When I take my first bite of a fresh, juicy, vine-ripened tomato each summer I always wonder why I even bother eating them the rest of the year. They almost taste like a different food altogether! Fortunately, it’s that time of year again and we can celebrate and enjoy tomatoes – this month’s harvest and one of Vermont’s favorite summer crops.
There are more than 1,000 varieties of tomato and they are all excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium and the nutrient lycopene. They also contain ample B vitamins, including niacin and folate, as well as a good dose of dietary fiber.
When you are buying or picking tomatoes, select those that are deeply colored and firm with a little give when gently squeezed. The skin should be smooth and free of wrinkles, which indicate that the tomato is past its prime. Smell the tomato for their signature fragrance – woody, herby and sweet. If the tomatoes don’t have a scent they are likely not ripe or were picked well before their prime.
Store tomatoes on your counter, never in the refrigerator! The cold stops the ripening process and can actually damage the tomatoes. They should be completely dry when stored and ideally not washed until right before you use them. If they need a little more ripening, place them in a paper bag with a piece of fruit and loosely fold the bag closed. The paper bag is best because it is porous, allowing for airflow, which keeps the tomatoes dry and free of molds. In the bag, the fruit (apples work well) will emit ethylene gas that will help ripen the tomatoes faster, but they will also ripen just sitting out on the counter for a few days.
Tomatoes can be used in many ways – both raw and cooked in sauces, soups, and sautés. They add good acidity, but also sweetness to dishes and especially when they are cooked in sauces, which is why so many are tomato-based. When raw, tomatoes are tangy and very fresh tasting so they can brighten a dish, both taste-wise and visually with their beautiful pigments.
In this month’s recipe – tortellini and tomato salad – tomatoes add some tang and sweetness along with the fresh corn, which we all know as our other favorite summer vegetable. The vegetables and cheese tortellini are tossed in a savory vinaigrette that gets great depth of flavor from Worcestershire sauce and sharp parmesan with a hint of lemon to keep it balanced. Freshly chopped basil adds its signature aroma and flavor – sweet, but peppery, with a hint of anise. This dish is perfect for a summer picnic and can easily be made gluten free by substituting gluten free pasta. To change it up a bit, try adding some chopped nuts or grilled vegetables (zucchini, summer squash or eggplant work well). Serve over a bed of greens for a complete and easy meal.
For more on tomatoes including recipes, factoids, and fun activities for kids, check out the Vermont Harvest of the Month website.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.
Tortellini and Tomato Salad
- 29-oz packages refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini
- 1/2cupolive oil
- 1/2cupgrated Parmesan cheese
- 3Tbsplemon juice
- 2cloves garlic
- 1tspWorcestershire sauce
- 2cupsbaby heirloom tomatoes, halved
- 1cupfresh corn kernels
- 1/2cupgreen onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2cupfresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 1pinchsalt and pepper to taste
- Prepare tortellini according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, place olive oil, parmesan, lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in blender and process until smooth.
- Combine rest of ingredients and toss with hot cooked tortellini and blended olive oil mixture.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste, serve.