Selecting Tomatoes

Red or yellow, tomatoes fall into several groups: cherry, grape, plum, and round slicing tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes are bite-sized. Italian plum tomatoes are oval. Slicing tomatoes are large and round, perfect for sandwich slices. Beefsteaks are a popular variety of slicing tomatoes.

Sliced tomatoes.
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These tomatoes are great slicing tomatoes.

Though available year-round, you may not want to eat what passes for fresh tomatoes in the wintertime. The best-tasting tomatoes are "vine-ripened," that is, they've been allowed to ripen on the vine, so they aren't made to ripen artificially. You may have to shop farmers' markets to find them. Moreover, there is no standard definition for the term "vine-ripened." Know your vendor before you trust the claim.

Look for tomatoes that are firm and well-shaped and have a noticeable fragrance. They should be heavy for their size and yield to slight pressure when gently squeezed, but they should not be overly soft. A common mistake is to store tomatoes in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures ruin the taste and texture of a good tomato. Also, wait until you're just ready to serve them before you slice them; once cut, flavor fades.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Tomatoes

Salads seem more complete with a ripe, red tomato. Sliced tomatoes, served on a bed of radicchio or arugula, drizzled with a flavored vinaigrette or balsamic vinegar, and topped with fresh basil can't be beat. Chopped fresh tomatoes add flavor, color, and nutrition to soups, stews, and casseroles. They're superb on hot pasta.

With a tomato, you get loads of flavor with very few calories. In the next section, we'll talk abut the health benefits of tomatoes.

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