chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
  • Toss freshly cooked pasta with pesto and diced tomatoes for an easy summer meal.
  • Thread plump cherry tomatoes on skewers and add great color to grilled kabobs.
  • Arrange sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella on a platter, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh basil for an instant summer salad.
  • Stir chopped seeded tomatoes into guacamole and other creamy dips for extra color and flavor.
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