It’s a fruit we treat like a vegetable, a nontoxic member of the nightshade family, born in South America but internationally famous. It’s the tomato, of course. And though it can be pricey in winter, in summer it’s indecently cheap at farm stands and markets. You can buy a whole basket for just a few bucks. Which is great, because this is when they’re ripe and lush. They’re one of the superfoods, rich in vitamins A and C and the antioxidant lycopene, so they’re good for you as well.
We love cheap eats — and this time of year, tomatoes qualify. So do zucchini and corn.
They’re versatile, too. As kids, we used to pick them warm from the garden and eat them like apples. Sliced on a plate, with a touch of sea salt, they need no other adornment. But let’s give it a shot, anyway.
Fresh tomatoes dress up any salad, add pizzazz to soups, can be broiled as a side dish (top halves with a little cheese), and diced or sliced thinly for homemade pizza. And don’t forget to make homemade salsa, using fresh green chiles. It rocks.
Here are some of our favorite ways to use fresh tomatoes:
Bruschetta with tomato and basil
Fresh garden tomatoes at the peak of ripeness is what makes this eminently simple dish a gourmet delight.
Classic Italian Bruschetta Recipe
In a bowl, put diced ripe tomatoes (at least one large per person), chopped fresh sweet basil, a touch of garlic, a dash of good olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Let it sit for a few minutes to marinate.
Meanwhile, toast some slices of leftover baguette or ciabatta bread. Top the toasted bread with the tomato mixture and add a few shavings of Parmesan cheese. We’ll bet you’re going to find it better than any you’ve ever had in a restaurant. Makes a great light lunch or a company appetizer.
Fresh tomato pasta
Cook some of your favorite pasta — even tortellini or ravioli. While it’s cooking, pour a dab of olive oil into a skillet, add some garlic and cook gently for a few minutes. Add a couple of cups of diced fresh tomato per person and stir, heating through. Add a sprinkle of fresh chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce and serve with some fresh-grated Parmesan cheese. It makes a perfect light, vegetarian supper on its own, or a great side dish with grilled chicken or fish. If you like things spicy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes (with the garlic) to the “sauce” — or dress it up with a handful of chopped black olives. Add a little more olive oil to finish, if needed.
Fresh tomato soup
Once you eat fresh tomato soup, you’ll never go back to canned.
In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter (or olive oil). Add 1 large onion, chopped; one large carrot, chopped; and one stalk of celery, sliced. Sauté the vegetables over medium heat till carrot is tender. Sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of flour and stir well for about 30 seconds, to coat vegetables. Then add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and stir again. Now add 1 pound of fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped. Stir and then add 1 ½ cups of chicken or vegetable stock and stir again. Add 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, a bay leaf (optional), a few sprigs of fresh parsley, a pinch of thyme and ½ teaspoon of paprika.
Stir all together well and bring to a low simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and – either with a stick immersion blender or a regular blender – puree till smooth. (Be careful when pureeing hot foods — don’t overload the blender and keep a kitchen towel handy in case it splatters.) Pour mixture back into the pot and add 2½ cups of milk. Heat but do not boil. Taste to correct seasoning (it may need salt and you may like to add some pepper). Serves 4.
This is a great way to use overripe tomatoes past their prime.
Fresh homemade tomato salsa
Dice up four or more fresh tomatoes straight from your garden and add chopped cilantro, onion, fresh jalapeño, and salt and pepper. This is the freshest, most delicious pico de gallo salsa we’ve ever tried! And with only four ingredients, plus salt and pepper, it’s also one of the easiest homemade salsas to whip up directly from your garden.
Summer tomato salad
You’ll find numerous versions of this tomato salad recipe on the web; what makes it so wonderful in the summertime is that you can easily find every ingredient at its freshest – maybe even from your own vegetable garden!
The basic ingredients of a light and delicious summer tomato salad include:
- Tomatoes – either slicing tomatoes, roma, or even grape size
- Onion – either red, green, or sweet Vidalia
- Vinaigrette – use a prepared dressing or combine quality oil with a nice vinegar
Once you have your basic salad, you can make several variations depending on the other ingredients you have on hand. Toss in cool cucumber for the classic light summer dish, add an avocado for healthy fat, or add mozzarella to give your summer tomato salad an Italian flare.
For more great recipes using summer’s bounty of tomatoes, go online to Food Network Recipes or just Google “tomato recipes.” We’ve also got more suggestions for frugal summer meals:
- How to throw a picnic for less
- How to save money on a summer party
- Best vegetarian burgers using cheap and tasty beans
- Free guides on how to barbecue safely
- Cheap recipes for your summer barbecue
- Use your cookout leftovers in an egg bake