Ideally, tomatoes should be allowed to ripen
slowly on the plant so that their flavor can develop. Consequently,
home-grown tomatoes are best, followed by those grown and sold locally.
When buying from a supermarket or greengrocer, look at the leafy green
tops; the fresher they look the better. Buy locally grown beefsteak or
cherry tomatoes for salads and plum tomatoes for rich sauces. Paler
tomatoes or those tinged with green will redden if kept in a brown paper
bag or the salad drawer of the fridge, but if you intend to use tomatoes
straight away, buy bright red specimens. Overripe tomatoes, where the
skin has split and they seem to be bursting with juice, are excellent in
soups. However, check for any sign of mould or decay, as this will spoil
all your good efforts.
When preparing, slice tomatoes across rather
than downwards for salads and pizza toppings. For wedges, cut downwards;
halve or quarter and cut into two or three depending on the size of the
tomato. Among the many classic tomato dishes is tomato soup, cooked to a
delicate orange color with stock or milk, or simmered with vegetables,
garlic and basil.
In Provencal cooking and Italian dishes,
tomatoes are used with fish, meat and vegetables, in sauces and
stuffing, with pasta and in superb salads. The natural astringency of
tomatoes means that, in salads, they need only be sprinkled with a
fruity olive oil.
Chopped tomatoes add a depth of flavor to
all sorts of meat and vegetarian dishes. Ideally, even in fairly rustic
meals, the tomatoes should be peeled, since the skin can be irritating
to eat once cooked. Some sauces also recommend seeding tomatoes, in
which case cut the tomato into halves and scoop out the seeds before
chopping. If skinning of tomatoes is required, just cut a cross in the
tops of the tomatoes, then place in a bowl and pour over boiling water.
Leave for a minute, then use a sharp knife to peel away the skin, which
should come away easily. Do a few at a time otherwise they will begin to
cook while soaking; boil the kettle for the next batch when you have
finished peeling. The water must be boiling.