As farmers market-savvy populations go, we're pretty spoiled in the tomato realm. These are a year round harvest for us, sometimes coming from the vine fields of San Diego or a set of long and white hot houses from parts farther north. But the varieties and number of flavor profiles (we won't even get into the colors) increase exponentially as the summer solstice draws near. It starts with a trickle of cherry types in May -- yellow pear, sweet millions, strawberry tomatoes -- and then the slow and steady rumble of beefsteak, heart shaped, and round heirlooms come in around mid June. It's gotten to the point where there are so many varieties out there that vendors rarely even bother with separating them by name anymore. Pick a color any color from a pile that stretches the length of a stall. But what to pick?
We love dense and fleshy beefsteaks -- sometimes the sweet yellow and red pineapple beefsteak or a tried and true deep pink-colored Brandywine -- for salsas, sandwiches, or super hot and quick grilling with salt and olive oil. The aforementioned strawberry tomatoes (currently in at Beylik Family Farms at the Sunday Hollywood Market) are golf ball sized and almost sugary sweet. We roasted them with garlic for a toss with some capellini and basil. For pickling, any slightly hard and unripe tomato will do nicely. If we need something with slightly less acidity, we aim for the juicy pink Momotoro. The final choice is dependent entirely upon your whim and recipe.
Whatever variety ends up in your market bag, you should buy only what you intend to use within a week. For one thing, there will be more at next week's markets, and they'll be here all the way into the deep end of summer. You can go back and get more. Also, if you want the best of a summertime tomato's flavor, do not refrigerate it longer than a few days.
The prevailing wisdom is that chilling kills the flavor. The science of this long standing market tale gets murky in parts. Supposedly (Z)-3-hexenal, a major component of the tomato's trademark green and herbaceous fragrance, vanishes with refrigeration. This is actually true for tomatoes that haven't reached their fully-ripened potential, as the chilling halts the ripening process, robs you of your precious z-hex aromas, and turns the tomato flesh mealy. Fully ripe tomatoes though show hardly any difference after a day or so of chilling. So if you like a cold tomato, mangia. But even a ripe tomato suffers from chilling injury if left in the fridge for too long.
Regardless, we do prefer them sun-warmed and lightly salted, those trademark grassy aromas filling the air and announcing the season with every heady bite. Select for slightly firm flesh and unsplit skin, which can be admittedly difficult with some of the giant beefsteak varieties, and store them shoulders down in a cool corner of your kitchen until you're ready to use them.
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