Subscribe

Making the most of Sonoma County’s tomato season

How to care for tomatoes

Once you have great tomatoes, it is important to understand how to handle them so they retain as much flavor and pleasing texture as possible. It is not difficult to do this, but some of us have practices, such as refrigerating tomatoes, that we should retire. This is my best advice for keeping your tomatoes happy.

— Do not store fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator; temperatures below 58 degrees degrade a tomato’s texture, turning it mealy.

— Store tomatoes, stem end down, on a platter large enough to hold the tomatoes without them touching. Keep the platter away from heat and light, in a cool part of the kitchen, pantry or dining room. Use them within three days or within two days if they are very ripe or if the weather is particularly hot.

— If you have more tomatoes than you can use before they start to rot, chop them, stir in a little olive oil and keep them covered in the refrigerator for a day or two.

— To peel a fresh tomato, do not plunge it into boiling water, as most chefs suggest. This process cooks up to ¼ inch of the tomato’s outer flesh, and it dilutes the flavor. Instead, insert a fork into the stem end of a tomato and rotate it over a hot flame, burner or coals. Turn it fairly quickly so the skin pops and begins to blister. Set aside for a minute or two to cool and then use your fingers to peel off the skin.

— If you love tomatoes, invest in a good tomato knife, available at local cutlery stores. I prefer a porcelain knife, and there is one made specifically for tomatoes.

— When cutting tomatoes for slices, always cut parallel to their equators. For wedges, cut from pole to pole.

— To remove a tomato’s gel and seeds, slice it through its equator and hold it, cut side down, over a bowl. Squeeze gently and, if necessary, use a finger to loosen the gel.

Local tomatoes have appeared almost exactly on time, with The Patch of Sonoma bringing their fine Early Girl and heirloom tomatoes to our farmers markets in early July.

Their hybrid beefsteak tomatoes appeared a few weeks earlier. It looks like it will be a good crop this year, depending on where the tomatoes are grown. They are ripening more slowly in certain parts of west county, as the weather has been cooler than normal, a good thing overall but not if you are waiting for your tomatoes. Unlike in certain years, such as in 2013 when tomatoes didn’t ripen locally until early August, you have lots of options for delicious local tomatoes.

It is time for caprese salads, BLTs and other tomato sandwiches, freshly made salsas, fresh tomato soups and summer tomato sauce. It is also a good time to review the techniques that most flatter the season’s signature fruit. And yes, the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable.

But leave precision to writers, botanists and the courts. In 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas,” paving the way for the imposition of tariffs on imported tomatoes. Vegetables were not subject to the tariff.

Today’s recipes focus on tomato concassé, a simple technique essential in restaurants and easy to incorporate into home cooking. It has just two ingredients, tomatoes and salt, and doesn’t really require a recipe, though I have provided one here. After you make it a time or two, you’ll never need to look at it again.

This salsa has a richer texture and greater depth of flavor than pico de gallo, that salsa served in virtually every taqueria and Mexican cafe. It is delicious with chips, especially those from La Casa Foods of Sonoma, which may be the best chips in the known universe. Use this salsa on tacos, queso fundido, grilled fish, bean soups and in other dishes that call for its bright spicy deliciousness.

Salsa Cruda

Makes 2 ½ to 3 cups

2 ½ cups tomato concassé (recipe below)

1 small white onion, cut into small dice

3 or 4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

2 to 3 serranos, minced

2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste

Juice of ½ lemon, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons best-quality red wine vinegar

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano or 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

Put the tomato concassée into a medium bowl. Add the onion, garlic and serranos and toss together. Stir in the tomato paste, lemon juice and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the olive oil and add the cilantro and oregano.

Taste; correct for salt, pepper and acid; cover and let rest for 30 minutes before enjoying. Store covered in the refrigerator for two to three days.

When tomatoes are not in season, I enjoy this luscious risotto neat, but when they are are in season locally, adding tomato concassé creates a delightful dimension. I like to enjoy it with a dry sparkling wine, preferably from a Russian River Valley winery.

Meyer Lemon Risotto

Serves 3 to 4

1 ½ cups tomato concassé (recipe below)

1 garlic clove, pressed

Zest of 1 Meyer lemon

5 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

6 cups homemade chicken broth or 2 cups chicken stock combined with 4 cups water, hot

2 tablespoons butter

1 small white onion, diced

1 shallot, minced

1 ½ cups Italian rice, preferably Carnaroli or Vialone Nano

4 ounces triple-cream cheese of choice (such as brie or Camembert)

1 Meyer lemon, peeled and seeded, membranes removed

2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley or very thinly sliced basil

Make the tomato concassé. Add half the garlic, half the lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Stir, taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Keep the broth or stock in a saucepan set over medium heat.

Set a heavy deep saucepan, such as an All Clad saucier, over medium heat. Add the butter and when it is melted, add the onion and shallot and saute until soft and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes; do not brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until each grain begins to turn milky white, about 2 minutes.

Add the stock half a cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is nearly completely absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender, about 16 to 20 minutes total cooking time.

When the rice is almost tender, stir in the remaining lemon zest and lemon juice and the cheese. Stir well, until the cheese is melted. Taste, correct for salt and pepper and stir in a final ¼ cup of stock. Remove from the heat, quickly fold in the lemon and ladle into soup bowls.

Spoon concassé over each portion, sprinkle with parsley and enjoy right away.

Tomato concassé is simply minced tomatoes that have been drained of most of their liquid and seasoned with salt. Use it in everything from salsa and gazpacho to soups, sauces, pasta and pizza.

Tomato Concassé

Makes about 2 ½ cups

2 pounds red, ripe beefsteak tomatoes

Kosher salt, to taste

Peel the tomatoes by placing one at a time on the end of a fork and rotating it over a high flame or hot burner to quickly blister the skin. Repeat until all the tomatoes have been seared.

Use your fingers to pull off the skin, starting with the first tomato seared, as it will have cooled sufficiently.

Cut out the stem cores and cut the tomatoes in half through their equators.

Set a strainer over a deep bowl and gently squeeze out the gel and seeds. Stir the gel now and then to releases its juice. When all the tomatoes have been seeded and the gel has released all of its juice, put the seeds into the compost.

Mince the tomatoes by hand as finely as possible and transfer them to the strainer. Add a generous pinch of salt, stir and let drain for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring now and then.

Use the concassé right away or pour into a glass jar and refrigerate for a day or two.

Pour the juice, sometimes called tomato water, into a glass container, too. Use it to make a Bloody Mary or a Virgin Mary, with plenty of lemon juice and a little drizzle of olive oil.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

How to care for tomatoes

Once you have great tomatoes, it is important to understand how to handle them so they retain as much flavor and pleasing texture as possible. It is not difficult to do this, but some of us have practices, such as refrigerating tomatoes, that we should retire. This is my best advice for keeping your tomatoes happy.

— Do not store fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator; temperatures below 58 degrees degrade a tomato’s texture, turning it mealy.

— Store tomatoes, stem end down, on a platter large enough to hold the tomatoes without them touching. Keep the platter away from heat and light, in a cool part of the kitchen, pantry or dining room. Use them within three days or within two days if they are very ripe or if the weather is particularly hot.

— If you have more tomatoes than you can use before they start to rot, chop them, stir in a little olive oil and keep them covered in the refrigerator for a day or two.

— To peel a fresh tomato, do not plunge it into boiling water, as most chefs suggest. This process cooks up to ¼ inch of the tomato’s outer flesh, and it dilutes the flavor. Instead, insert a fork into the stem end of a tomato and rotate it over a hot flame, burner or coals. Turn it fairly quickly so the skin pops and begins to blister. Set aside for a minute or two to cool and then use your fingers to peel off the skin.

— If you love tomatoes, invest in a good tomato knife, available at local cutlery stores. I prefer a porcelain knife, and there is one made specifically for tomatoes.

— When cutting tomatoes for slices, always cut parallel to their equators. For wedges, cut from pole to pole.

— To remove a tomato’s gel and seeds, slice it through its equator and hold it, cut side down, over a bowl. Squeeze gently and, if necessary, use a finger to loosen the gel.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette