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Sara Jenkins' Guide to Making Good Food with Bad Tomatoes

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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.

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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).

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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.

Photo by Mark Weinberg, Design by Tim McSweeney

Tags: tomato week