From the moment the first tomato appears at my local farmers market, marking the beginning of the season, all I can think about is how to make the most of this glorious summer produce.
Tomatoes vary widely in size, shape, color, flavor, and texture; seek out heirloom varieties to experience their full spectrum. You’ll find them in shapes from bright yellow to deep red and purple, with variegated versions in oranges and greens in between, some almost candy-sweet and others with a pronounced tang. All are packed with that essential umami flavor that makes any dish pop.
Eaten raw or cooked in myriad ways, each type of tomato has unique characteristics that are better suited for specific uses.
Cherry tomatoes are ideally eaten whole and raw in salads, or quickly cooked to serve alongside steak, chicken, or fish. Their thick skin stays intact, so that they burst in your mouth with a pop of sweet flavor and juiciness. I often sauté them together with shrimp and masses of garlic to make a quick sauce to serve over pasta.
Roma, or plum tomatoes, have an oblong shape, dense flesh, few seeds, and a tangy flavor. They are sensational sliced in half and slow-roasted, and used to make sauces, soups, and stews. I love roasting Roma tomatoes and jarring them in olive oil to use later on in winter salads.
Campari and cocktail tomatoes, grown and sold in clusters on the vine, have thin skins and light flesh, useful for cooking everything from elegant soups to robust stews, and tomato jams to sauces. They’re also perfect in size for throwing on the grill.
Beefsteak tomatoes, the largest of all, have meaty flesh and typically a sweet, balanced flavor. They’re ideal for making caprese salads, sandwiches, salsas, and raw soups like gazpacho—or simply eating sliced with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
In the market, look for unblemished tomatoes that feel heavy for their size when you hold them. Heirloom varieties tend to have thinner, more delicate skin and bruise easily, so take care when transporting and storing. I store mine in a bowl on the kitchen counter, never in the fridge—unless they are really ripe, and I need to prolong their life for a day or so.
Here, I’m sharing three tomato recipes, each calling for different types. For a Moroccan-style tomato jam, anything goes, but Roma or vine tomatoes are best. Next, I use red beefsteaks to make a Southern tomato pie, as their deep red color will not fade when roasted. Lastly, for a peach, plum, and tomato salad, I pair the stone fruits with a medley of different heirloom varieties, for a gorgeous mix of colors, textures, and sweet and tangy flavors.
Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home.