At Market: How to pick a good tomato!

A Guide to How To Pick a Good Tomato

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Simply because Cyprus boasts several growing seasons thanks to the Mediterranean climate, we are blessed with a bounty of local produce. Rare is the case where we have to purchase a fruit or vegetable that is imported (Unless, of course, it’s a specialty item, bought sparingly and mostly for a treat). This is not the case for most readers who are cooking outside of the Mediterranean. No matter where in the world you’re reading this article, consider that purchasing locally-produced perishables is almost always better.

In milder climates, summer is the time for tomatoes. This is not the case here in the Med, as the harsh sun and dry heat that runs from June to early September is not ideal for producing large, juicy tomatoes. The best ones, actually, are the smallest in the summer months; cherry and grape tomatoes are bursting with flavor, can be eaten as a snack, along with drinks or even grilled. With summer now gone, these too have slowly faded away, though you can still find them. Tomatoes can be grown to maturity in 6-8 weeks, so the tomatoes that come to market now have been blessed by the warm temperatures of September, without the dry scorching heat of August. We’ll have great tomatoes for a while now and here in Cyprus we’ll be soon seeing a flood of them in different varieties straight through to next June.

We all think a good tomato is big and red and has no blemishes. That is, until you’ve ever tried to grow one. Most tomatoes grown locally and what we can consider organic are nothing like that at all. Unless you’re growing your own on heaps of seasoned compost, most tomatoes are no more the size of an apple. Only if your garden is in the full sun all day will the tomatoes be bright red. And only if you’re careful enough to put netting around your vegetable garden to keep bugs out will you have no blemishes.

All tomatoes are not created equal. Are you one of those who gravitate towards the most expensive ones? Ever wonder who buys the ones in cheaper bins? Ioanna is like you and I’m the one buying all the ones that are a day away from being tossed. We’re forever at odds on how to pick produce but our greatest showdowns are over tomatoes. I like to separate tomatoes into categories, depending on what we are doing with it.

•Eating them fresh? Only if you care to part with a great deal of your money should you ever buy the most expensive ones. The freshest ones are usually the most expensive, but this doesn’t always mean they’re the tastiest. Skip the tomatoes that are totally firm; if they are as hard as an apple, they’ll have no taste. Slightly firm ones are great for hamburgers or sandwiches, like the Cerines Club Sandwich.

•Making them into a salad? Go for the less expensive, ripe tomatoes. These are the ones with the flavor.

•Making them into a tomato sauce or baking them? Choose the cheapest ones, the ugly blemished ones–these are the sleeping beauties of the tomato bin. Tomatoes that are deep red and overripe have developed a natural sugar that is perfect for canning, making into tomato sauce or tomato juice. They’re also great for Tortina al pomodoro, featured in the May 2014 issue of Taste Magazine.

Now that you’re armed with the guide to choosing the right tomatoes,  what to do with them? Try this easy salad to enjoy your tomatoes as they were meant to be. Click here for the recipe!