This tomato season will be the one where I get my fill of the savory fruit as the summer unfolds! This is the year that, when early September rolls around, I will be canning and freezing 50 pounds of the last of the roma plum tomatoes as I celebrate all the heirloom slicers, cocktail Camparis and multi-color cherry ones I managed to eat in July and August. This exercise will differ from years’ past when I’ve desperately put them up for the winter because I failed to enjoy them as they ripened in the sun.

GPS heirloom tomato

Eat ye heirloom tomatoes when ye may. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

I am taking my lead from Joy Howard, a western Massachusetts-based food writer whose new cookbook, “Tomato Love.” was published in June 2022. This recipe-heavy book is a practical guide for using tomatoes every day, year-round. She’s not shy about admitting that having a can or two of commercially processed tomatoes in the cupboard has saved dinner for her on many occasions. But her book has also inspired me with several new ideas for how to best move the abundant fresh ones through my kitchen in summertime. With Howard’s help, I have developed this five-point plan for fresh tomato carpe diem.

First, keep cherry and grape tomatoes in plain sight – in a bowl on the counter, never store any fresh tomato in the fridge – for snacking. In summer, the local ones are almost as sweet as candy.

Second, use tomatoes to start the day. Howard bakes them into mushroom and kale strata, stirs them into herby egg scrambles, and grates them onto thick slices of toast. In one recipe, she lines cupcake tins with deli slices of black forest ham and fills the cups with halved cherry tomatoes, a bit of cheddar cheese and one egg each. After baking them in a 400-degree F oven for 15 minutes, she garnishes the baked eggs with more tomatoes and chopped chives for a simple, tomato-forward brunch offering.

Third, make soup. Marinate tomatoes with other garden vegetables and puree everything into a creamy, spicy gazpacho. And roast them with garlic and olive oil as the base of a warm tomato-basil bisque.

Fourth, make condiments on a small scale that don’t require pulling out the canning gear. Use a pile from your garden for a homemade BBQ sauce. Try your hand at tomato jam, an interesting alternative to ketchup. Howard advises cooks to remove the seeds from tomatoes when making long-cooked condiments like these, as they’ll taste bitter.

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Finally, think outside the box. Howard sandwiches pieces of cooked bacon and lettuce between cocktail tomato halves, secures the bite-sized BLTs with toothpicks, and serves them with chipotle-yogurt dip as an appetizer. She turns a standard French vinaigrette (shallots, mustard, garlic, salt, oil and vinegar) into a tomato vinaigrette by whizzing tomatoes in a blender with the other ingredients. She tosses tomatoes into parchment paper bundles with fish and herbs to steam them for an uber healthy, easy-cleanup meal. And she adds them to gingery fried rice.

Yes, of course, I will still enjoy that very first tomato and mayonnaise sandwich when the first local beefsteak tomatoes hit the market. And I will most certainly select the prettiest variety of heirlooms to slice and serve simply next to grilled seafood for an elegant August dinner party. But this tomato season, I plan to spread the tomato love on a regular, daily basis.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Elegant Spicy Gazpacho. Chunky has its place, but sometimes silky smooth is wonderful.

Elegant Spicy Gazpacho

This recipe, adapted from Joy Howard’s new book “Tomato Love,” lets the roughly chopped ingredients get to know each other as they sit and marinate together before they are pureed. Passing the puree through a fine-meshed sieve makes the soup silky smooth. You needn’t bother to peel the cucumber.

Serves 4

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2 pounds sweet, ripe tomatoes, seeded, cored and roughly chopped
2 small seedless cucumbers, roughly chopped
1/2 medium-size sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped
2 medium ribs celery, from the center of the bunch, roughly chopped
1 roasted red bell pepper, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 Fresno chili pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cubed day-old bread
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Yellow or red cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, vinegar, chili peppers, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Place the bread on top of the vegetables and drizzle with 3 tablespoon oil. Cover the bowl and let the mixture sit at room temperature overnight.

Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Strain through a sieve and refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours. Serve cold. Garnish with cherry tomatoes, a drizzle of oil and cilantro.

Tomato, Ginger and Cumin Jam

This is as good on grilled bread with goat cheese as it is on a lamb burger.

Makes 1 ½ cups

2 pounds plum tomatoes
1 cup (1/4-inch) diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt

First skin the tomatoes: Place a 4-quart pot filled with water over high heat. In a medium bowl, combine a quart of cold water and a quart of ice cubes. Using a sharp knife, score the pointy end of the tomatoes with an X. When the water boils, drop 2-3 tomatoes into the boiling water. Once the skins begin to split at the X, after 60- to 90-seconds, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice bath. Repeat this process with the remaining tomatoes. When they are all cool to the touch, pull off the loosened skins and compost. Remove the core and seeds and compost, then chop the tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces.

In a cast iron skillet, combine the onions and olive oil. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook until the onions are translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and the remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens into a jam, about 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature and transfer to a clean jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


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