Tomato

Sara Jenkins' Guide to Making Good Food with Bad Tomatoes

August 26, 2016

You already know what to do with a perfect tomato (not much). But because you won't always have access to a bursting garden or farmers market—and sometimes even the lookers turn out to be mealy or mushy anyway—we asked our Chef in Residence Sara Jenkins what she'd do to bring out the best in some of the worst offenders.

Within two hours, this is what she sent back to us.

Overripe/Busted

I'm in love right now with Rachel Roddy's Roman rice-stuffed tomatoes, baked in olive oil with cut-up potatoes nestled in between. Overripe tomatoes are great for this because they should have maximum flavor and their soft, overripe structure will make them bake up perfectly around the rice.

Crunchy

Deep fry them, either breaded or battered—because they are hard, their structure will hold up to frying. I always like my fried food with lemon but yogurt would be awesome, too.

Watery

Make a really thick classic gazpacho like they make in Córdoba with lots of bread to thicken and make it creamy. Also squeeze them for juice and use it as a risotto base or to serve fish in the Neapolitan aqua pazza style, poached in tomato water, herbs, and chile (Editor's note: a.k.a. fish in crazy water).

Seedy

Actually, the sack around the seeds—which also has the most lycopene—is very flavorful, so I don't mind seedy. I'd use these for finely diced salsa, or my favorite summer pasta where you toss hot spaghetti with finely diced, raw, marinated tomatoes (adding garlic, salt, lots of olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and the herb of your choice). I have to say I am very fond of the seed and the jelly around them as a flavor/texture.

Mealy

One of my favorite techniques I've picked up over the years is to grate tomatoes on a box grater for quick access to skinless pulp and juice. It's much easier and faster than blanching, peeling, and dicing, which can get tedious. It's useful for everything from summer tomato sauce to salsa to the base for a vinaigrette. It's also really good with a bunch of lime juice to marinate raw fish in.

Rock-hard Beefsteaks from the Grocery Store

I would slice them into thick wheels and roast them in a hot oven with salt and olive oil. Then I'd bake them in a tart using my best friend's mother's recipe. (Editor's note: Yes, we got the recipe, and we'll share it if you ask nicely.) I might also chop the roasted beefsteaks and use them in a salsa or just dress hot spaghetti with them, or pair them on a plate with other summer vegetables like roasted or grilled zucchini.

Rock-hard Romas from the Grocery Store

Cut them in half and salt them, then roast quickly in a very hot oven. They should cook down and concentrate. I would serve them with any kind of protein, or paired with roasted eggplant puree. You can also slow roast them with lots of olive oil and herbs and serve with grilled steak or on top of grilled bread/crostini even with beautiful mozzarella. The slow-roasted are going to break down and be rich and soft, the quick-cooking ones should dry up, concentrate, and intensify in flavor.

Grape Tomatoes from the Grocery Store

Well, these are really my secret vice in January when I'm craving tomatoes and there are none. I think they are great, halved and salted and tossed with salad greens and some sort of grains like farro.

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Photo by Mark Weinberg, Design by Tim McSweeney

32 Comments

robin L. October 3, 2016
I tried the tomatoes stuffed with rice and they were delicious. I would post a photo here if I knew how. ...If anyone has made yhis, though, how did you make the potato 'chips'? I did a fast peel on them to get thin pieces (thin like 'chips') but wonder if they should have been thicker...they didn't crisp up much and I'm not sure I'd go thru the effort next time I make the tomatoes...
 
Carolyn September 8, 2016
Awesome, thanks Kristen! Just checking - is there a missing step between Step 4 and Step 5?
 
Sarah J. September 9, 2016
Should be all set now! Sorry about that! Happy tomato-eating!
 
Carolyn September 10, 2016
Yay - that's better! It's great to have the picture, too. Thanks for follow up, Sarah. :-)
 
Kristen M. September 1, 2016
To those who've asked—we're working on getting the tomato tart recipe uploaded! Hold your tomatoes (and thanks for your patience).
 
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
Update! Here it is: https://food52.com/recipes/62587-sue-lyon-s-tomato-pie
 
Amanda S. August 28, 2016
Tomato tart! Tomato tart! (Imagine the crowds changing, pls.)
 
Amanda S. August 28, 2016
Chanting*
 
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
Ta-da! https://food52.com/recipes/62587-sue-lyon-s-tomato-pie
 
Sharon August 27, 2016
The watery ones will make for a good bloody mary, lots of them. Too much sugar in tomato juice for me.
 
Carolyn August 27, 2016
Please ... please ... the tomato tart recipe ...
 
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
:) Ask and ye shall receive ye tomato tart: https://food52.com/recipes/62587-sue-lyon-s-tomato-pie
 
Grammymem August 27, 2016
Usually when you have bolded type, it indicates a link, but these don't seem to be links. I could use more guidance on many of the bolded ideas.
 
btglenn August 26, 2016
what do you do with georgous=looking tomatoes that have no taste?
 
cv August 27, 2016
You Instagram them before you turn them into sauce. No one but you will know those tomatoes suck.<br /><br />Feel free to add canned tomatoes for flavor.
 
tanvel August 28, 2016
Try cooking them like the way I can my tomatoes, small, large, sweet, no taste, etc., all will make a delicious concoction for different dishes.<br />
 
Margaret T. August 26, 2016
Another favorite use of ours for grape tomatoes from the supermarket is halving them lengthwise and sauteing them in olive oil (mostly cut side down) until the surface is a little browned. Flip over to cook a little longer and serve with fried eggs and toast. I'm sure they'd be good with any other form of eggs, too :-)
 
tanvel August 26, 2016
I grow all kinds of tomatoes, after I have supplied my friends with some, I do can the rest in various forms. The best, which can be used in many many dishes, is with lots of olive oil, mashed garlic, thin sliced onions, and peeled, chopped tomatoes of all sizes and forms, sal and pepper. Never use an herb seasoning, I do that when I open the jar and depending on what I am using it for. For a wonderful tomato soup, I place the contents in a blender, and add fresh thyme, season to taste and stir Mexican cream just before serving.
 
Renee August 26, 2016
I will be making Rachel Roddy's recipe this weekend and would really love the recipe for the tart, please.
 
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
Here you go, Renee—thanks for your patience: https://food52.com/recipes/62587-sue-lyon-s-tomato-pie
 
Paqui B. August 26, 2016
Original gazpacho recipe:<br />http://naranjasylimones.es/gazpacho-andaluz/<br />
 
Paqui B. August 26, 2016
The best recipe with tomatoes is spanish gazpacho 😀
 
SusanR August 26, 2016
Pretty please, will you share the tart recipe?
 
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
Here you go, without further ado! https://food52.com/recipes/62587-sue-lyon-s-tomato-pie
 
Merry August 26, 2016
This is one of the most clever food-related charts ever! Informative and attractive. What a perfect piece of kitchen artwork this would be...
 
robin L. October 3, 2016
I agree !!!
 
Diana S. August 26, 2016
Can you pretty please post your tart recipe :-)
 
Kristen M. September 8, 2016
Here it is! Thanks for your patience: https://food52.com/recipes/62587-sue-lyon-s-tomato-pie
 
JaxieJilly August 26, 2016
I also like to dehydrate tomatoes. They are wonderful as a snack and fabulous rehydrated in everything from scrambled eggs to pizzas.
 
Susan August 26, 2016
Why would I want to eat moldy tomatoes? Even cooked ones aren't good for a lot of people...like the ones that get thrown into the basket to go to the cannery. My allergist would howl.
 
cv August 26, 2016
No one is suggesting that you eat moldy tomatoes.<br /><br />Note that overripe/busted tomatoes are not automatically moldy. I buy overripe/busted tomatoes at 70 cents per pound from the sort out bins at one of the stands at my local farmers market.<br /><br />The busted ones are fine if you use them that day (e.g., salsa). The overripes will last a day or two on the counter.
 
jenniebgood August 26, 2016
I am printing this out - in color - and hanging it up! Awesome!