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Making the Most of Summer Tomatoes

While it’s true that most produce tastes best when it is eaten in season (rather than imported from clear across the country or even the world), there is perhaps no better example of this than the tomato. Unlike the pinkish, rock-hard or mealy examples you might find during the rest of the year—which are barely good enough for being sandwiched in between bread or burger buns—the sweet, juicy vegetable-like fruit is just about perfect this time of year.

With so many varieties available at the supermarket, the local farmer’s market, and perhaps even in your own back yard, making the most of these perfectly ripe tomatoes doesn’t take much more than adding a sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. If you want to get a little fancier, try using smoked salt instead, or add a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar. 

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The Wonders of Tomatoes

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Beyond offering complex flavor and versatility in cooking, tomatoes offer plenty of health benefits:

1. They are an antioxidant powerhouse, containing vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and the carotenoid lycopene. These help ward off free radicals that can cause cell damage and lead to a host of diseases.

2. A diet rich in tomatoes can help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease.

3. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains. Cooked or processed tomatoes contain more of the powerful antioxidant than raw ones. Absorption of lycopene into the body is further increased when the tomatoes are cooked in olive oil. So, during the off season, don’t be afraid to include canned tomatoes in your diet.

4. Tomatoes are a good source of potassium.

The Tomatoes of Tomorrow

pasta and tomato.alert1 medical alert systems

If you need a few ideas beyond salsa for incorporating more fresh summer tomatoes into your diet, try starting with some of these:

-include tomatoes in your favorite pasta, grain, or roasted vegetable salads

-saute with shallots and add to an omelet or egg scramble for breakfast

-combine with cucumber, chickpeas and feta for an easy Mediterranean side dish

-blend into a refreshing gazpacho

-stuff larger varieties with tuna or chicken salad for lighter lunch fare

-cut cherry tomatoes in half and sauté with shrimp or scallops to serve over pasta

-slice and bake onto puff pastry dough for a simple tomato tart

Or, if you want a little twist on something familiar, try the recipe below, which is inspired as much by Italian panzanella and caprese salad as it is by the all-American BLT sandwich. Here, toasted cubes of crusty bread sop up the delicious sweet-tart juices from a small mountain of diced perfectly ripe tomatoes. This base is studded with pieces of crisp bacon and tender mozzarella balls for additional texture and flavor, while lettuce greens and basil keep the dish feeling light and summery. 

BLT Bread Salad

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For the mozzarella balls, try to use ciliegine (small cherry-sized rounds) or slightly larger bocconcini. If you are unable to find either, use a large piece of fresh mozzarella and cut it up into 1-inch cubes yourself.  

Ingredients

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4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups crusty rustic-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes  

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

5 slices thick-cut bacon (about 6 oz.), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces

2 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced

1 1/2 lb. assorted heirloom tomatoes, diced

4 oz. fresh mozzarella balls, packed in water

6 oz. assorted lettuce greens 

1/4 cup chopped basil leaves

Cooking Instructions

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1. Warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. of the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted and golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

2. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until crisp and browned, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 Tbs. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, vinegar and pepper. Add the onion, tomatoes and mozzarella and toss to combine. Add the toasted bread and refrigerate 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

4. Just before serving, add the bacon, lettuce greens and basil and toss to combine.

Serves 4 to 6.