31 Days of Vegetables

Tomatoes: The Best Ways to Pick Them, Cook Them, and Eat Them

updated Jul 1, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

What is there to say about ripe summer tomatoes that hasn’t been said already? More to the point: What isn’t silly to say when you could, instead, be eating a tomato? Not a winter tomato with icy innards, but a real, ripe, velvety summer tomato, maybe with a sprinkle of salt or a smear of mayo on white bread. But do you know the best little tomato hack for cherry tomatoes? Or the best knife ever for slicing them? Read on for all you need to know to be a tomato expert this summertime, plus dozens of recipes we love (it was so hard to choose!).

Credit: Brie Passano
15-Minute Fresh Tomato and Feta Tart

Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Why do tomatoes come in for such scrutiny? They are, botanically speaking, a fruit, as they have seeds and emerge from the flower of a plant. But by this criteria, zucchini and bean pods are just as much fruit as tomatoes are! Tomatoes are botanically fruit, but in culinary terms, thanks to their relatively minimal sweetness, they are considered a vegetable. (Maybe it’s their juiciness and bright color that makes us want to treat them more like plums and peaches than squash.)

The Tomato Top 5

Five things you really must know if you love tomatoes as much as we do.

  1. Do you know this funny hack for slicing little tomatoes quickly?
  2. Three ridiculous rules for eating tomatoes!
  3. Do you know the difference between grape and cherry tomatoes?
  4. The best way to store cut tomatoes.
  5. The rules of the festival where you toss tomatoes at each other.
Credit: Lucy Hewett

How to Choose the Best Tomato

When it comes to choosing good fresh tomatoes, it’s all about the smell. Look for tomatoes at the farmers market that are firm but also heavy, and that have a whiff of tomato aroma. Also look for tomatoes of different colors and shapes; part of what makes summer tomatoes so great is discovering new flavors and varietals of tomatoes.

Credit: Brie Passano
1-Minute Tomato Sandwich

Types of Tomatoes to Look For

We’re all familiar with the grape and cherry tomatoes at the grocery store, plus the big scarlet beefsteak tomatoes and smaller Roma tomatoes. But there are thousands of tomato varietiesover 10,000, in fact, according to Wikipedia. There are many to look for at the farmers market this summer.

Personally I love black tomatoes like the Black Krim. When I call a tomato “velvety,” this is what I mean: thin skin, so juicy, balanced acidity, a touch of sweetness. Read more about black tomatoes here: Summer Love: The ‘Black’ Tomato

Here are some more tomato varieties to look out for: Blush, Purple Bumblebee, Juliet, Sungold, Cherokee Green, and any of the ones in this rainbow tomato roundup.

What’s your favorite tomato variety?

My Absolute Favorite Tomato Knife

I’ve been using this smaller utility knife (we love utility knives here!), and it’s just the perfect tomato knife — not too big or heavy so it won’t crush delicate ripe tomatoes, but it has a sharp serrated edge that has stayed sharp for several years now. I reach for this knife all the time!

Credit: Jeff Roffman
How To Pickle Cherry Tomatoes

The Best Way to Store Fresh Tomatoes

Storing fresh tomatoes is simple but also a little bit different from the conventional advice you may have heard. Yes, tomatoes are best stored at room temperature, but cool room temperature. Keep whole ripe tomatoes out of the sun and in the coolest spot of your kitchen (a cool pantry or cupboard is ideal) with plenty of air ventilation and away from other fruits and vegetables. Once you cut those tomatoes, though, it’s best to refrigerate them.

Tomato Tarte Tatin

The Best Ways to Eat Tomatoes

Look, there are lots of ways to eat fresh tomatoes. I’m partial to a sliced tomato drizzled with really good olive oil (see my splurge-y favorite here) and sprinkled with flaky salt (get my favorite here).

But after that you need to count down maybe the top classic ways to enjoy a really fresh summer tomato.

  1. In a sandwich: Like the Mozzacado, or the 1-Minute Tomato Sandwich in all its glory. Or maybe even a tomato grilled cheese sandwich. Personally I go straight for the classic Italian-style Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich.
  2. In a glorious salad: Like this Tomato Salad with Red Onion, Dill and Feta or this simple, perfect summer tomato salad. And here’s a great one for packed lunches: Tomato Chickpea Salad.
  3. In summer soup: Don’t forget gazpacho, like this classic version or this one too: Chilled Gazpacho Andaluz in the Style of Pedro Almodóvar.
Credit: Faith Durand
Tomato & Mozzarella Caprese Skewers

Our Top 5 Tomato Caprese Recipes

Because let’s face it: Tomato and mozzarella belong together. Here’s the classic, plus some twists.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
How to Make Tomato Paste

The Best Ways to Cook Tomatoes

So you are flush with tomatoes. How do you use them up? Want to cook or preserve a big batch of summer tomatoes? Start here.

Recipe: Tomato Butter

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Tomatoes

Got too many tomatoes? The best thing to do with tomatoes that are about to go mushy or bad is to simmer them down into a sauce and cool it then freeze it. It will use up a lot of tomatoes and make you feel like an all-star champ! Here’s how to make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes.

Another idea? Tomato butter! This is a simply ingenious yet easy idea that gives you a tangy orange butter for slapping on good bread. Pure heaven.

Can Dogs Eat Tomatoes?

First off, as always, consult your veterinarian if you want truly expert advice on what to feed your particular pet. Green tomatoes and tomato plants are not healthy or safe for dogs, and so keep them away. Fully ripe tomatoes are fine in moderation, but again! Best to ask your veterinarian before feeding human food to pets.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
Tortellini with Butter-Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

Our Top 20 Tomato Recipes

From canned to fresh, pasta to soup, here are 20 recipes that show why tomatoes are one of the best vegetables of all.

Credit: Faith Durand
Gnocchi Skillet with Chicken Sausage & Tomatoes

What’s your favorite recipe or use for tomatoes? Is there something you just can’t wait to do with tomatoes every summer?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days.How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!