According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable in the U.S., behind potatoes. As the backbone to countless sauces, soups, juices, condiments, and garnishes, tomatoes are extremely adaptable to any dish and can also stand alone, simply dressed with oil and seasoning. When utilized at their peak, tomato seasonality can make all the difference in execution and flavor. Come August and September when locally grown tomatoes are in their prime, make sure your restaurant is adequately stocked and prepared to celebrate the wonderful versatility of this summer jewel. Customers are willing to allocate more of their discretionary dollars to restaurants that offer local produce so don’t miss out on this annual opportunity.
Fresh Off the Vine
Maines Produce Express is your direct route from farm to table and can provide you with the season’s freshest, local tomatoes including cherry, grape, Roma and more. We are a Pride of New York house, meaning we travel the least amount of distance for the best local produce. Reducing the time from the field to your kitchen enhances the freshness and appeal of the product to your customer. Adding the local Pride of New York distinction of your tomato-rich dishes will capture a greater value through brand perception. The level of sweetness found in tomatoes depends on its species, growing conditions, and ripeness at harvest. Consumers are eager to taste the sweet, juicy freshness of tomatoes this time of year and will be able to distinguish between in-season tomatoes and those lacking peak ripeness. What’s also incredibly appealing about tomatoes is the vast number of varieties available. As local, in-season tomatoes arrive at your restaurant, be prepared to showcase each type of tomato in its prime.
Leading with the highest amount of sugar of any tomato, cherry tomatoes add a delicate sweetness to a wide array of applications. Coarsely chop them into a salsa, purée them into a sauce or vinaigrette, or cut them in half to top a pizza. They also add the perfect amount of sweetness to quick-cooking meats such as lamb or fish.
With thick skin and flesh and an elongated shape, plum tomatoes contain less water than other varieties. Their dense flesh makes them ideal for sauces, purées, canning, baking, and broiling. Plums are the tomatoes to use if you want to suspend their flavor for fall or winter dishes by oven drying or sun drying.
Round tomatoes have incredibly juicy interiors and lend themselves to many quick applications from wedges for salads to hollowed out and stuffed for
baking and broiling.
Firm, yet not as juicy as their red and ripe counterparts, green tomatoes are perfect for applications such as relishes, chutneys, and frying. This variety is also excellent for stand-alone courses that can help increase profitability with minimal effort. Simply toss fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and a jalapeño cashew relish, transform a signature grilled cheese by adding a fried green tomato, or top a fried green tomato with shrimp or scallops to easily transform these summer jewels into a $15 appetizer.
The king of tomatoes, as their name suggests, beefsteaks are the meatiest tomato variety offering large, thick slices. These tomatoes need hot temperatures to fully ripen. Beefsteaks lend themselves to being the center of the plate alongside artisan cheeses and accompaniments that make for great appetizers, sides, or brunch dishes. Offer beefsteaks with mozzarella and a balsamic drizzle, pair them with burratta and kalamata olives, or simply serve these large tomatoes with shallots, capers, and red wine vinegar.
Heirloom tomatoes are classified as varieties of seeds that have been passed down through several generations because of their valued characteristics such as their extra large size or unusual coloring. They can be categorized as commercial heirlooms, those that were introduced before 1940; family heirlooms, those that have been passed down through family generations; created heirlooms, those that produce a hybrid of two tomatoes and eliminate unwanted characteristics; and mystery heirlooms, those that are products of natural cross-pollination of other heirloom varieties. Offering dishes with heirloom tomatoes also allows you to increase price points because of their high-standard and desirable qualities. Prepare heirlooms with care and as simply as possible to fully preserve their unique character in an heirloom tomato salad with garlic oil, a basil and heirloom tomato bruschetta, or heirloom tomatoes with oregano and lime.
Tomatoes that have an unattractive appearance, growth deformities, unusual or inconsistent coloration or a combination of these traits are considered an “ugly” tomato. If you claim your establishment has a “farm-to-table” standard, utilizing ugly tomatoes is an excellent start to representing the natural processes that occur to fresh, unaltered seasonal produce. These wrinkly, dull tomatoes may look unappealing, but most “ugly” tomatoes are flavor bombs that add sweet, juicy elements to any dish.
It’s Tomato Season!
With multiple distinct varieties, tomatoes can add freshness and appeal to any dish. Consider the countless creative applications that can be prepared using tomatoes and which type of tomato may serve best for each. Slow-roasted balsamic tomatoes are a classic item that can be served with barbecued lamb cutlets or steak, incorporated into an antipasti selection, or as a savory pastry in a tomato tarte Tatin. Reserve the seeds of tomatoes such as beefsteaks for other menu components such as stocks, soups, or sauces. For example, create sauce Provençale, an authentic method from provincial bourgeois kitchens of Provence, and serve over salmon, cod, or snapper. The pulp and juice, referred to as tomato essence or tomato water, can be used in a halibut or beef tartare dish or even added to a Bloody Mary to emphasize fresh tomato flavor.
Show off the beauty of tomatoes by marketing them as the vessels of summer. For example, bed and breakfast L’Auberge Provencale located in Virginia utilizes their local farms in August to serve guests a “Summer Tomato Tasting Menu” with samples of heirloom tomatoes in items such as Amuse Tomato Marshmallows and Pineapple Tomato Tartare. Other preparations seen on menus are tomato-fennel salads, grilled tomato gazpacho, classic ratatouille, and confit tomatoes served with sausage or mussels. Confit tomatoes can also be stored for up to one month and used to enhance dishes with peak tomato taste even when they aren’t in season.
One of the greatest qualities about tomatoes is that they add intense, sweet flavor to both elaborate dishes and those simply prepared, allowing the flavor to speak for itself. During the late summer months, consider adding a simple salad to your menu to showcase the freshness of peak season tomatoes. A panzanella is a traditional Italian bread salad made with day-old bread that rehydrates in a combination of flavorful oils and dressings. Use rich, colorful vegetables like heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion or specifically highlight tomatoes by drizzling with tomato water and tomato-lemon vinaigrette. Make this salad even more versatile by offering it as a side, shareable starter, or an entrée.
Receiving, Storing, and Handling*
Tomatoes are extremely perishable when ripe. They are often picked when they are mature but slightly underripe, so they will continue to ripen during shipment. Once they arrive, it’s important to follow proper storage procedures. Tomatoes are highly susceptible to chilling and freezing injury; temperatures of less than 55°F should be avoided. The cold can affect their texture and flavor and will speed their decay. Only overripe or sliced tomatoes should be refrigerated and even then only for a few days. Sensitive to moisture loss, tomatoes wilt and shrivel easily. The ideal environment is 62-68°F, with a relative humidity of 85%-88%. The average shelf life is dependent upon the ripeness of the tomato.
When receiving tomatoes, look for smooth, firm skins free of blemishes and cracks. Since tomatoes are extremely fragile in nature, careful handling is critical to maintaining the quality. Tomatoes should never be stacked more than two layers high and should be positioned stem-end-up.