Tomatoes: Not Just For Pasta Sauces! Part 2

Tomato basil: Alternate slices of tomato with fresh basil leaves and very thinly sliced sweet onions. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with pepper.

Vinaigrette: Soak the sliced tomatoes for an hour or two in the vinaigrette dressing of your choice (you may have to drain some of it off before serving), and serve with a crusty bread.

Pasta: Combine any small pasta shape with steamed green beans, chopped tomatoes, and a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, mustard and buttermilk.

Seafood: Mix cold cooked shrimp, crab or lobster with chopped tomatoes and peas (cooked if they're fresh; right out of the box if they're frozen) with a mayonnaise-based dressing.

Besides eating them raw, fresh tomatoes can be grilled (15 minutes for a tomato half, cut side up) or broiled (halves or thick slices, with some Parmesan and herbs, about 5 minutes).

If you have an overabundance of tomatoes and want to store some for the long, tomato-less winter months, you have a couple of good options. First, of course, you will have to fend off your friends and neighbors, who inevitably come out of the woodwork just when you have bushels of tomatoes. (Where were they when you had all that zucchini, you'd like to know?!)

Assuming you've done that successfully, here are a couple of choices.

Canning: This is a misnomer, since it involves putting the tomatoes in jars, not cans; heating them to kill any unwanted organisms; and sealing them while they're hot so that a vacuum is created as they cool. The process has to be done carefully, with more guidance than I have space for here. Besides being a good way to store tomatoes, it's an instant nostalgia high.

Making sauce: Turn your tomatoes into tomato sauce, which you then can freeze. If you make a simple sauce - maybe just tomatoes, onions, and basil - you can substitute it for canned tomatoes.

Oven-drying: Slice the tomatoes thickly and put them on a lightly oiled baking pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and olive oil, and roast them in a 250 degree F oven for 3 hours or more, until they've shrunk significantly and lost most of their moisture. Store them in the freezer.

Unfortunately, most of us can get good, fresh tomatoes for about two months out of the year. The rest of the year's standard-issue tomatoes - the hard, square, orangy-pink ones - have no useful application that I know of. They've been bred for longevity and durability, not flavor. They aren't eatin' tomatoes, they're sellin' tomatoes.

Fortunately, canned tomatoes are just about the best canned vegetable going. If the fresh version available is mediocre or worse, you're better off with canned. Look for brands whose first ingredient is tomatoes, rather than tomato puree. The best way to sort through the brands to find one you like, though, is to try them.

If your dish absolutely, positively has to have fresh tomatoes, try cherry or grape tomatoes - they often have more flavor than their full-size cousins. Roma tomatoes and cluster tomatoes (which come still attached to their stems) are also better bets than the standard ones you find in the market.

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