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A&E Summer Produce Guide: Tomatoes

Hate it or love it, tomatoes are a vegetable and filled with fiber.
Image by Sophia Zimmerman
Tomatoes, both a fruit and a vegetable, serve a multitude of purposes in the kitchen.

In my years of cooking and dining out with friends and family, I’ve found that tomatoes tend to be rather polarizing. I once had a roommate who used to claim she was allergic to tomatoes (she wasn’t) because she despised them that much. Another friend was dead set on their status as a fruit, not a vegetable (disclaimer: they’re both).

I, for one, have never felt even a hint of dislike for tomatoes — I’ve mostly felt the opposite of that. In fact, my mom likes to tell stories about how I used to pluck them from the vine and eat them like apples as a kid in our suburban Minnesota garden.

Putting my personal passion for tomatoes aside, it’s worth acknowledging that they’re objectively quite good for you. While tomatoes have a high water content, the 5% of their composition that isn’t water is primarily made up of carbohydrates and fiber. They come in a wide variety, including beefsteak, cherry, heirloom, roma, san marzano and campari, among others.

The optimal season for tomatoes in Minnesota is July through September. However, the best time to toss them into your weekly rotation is midseason, according to Ted Rolf of Rolf’s Produce, the Minneapolis Farmers Market stalwart.

Whether you find yourself faced with the abundant fruits of your summer garden, you’re getting ready to host your next dinner party or you’re just craving that juicy tomato goodness, move beyond the traditional caprese and consider one of the following.

Pan con Tomate

Pan con Tomate, with origins in Northern Spain’s Catalonia region, really is as simple as it sounds. It’s quick and works with whatever type of tomato or bread you’d like.

1-2 tomatoes (heirloom, beefsteak, roma, etc.)
Crusty bread (sourdough, French, etc.)
1 tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
1-2 cloves garlic

1. Start with the tomato of your choice, slice it in half and grate each like you would a block of cheese. Expect to be left with a palmful of shriveled skin — feel free to discard this.
2. Season the pulpy, juicy tomato remnants with a pinch of salt and set aside.
3. Toast the bread, preferably in the oven, drizzled with a generous glug of olive oil.
4. Once toasted, rub your garlic along the bread while still hot.
5. Spread the tomato on each piece and you’re done. Feeling fancy? Enjoy with a light glass of Verdejo, a Spanish wine similar to Sauvignon blanc.

Heirloom tomato & feta salad

Rolf shared that his favorite way to enjoy tomatoes is in a salad, tossed with some lettuce and whatever else happens to be in season at the time. There’s no lettuce in this tomato salad, but I promise it’s just as satiating.

3-4 heirloom tomatoes
1 block feta
1 medium shallot
Juice of one lemon
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of salt & pepper
1 tbsp. hot honey (optional)

1. Slice the tomatoes into thin rounds and set aside.
2. Slice the shallot into thin rings.
3. Arrange tomatoes & shallot on a plate.
4. Sprinkle generously with feta (crumble the block yourself, don’t buy the pre-crumbled stuff).
5. For the dressing, whisk together the juice of one lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt & pepper and an optional tablespoon of hot honey.
6. Drizzle the desired amount of dressing over salad and you’re all set. You can serve immediately or let it sit in the fridge for a bit so the flavors of that dressing have the time to soak in.

Bucatini with burst cherry tomatoes

Remember the great bucatini shortage of 2020? I wish I didn’t. The good news for you is that bucatini has been back on shelves at grocery stores for quite some time, just waiting to be picked up and put to good use.

12 ounces bucatini
3 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
2 tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of salt, pepper & red pepper flakes
12 ounces cherry tomatoes
Burrata (optional)

1. Finely dice an onion and a couple of garlic cloves.
2. Toss them in a large skillet, along with the cherry tomatoes, on medium-heat and let soften.
3. Start boiling your bucatini.
4. While the bucatini’s boiling, add the olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to the onions, garlic and tomatoes.
5. Let it all cook for 1-2 minutes. Feel free to give your tomatoes a little bit of a firm push, bursting a few open while they cook.
6. Remove pasta from heat and drain, reserving one cup of pasta water.
7. Place the pasta in the skillet, adding a splash of pasta water at a time until you’ve come up with a sort of sauce to coat the noodles.
9. Plate while hot and, if you’re feeling up to it, tear apart that burrata and mix a little bit into your pasta.

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