Tomato season is a glorious season. Beefsteak, Roma, Plum, Sungold. Whatever kind you pick up at the farmers market, good, in-season tomatoes need nothing at all—except maybe a pinch of salt—to shine. Only because you’ll want to squeeze as many tomatoes as possible into your routine should you dress them up and combine them with other ingredients, as in a BLT, panzanella, Caprese salad, or even tomatoes with soy sauce. (Tomatoes love salt, after all, and this bold move is a great one). But always, during tomato season, the nightshade is the star.
And just like that, it’s over. Dull, watery orbs fill supermarket crates, and honestly, you’re better off skipping the T in BLT altogether than suffering the disappointment. Right?
I've got good news for all of you tomato lovers out there who can’t help but grieve for the end of the season just as soon as it starts. There are simple yet highly effective ways to improve out-of-season season tomatoes and make them, well, not just edible but worth eating.
Here are five ways to keep the magic alive.
Tip #1: Turn Up the Heat
Counteract the drabness of supermarket tomatoes by turning up the heat and concentrating flavor, like we've done in this recipe for Roasted Tomato Soup with Chipotle.
Cookbook author Yasmin Fahr uses this move often. She’ll drizzle olive oil over halved plum tomatoes and slow-roast them for two to three hours in a 200°F degree oven. Or, she’ll drizzle oil over a pint of cherry tomatoes and roast those in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. (Cherry or grape tomatoes will burst under the high heat, so there’s no need to slice them ahead of time.)
For both of these methods, you can sprinkle some herbs or spices ahead of roasting, and salt afterwards. It’s a dead-easy way to batch-cook tomatoes to then toss into salads or mix into pasta and not hate your life/winter.
Tip #2: Concentrate (and We Don’t Mean Focus)
You’ve heard of duck confit, which calls for slow-cooking duck legs in their own fat. Now try the tomato version, using a hefty glug of olive oil to cook down tomatoes.
This method relies on the same principle as using the heat of your oven to concentrate flavors, but the methods described above call for just a drizzle of oil, resulting in slow-roasted or blistered tomatoes, depending on the heat level. Alternatively, cooking down tomatoes in a lot of oil, either in the oven or the stove, produces tomato confit. Think of it like poaching tomatoes in olive oil for a really long time.
A good ratio here is 1/4 cup of olive oil for every pound of tomatoes. In a baking dish, semi-submerge the tomatoes in the oil, sprinkle with salt and herbs if you like, then slow-roast at 275°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you want to get really serious, throw a few garlic cloves into your baking tray, or even a whole head, halved. Once cooled or while still hot, the silky confit is incredible on toast, tossed into pasta, eaten with a spoon – you get the idea.
Tip #3: Pour Salt on Your Wound, Er, I Mean Tomato
You salt in-season tomatoes to maximize the shine factor; do this with out-of-season tomatoes, too, but there’s a catch: you have to let the salt sink in.
In the summer, it’s sprinkle and eat right away, because there’s no time to waste, and really no reason to wait. During the dark days, however, you have to let the salt sit on the sad tomatoes for 15 to 20 minutes. This helps separate the liquid from the flesh, causing water to drain and leaving you with tastier tomato chunks that also have a firmer, more satisfying texture.
For 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes (which is about 2 medium to large tomatoes), use 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. You will also end up with about 3/4 cup of flavorful, seasoned liquid to use separately: in a salad dressing, a sauce for meat or fish, or to hydrate grains.
Tip #4: Crack Open a Can
We don’t mean drink your sorrows away (although there’s a time and place for that, too). We mean don’t overlook canned tomatoes or tomato paste. If you’re making homemade tomato sauce or a stew where you want the tomatoes to break down (like this Chicken Stew with Onions, Tomatoes and Dijon), whole peeled are the way to go.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, canned diced tomatoes don’t actually break down as much when cooked because calcium chloride and citric acid help them to retain their shape. Canned diced tomatoes are great when you might want more defined tomato pieces, as in a chili.
Don’t overlook tomato paste, either. That umami-rich can is the most concentrated form of tomatoes you can get, and foodies in Los Angeles know it’s the secret to one of the best pastas in their city: the Fusilli alla Vodka at Jon & Vinny’s.
Pro tip: Always brown your tomato paste to caramelize the sugars and bring an extra level of depth to whatever you’re cooking.
Tip #5: Cherry (or Grape) Pick
When in doubt, choose cherry or grape tomatoes during the off season. They’re smaller, more reliably sweet, and fit for pretty much anything you’d make with another variety, whether it’s a Tomato Cucumber Feta Salad, Vegetable Shakshuka with Pesto, or a Tomato Galette with Parmesan Whole Wheat Crust.
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