Seasonal Pantry: Tomato season means it's time for BLTs

After several years of waiting until mid-summer for tomato season to kick in locally, we're off to an early start this year. We've had local tomatoes since early June, not a lot, but they are more every week.

It's just about time for the year's first BLT.

I think it is time to revisit tomato basics, too, so that we can indulge in one of summer's finest foods with confidence that we're taking as good care of it in the kitchen as our farmers do in the field.

When it comes to varieties, there are thousands to choose from when you are planting. At the market, we have several dozen options, almost all of which are good. Some are best for slicing, some for salsa, others for soup and sauce.

A few, like the Sungold cherry tomato, are best just popped in your mouth and savored. They are like garden candy, sweet and irresistible.

Once you get tomatoes home, you should store them at room temperature and not — let me repeat that, not — in the refrigerator. Most tomatoes begins to turn mealy when held at temperatures below 58 degrees.

Don't pile them one on top of the other, either, lest you hasten spoilage. For the best results, use a flat platter, turn them stem ends down, leave a bit of space around each one and set them away from sunlight. Still, you'll need to use them within a couple of days, as they have been harvested ripe, ready to eat.

If you find yourself with more tomatoes than you can eat before they spoil, you have a couple of options. It is easiest just to chop them, put them in a bowl and season with a little salt. This adds a couple of days to their life and you can finish by turning them into salsa, sauce or soup when you've got the time. If you're really overwhelmed, simply freeze them whole and deal with them when you have a chance.

One of the more controversial aspects of tomatoes is how to peel them. I'm always surprised to see chefs recommend dunking them in boiling water, but I hear it over and over and see it in cookbooks, too. This technique will certainly get the skin off but it also cooks the first 1/8 to ? inch of flesh and it dilutes the flavor. I do not recommend it.

There are two good ways to peel local in-season tomatoes. Some varieties, picked at their exact moment of perfection, are so easy to peel that all you need to do is tug at the skin and off it comes.

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