nina | August 13th, 2012 - 9:00 am

After several less-than-stellar tomato seasons (late blight; biblical floods), it looks as if we are finally in for a good crop this summer. Just go to your farmers’ market and behold the bounty, even before its late-August peak. Tomatoes of every shape, hue and size, from pea-size cherries to fat red beefsteaks, are waiting to be lunch.

The first plantings have been extremely productive and fine-flavored. It turns out the oppressive heat that has been making subway riders miserable is actually beneficial if you’re a tomato. They like the hot weather, growing faster and sweeter because of it.

Another greenmarket vendor stated that they were also having a great tomato season. Plants just keep producing and producing.

The prospects are just as good for backyard gardeners across the nation, as long as they remember to water often or have a drip irrigation system. Conditions vary from region to region, but generally, the most prevalent one, the crazy heat, is not a problem.

As long as you give them enough water, tomatoes can handle the heat.

In the kitchen, one of the best things a cook can do with an abundance of ripe summer tomatoes is not cook them. With such tasty beauties available (and given the tomato-pleasing heat), salads make more sense.

Start with something simple. Slice big tomatoes into rounds and cut smaller ones into wedges and the cherry and grape varieties in half. Very gently toss them with fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and good salt.

If you want to get fancy, use the basic formula as a base for whatever little bits of cheese or meat are hanging out in your fridge. Try adding crumbled blue cheese for tang, fresh figs for sweetness and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts for crunch. But feta and olives would have worked just as well, or goat cheese, peaches and toasted almonds. If you’re looking for tomato salad as a main course, add meat, canned fish or lots of cheese.

Another summer favorite is anything covered in tonnato sauce, which is essentially tuna salad put into the blender until it liquefies (it tastes much better than it sounds). Spooned on top of ripe heirlooms, tomato tonnato is as delicious to eat as it is fun to pronounce (to-MAY-toe to-NAH-toe).

These ideas only scratch the surface. Regardless of how you do it, go make a salad. Because a lot can happen between now and when the rest of the crop comes in: hail, mites, an onset of blight.

The season is fleeting. Take advantage.

Source:, 8.2.12

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