Q: Chef, I've noticed several different varieties of tomatoes at local farmers markets.
What are the best tasting varieties? Do you have any good recipes?
A: Tomatoes are available year round at the grocery store but it is hard to beat the tastiness of a juicy, vine-ripened tomato.
The season for locally grown tomatoes is fleeting so take advantage of it while you can.
The best tasting variety of tomato? The answer depends on how you plan to use it. Some tomatoes are best for salads, others are best sliced and served on your favorite sandwich and others are best for cooking and sauces.
The following list is a general guideline of the best uses for the tomatoes available in our area:
Salad tomatoes: Roma, Juliet, yellow pear, early cascade and viva Italia, Mariana.
Cherry or grape tomatoes: Sun sugar, super sweet, sun gold, sweet million, sweet baby girl, black cherry and riesenstraube.
Slicing tomatoes: Early girl, better boy, ultra sweet, celebrity, beefsteak, brandywine and big boy.
Heirloom tomatoes: Brandywine, black krim, lemon yellow, hahnstown yellow, Amish oxheart, pink lady, and Eva's Amish stripe.
Heirloom tomatoes or hybrid tomatoes: The definition of an heirloom tomato can vary depending on who you ask.
The term usually refers to produce that was grown before World War II or is at least 50 (although some say 60) years old. It is open pollinated.
That means it is pollinated naturally by insects or wind, without the intervention of humans.
Unlike hybrids, the seeds from a parent plant consistently produce plants with similar qualities. These plants are genetically unique and have evolved a resistance to pests and weather in a certain area.
There are four types of heirlooms:
Family: Seeds that have been saved and passed down through generations of a family.
Created: A created heirloom is a tomato that has been crossed using two heirloom varieties or an heirloom and a hybrid in order to achieve certain characteristics. It initially starts out as a hybrid but becomes "dehybridized" after saving the seeds and replanting for five to eight growing seasons.
Commercial: Open pollinated varieties introduced by seed companies before 1960 and more than 40 years in circulation. Some definitions say before 1940 and more than 50 years in circulation.
Mystery: A variety of tomato that is the product of a mutation or cross pollination that occurred naturally.
A hybrid tomato is created when two different varieties are purposely cross-pollinated to achieve specific characteristics of the "parents."
Hybrids were developed for two main reasons; to facilitate large scale commercial production and transport of vegetables to the public and to assure more consistent results for home gardeners. Hybrid plants are:
Uniform in size, yield and timing of harvest.
Easier to transport, last longer and bruise less.
Both hybrids and heirlooms have their advantages and disadvantages.
Heirlooms genetically are diverse and their flavor is considered superior to hybrids.
They are more of a mixed bag to grow and there are variations in harvest time and size. Hybrids are more predictable but are not considered quite as tasty.
Tomatoes are considered a low calorie food but they contain lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
They are an excellent source of vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum and vitamin K.
They are a good source of copper, potassium, manganese, vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E and phosphorus. And they are delicious, too!
When shopping for tomatoes, choose ones that feel heavy for their size.
They should smell sweetish and earthy, not musty. Avoid ones that have wrinkles, cracks, bruises and soft spots. They should yield to gentle pressure but should not be mushy.
Tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. It damages the membranes inside the fruit walls resulting in mushy, mealy fruit.
The kitchen counter is a good place to store tomatoes that are not quite ripe. Ripe tomatoes can be stored for a day or two in a cool, dark place.
Fully ripened tomatoes will spoil after a few days at room temperature so they must be used or refrigerated. These tomatoes are best used in soups, sauces etc.
To prepare tomatoes, discard the stem and rinse well in cool, running water.
Cut off the calyx end and halve, cube, chop or dice. The seeds are very nutritious so it is best to choose recipes that include the seeds.
Do not use aluminum cookware because the high acid content of tomatoes can leech the aluminum into the food.
Following are several of my favorite tomato recipes:
Pico de gallo
3 cups diced tomato
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 1/2 cups course chopped fresh cilantro
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, diced
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons lime infused olive oil
Course Hawaiian clay salt and pepper
Mix together tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper in bowl.
Salt and pepper to taste. Pour lime juice and lime infused olive oil over mixtures. Stir.
Roasted pepper and tomato chutney
1 red pepper, halved and seeded
1 yellow pepper, halved and seeded
1 green pepper, halved and seeded
1 large onion, halved
6 tomatoes (these can be over ripe, bruised or split tomatoes)
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved and seeded
Salt and pepper
Juice of 3 limes
Place vegetables on a large sheet tray. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast in a hot 475 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until the peppers start to brown.
Remove from oven and pour lime juice over mixture.
Place mixture in food processor and pulse until it reaches the consistency you desire (we like it chunky). This can be served right away, still warm, or it can be refrigerated and served later with chips.
10-12 Roma tomatoes (these can be over ripe, bruised or split tomatoes)
5 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Place all vegetables on sheet tray. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast in a hot 475 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Place in food processor and puree. Simmer in a stock pot on the stove until mixture thickens and is the consistency of sauce.
Chef Hosch and Ann are a husband and wife team devoted to healthy and gourmet cooking and catering. Chef Hosch is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., and brings more than 25 years of experience and passion to his culinary arts. Ann is an occupational therapist and has worked as a cook and baker in the past. Chef Hosch and Ann opened the Tower Cafe, 1000 Commerce Park Drive, in December 2013. They serve lunch Monday through Friday. Chef Hosch and Ann specialize in creating food for all tastes and diets. Their column is published on the first Wednesday of each month in the Food section. Submit cooking questions for Chef Hosch and Ann to firstname.lastname@example.org and "Like" them on Facebook to ask questions and get tips and recipes.