Fresh tomatoes can be on the menu

August 23, 2011|Lynn Little

Tomatoes, one of the most popular summer vegetables, come in several colors (red, yellow, orange and green) and shapes (round, plum and cherry). They are low in calories and high in vitamins A and C, and antioxidants. Nothing tastes quite as good as tomatoes fresh from the garden.

Choose brightly colored tomatoes with smooth skins. The most flavorful tomatoes are vine-ripened. Fragrance is a better indicator of a good tomato than color. Smell the stem end, which should remind you of the aroma of a fresh tomato plant. Locally grown tomatoes may not be as pretty as store bought, but the flavor will be superior.

Store ripe tomatoes on the counter at room temperature for several days and then refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to one week. Only refrigerate overripe tomatoes for a short time. Refrigeration alters tomatoes' flavor and texture.

If you purchase tomatoes that are slightly green, they will ripen at room temperature. Avoid the temptation to place tomatoes on the windowsill because they will only soften and not develop their best flavor.

Prepare tomatoes by removing green stems and rinsing under running water. Eat tomatoes raw or cooked (bake, broil, grill, saute, or microwave).

 Make salsa. Salsa is one of the most popular ways to use fresh tomatoes, make a fresh tomato salsa and serve with low-fat corn chips for a summer snack. You will need 1 cup chopped tomatoes; 1/3 cup chopped fresh roasted or canned chilies; 3 green onions, chopped; 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves; and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and chill. Serve with tortilla or pita wedges. Store salsa in refrigerator for up to three days in a covered plastic or glass container.  

 Serve fresh tomatoes sliced or in sandwiches. Add chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes to salad or pasta. Use plum tomatoes in cooked salsa and Italian dishes.

 Eat tomato slices with your meals. Just rinse, slice and serve tomatoes. Tomato slices can also be added to your favorite sandwich or salad. Add chopped tomatoes to pizza before baking it.

 Snack on cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes. They're fun finger foods and make great snacks with or without dip.

 You can enjoy salsa all year long by either canning or freezing homemade salsa. If you want to can salsa, you must choose a tested recipe, which can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation (; in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, or in the Ball Blue Book. The tested recipes will include instructions for the recommended processing method.

Freezing the salsa will protect garden-fresh flavors and reduce the risks of foodborne illness. Freezing also allows flexibility and creativity in preparing your salsa recipe. Frozen salsa might become mushy, if so, drain as needed before serving. Homemade salsa can typically be frozen for up to 12 months.

Tis the season to enjoy fresh, locally grown tomatoes.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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