By Head Chef Orlo Coots
August- the dog days of summer means the height of the tomato season. This is the time when eating a tomato is one of the special joys in life. For 10 ½ months of the year, it is best to avoid most tomatoes. However, now that August is here, you should try to eat as many locally grown tomatoes as you can get your hands on- and make sure to can or freeze the rest to enjoy the flavors of summer even longer.
There is nothing that says summer as much as plucking a tomato off the vine, slicing it and eating it simply with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add some fresh mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil and you have a wonderful meal bursting with the flavors of summer.
The 3 main types of tomatoes are plum, beef steak and cherry. There are dozens of varieties of beef steak and cherry. The beef steak tomatoes are the most seasonal of the 3 types. Edible plum and cherry varieties are available year round, but of course in summer they are at their peak. However, beef steak tomatoes should generally be avoided the rest of the year. They are picked green and color (but not really ripen) in their transport boxes.
But- in season they cannot be beat. They are versatile and can be used for just about any culinary application. The less you do to them, the better they are in summer. From simply seasoning with salt to making a tomato herb tart, the flavors are full and fresh. Try not to over work them in the summer. That can wait until later in the year when the fresh ones are flavorless and the best types to use are canned. Enjoy the summer product when the flavor is at its peak. For even better flavor, try to get a hold of some heirloom varieties for the fullest flavor of summer.
There are many great recipes for tomatoes and as long as you’re using fresh local summer tomatoes, you cannot go wrong. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh herbs and enjoy.
To keep some of the summer flavor for the rest of the year, try canning some summer tomatoes. If canning is not feasible, freezing is another alternative to enjoy some summer flavor throughout the year. While frozen tomatoes obviously will not be able to be sliced, they can be used in any preparation you would use canned tomatoes for and of course they do make a great sauce. To prepare the tomatoes for freezing, cut out the core and make an X on the other end. This makes peeling them later easier. Put them into zip-lock bags and freeze until ready to bring out the taste of summer.
Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking Thursday through Monday. (603) 444-2600. Orlo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions about tomatoes or any other food-related questions you may have. Remember- whether cooking for 1 or for a crowd, make every bite count.