Cooking Tips

6 Ways to Prolong Your Bounty of Summer Tomatoes

With armloads of tomatoes from the garden or farmers' market, we get creative to get the most from this late-summer favorite.

Published Sept. 18, 2019.

Sarah Wilson

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It’s an age-old problem: What do you do with that bumper crop of ripe summer tomatoes that are all ready to be picked at the same time? It’s a challenge to eat that many in one or two sittings (though we certainly encourage you to try), so we’ve compiled a list of methods and recipes that will help you use your tomatoes in varying and interesting ways so that none of them go to waste.

Ripe tomatoes are perfect for a quick, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, and canning a sweet and spicy tomato jam could not be easier. Poaching tomatoes in olive oil is a silky and delicious way to eat them, and they keep in the fridge for up to three months. Then there’s the obvious use of eating them in a salad—but not just any salad. I’ll share some ideas on highlighting the tomato using complementary flavors and textures.

So many options, so many tomatoes. Time to get to work!

For great tips on shopping for, storing, preparing, cooking, and enjoying tomatoes, check out our Online Cooking School course Tomatoes 101.


1. Pair them with pasta

Fresh tomatoes are a natural fit for pasta, and they come together quickly to make a pasta sauce. Pasta and Fresh Tomato Sauce with Chili Pepper and Basil uses ripe tomatoes from the garden and fresh basil. To preserve the fresh tomato flavor while ensuring a hearty, dense texture, we cook the tomatoes in extra-virgin olive oil and garlic after peeling and seeding them. Cooking them in a wide pan promotes quick evaporation, and thinning out the sauce with a small amount of starchy pasta water brings them to just the right consistency. 

If you’re after a satisfying sauce made with cherry or grape tomatoes, this recipe for Pasta with Fresh Tomato Pesto makes great use of a garden haul. This lesser-known authentic non-basil pesto is called pesto alla trapanese from Trapani, Sicily. It’s made with fresh tomatoes, and is southern Italy’s answer to northern Italy’s basil pesto.

2. Skip the sauce and make some jam

When contemplating what to do with lots of tomatoes, sauce always comes to mind. But for something different, we like Tomato Jam. This is a great project for anyone new to jam making, and it is a cinch to make: Just combine everything in a large pot and cook the mixture down to a sweet and spicy ruby-red jam. Leaving the peels on the tomatoes gives our chunky jam a pleasant chew. And with a single habanero chile in the mix, this jam packs the heat we like and brings a complementary fruity flavor. (This jam's pH is not low enough to make it safe for processing for long-term storage, but will last up to four months in the refrigerator).

3. Confit today, then eat for weeks

The term confit means preserved, and the method involves poaching an ingredient in oil. Each summer my family and I go to a local farm and pick as many cherry tomatoes as we possibly can. Many of them end up in our mouths, sweet and warm from the sun. The rest inevitably end up in one of three places: the fruit bowl, a pot of tomato sauce, or my favorite method, as tomato confit. I like to pull out a spoonful of these velvety jewels and slather them on a piece of toast with fresh ricotta, or toss them into a pan with some pasta for a quick sauce. You can also use up the oil in a vinaigrette or for dipping bread.

The method is simple: Place cleaned cherry tomatoes in a saucepan with a lot of fresh herbs and cover with olive oil. Bring to a bare simmer and let the tomatoes do their thing for about half an hour. (The goal here is to infuse the oil with the flavor of tomato and herbs, and gently cook the tomatoes so they retain their shape, but collapse when pressed.) Pull off the heat and allow them to cool slightly, then transfer into jars. Transfer them to the fridge when cool. As long as the tomatoes are covered in oil, they will keep for weeks.

4. Tomatoes make a great gratin

Tomato Gratin is baked in the oven with crusty bread and grated cheese, and it makes a satisfying meal. A summer tomato gratin should burst with concentrated, bright tomato flavor and contrasting firm texture from the bread. To achieve this, we start our gratin on the stovetop which initiates the breakdown of the tomatoes and drives off some moisture that otherwise makes the bread soggy. An added bonus is it shortens the overall cooking time. We finish the dish in the dry, even heat of the oven for further evaporation and concentration of flavors, and so the croutons have time to crisp up and brown. A scattering of fresh basil provides color and bright flavor. 

5. Up your summer salad game

Sure, anyone can cut up a tomato and drizzle some olive oil on top and then call it a tomato salad. But to make a showstopper that highlights your perfect garden tomato, we suggest pairing it with complementary flavors and textures. Italian Bread Salad, or Panzanella, fits the bill. Panzanella recipes benefit from the liquid exuded by the tomatoes, so we toss them with some salt and let them drain in a colander until they shed a good bit of juice. Using that juice in the dressing boosts its fresh flavor. Staling the bread in the oven until it turns golden brown gives our Panzanella a nutty flavor and allows the dressing to lightly saturate the pieces of bread before we stir in the tomatoes.

Tomato and Burrata Salad with Pangrattato and Basil is another flavor and texture bomb. Popular in Italy, burrata is a deluxe version of fresh mozzarella in which the supple cheese is bound around a filling of cream and soft, stringy curds. To maximize the flavor of the tomatoes, we salt them and let them sit for 30 minutes to help draw out their watery juices, which intensifies the tomato flavor. Blending the olive oil with a little minced shallot and mild, sweet-tart white balsamic vinegar yields a simple but bold vinaigrette. A final topping of Italian pangrattato (garlicky bread crumbs) brings this dish together.

6. Get out your knife

Tomatoes with their sweetness, acidity, and firm but tender texture are perfect for a salsa or chopped salad. Fresh Tomato Salsa is a crowd-pleaser that’s perfect for a crowd. We use a simple method to solve the problem of watery salsa: draining the diced tomatoes (skin, seeds, and all) in a colander. Then we fix the spotlight on the supporting ingredients in a typical salsa, like red onion, jalapeno, and lime juice, to add authentic flavor and contrasting textures to the mix.

Greek Cherry Tomato Salad contains a bold mix of flavors. For a cherry tomato salad recipe that wasn’t soggy, it was necessary to get rid of some of the tomato juice without throwing away flavor. So we quartered, salted, and drained the tomatoes before whirling them in a salad spinner to separate the seeds and jelly from the flesh. After we strained and discarded the seeds, we reduced the jelly to a flavorful concentrate, reuniting it with the tomatoes, minus the excess liquid. Add to that authentic flavors like kalamata olives, feta cheese, and oregano and this dish goes from garden salad to Greek.

For great tips on shopping for, storing, preparing, cooking, and enjoying tomatoes, check out our Online Cooking School course Tomatoes 101.

What's your favorite way to eat ripe tomatoes? Let us know in the comments! And for more information from our Online Cooking School, check out these articles:

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