It’s late summer, which means the greatest produce of all time is hitting grocery stores and farmers markets across the country: tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes—they’re all incredible. They have the sweetness and tenderness of a fruit, and the umami bite of a good savory vegetable. You can make tomato soup, marinara sauce, pizza sauce, even eat them raw like an apple if you wanted to.
But it’s summer, at the height of the sweet, ripe tomato season, so that means we need to take full advantage of their unique qualities. That means eating them raw, or just barely cooked enough to bring out their flavor. Also, it’s really hot outside, so it doesn’t hurt that these take little to no time at the stove to make.
Tomatoes (preferably heirloom)
Fresh high-moisture mozzarella
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (optional)
You knew this one was coming. Caprese salad is basically the de-facto summer tomato dish, and for good reason. It’s cheap, it’s incredibly easy to make and it’s delicious.
Cut your tomatoes into thick, wide circular slices. Do the same with your mozzarella, assuming it’s not already sliced. Arrange them in alternating layers on the plate, then season the tomato slices with flaky salt. If you want, you can add pepper or olive oil and vinegar. If you’ve got store-bought tomatoes, go ahead and add those. If you have tomatoes from a farmers market, or some you grew yourself, just add salt. Trust me—good, fresh heirloom tomatoes don’t need anything except salt. They’re perfect on their own.
Tomato (preferably heirloom)
Yeah, it’s avocado toast. Sue me.
The great thing about fresh tomatoes is that they make practically any dish better just by being there. Take, for example, avocado toast. Toast a thick slice of crusty bread like sourdough or French bread—it needs to be well toasted to stand up to all the moisture and weight we’re about to add. Once it’s toasted, spread a generous layer of butter, then smear an avocado across the top. Make sure to leave some ridges and bumps in there. Then, spread about a tablespoon of ricotta over the top, and layer some thick slices of tomato on top of that. Sprinkle some flaky salt, black pepper and herbs such as parsley or basil.
This can be a monster of an open-faced sandwich. If you want, you could add another slice of toast on top to make it a full-fledged sandwich. Or you could customize the ingredients; you could sub in cream cheese for the ricotta, omit the avocado or use cherry tomatoes instead of heirlooms or beefsteak. It’s also amazing on a bagel.
Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce
Olive oil (or butter)
Vinegar or lemon juice
This is my go-to tomato-based pasta sauce nowadays. San Marzanos are expensive, and cherry tomatoes are the best-tasting store-bought tomatoes you can get. They’re sweeter than bigger tomatoes, they tend to make a thicker and more cohesive sauce, and they’re usually pretty ripe when you get them at the store.
Heat some olive oil or butter on medium heat in a saute pan. Once it’s shimmering, add a handful or two of cherry tomatoes and fry them until they start to pop and break down. Crush them with the back of a spoon to help the process. Once they’re thoroughly cooked and mushy, add some crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. Mix those together and add a splash of white wine vinegar, or any other mild vinegar or lemon juice.
While you’re cooking the sauce, boil your pasta of choice according to the instructions on the box for al dente. Don’t cook it too soft—it’s going to continue cooking in the sauce. Once it’s done, spoon a couple tablespoons of pasta water into the saucepan, and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce, stirring vigorously to create an emulsion (this is why the pasta water is important—it adds more starch). If you want, grate a generous amount of parmesan cheese straight into the pasta, stir it again for one final mix and you’re done.
This is a more bare-bones sauce than many other pasta sauces, but that’s why I like it so much. It’s savory and sweet without being too heavy, and it just embodies the feeling of summer food. If you grow your own tomatoes, you can upgrade this sauce by cutting bigger tomatoes in half, roasting them skin side up, and charring the outside until the inside becomes soft and jammy. Again, only do this if you grow your own, or you can get really fresh tomatoes from a farmers market or farm-share box. Like, falling-apart-ripe. If you can’t get any fresh, ripe tomatoes, stick with cherry tomatoes.