The first of three Great Tomato Tastings drew plenty of appreciative palates, judging from social-media posts around Eat Local Week.
Tasting tomatoes isn’t just a gratuitous gimmick on the part of Eat Local Week organizers. The flavors, and varietal availability, change throughout the growing season. And one of the best ways to home in on the best fruit, of course, is by sampling and comparing as many as possible. More chances are planned Tuesday and Thursday at the Ashland and Medford Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters markets. See more Eat Local events on the Thrive website.
Talking to farmers also can confirm the characteristics of tomatoes. Low acidity used to be a selling point of yellow tomatoes, for example. But these days, tomatoes come in virtually all colors of the rainbow, with varying levels of acidity.
And although cherry tomatoes’ cute size suggests miniaturization techniques common in modern plant breeding, it’s interesting to note that their appearance is more in line with tomatoes of yore. More than five centuries ago, all the earliest tomatoes were tiny yellow, red and green specimens, according to a recent story by the Chicago Tribune.
Some of the most popular cherry-tomato varieties are: Yellow Mini grape tomato, Brandywine cherry tomato, Sunburst cherry tomato, Sweet Olive grape tomato, Gold Nugget cherry tomato and Sun Gold cherry tomato, which inspired this recipe from the Tribune, ready in about 20 minutes.
Likening Sun Golds to “liquid gold, distilled from sunshine,” Tribune Food Editor Joe Gray advises purchasing the cherry tomatoes from farmers markets. And if the fruit isn’t “intensely flavored and wonderfully sweet,” he says, move on to the next grower’s stall and keep looking.
Or maybe, like me, you already have Sun Golds growing in your garden or on a patio. Besides their sweetness, I love cherry tomatoes because they produce for so many months, even after larger varieties are spent. They’re also practically fool-proof to grow, even suited to large containers situated in full sun.
Eating cherry tomatoes out of hand is usually more satisfying than cooking them. But when there’s a bounty, they can be tossed whole into so many dishes, from salads and pastas, on top of bruschetta or pizza, or into a skillet that’s cooked fish fillets or meat cutlets to flavor pan juices. Roast them by tossing with olive oil, some crushed garlic, salt, pepper and a few herbs. Cook in a 375-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
Sauteed Tomatoes With Sausage and Goat Cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 teaspoon salt, about
4 precooked Italian sausages, about 9 ounces total, sliced crosswise in about 1/2-inch pieces (may substitute 2 fresh Italian sausages, cooking them before slicing into 1/2-inch rounds)
1/2 cup green olives, pitted, cut lengthwise in quarters
2 cups precooked brown rice, heated
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese or blue cheese crumbles
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and season with a good pinch of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until tomatoes begin to soften, for about 2 minutes. (Tomatoes will continue to cook with other ingredients, so they should not cook too much at this stage.)
Stir in the sausage. Turn heat to medium. Cook until just heated through. Off the heat, stir in the olives. Serve in big bowls over the rice, topped with the crumbled cheese.
Makes 2 servings.