Florida Produce: Tomatoes
With Florida produce coming into season soon, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about some of our most popular commodities, when they are available, how to buy them, tips and storage information.
The first on my list is the tomato. Botanically the tomato is a fruit; however, they are legally considered a vegetable. They are mainly produced in South Florida, although some production takes place in North Florida. Tomatoes have two growing seasons in Florida – one from early September into early January, then late January through July. The peak months of production are December and early January as well as March, April and May.
How to buy
The best test for a great tomato is not color but aroma. Smell the stem end, and you should smell a strong sweet-acidic fragrance. Choose tomatoes that are plump, shiny and that give slightly when pressure is applied. The perfect looking tomato does not mean it will have the best aroma and taste.
Tips for storage
Tomatoes should be stored at cool room temperature, out of their packing and never in the refrigerator. Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator will diminish the flavor. If you purchase an unripe tomato, you can leave it in a warm place exposed to sunlight to ripen. Tomatoes can be frozen whole, as long as you peel them after thawing.
Cooking & Tips
When cooking tomatoes one should remove the skin since the skin will separate from the flesh on its own during cooking and chewing on the skin itself can be a bit unpleasant. To quickly peel tomatoes, use a small sharp knife to cut a small cross shape into the base of each tomato, then drop them a few at a time into boiling water for about twenty seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into iced water. Finally, peel the skin away starting at the cross-shaped incision. To seed tomatoes, cut them into quarters after the skin and stem have been removed. Use your fingers to nudge the seeds and the flavorful jellylike substance surrounding them out.
Our chef listed out some great flavors that pair well with tomatoes. They are: garlic, capers, cumin, rosemary, basil, dill, marjoram, tarragon, sage
And because every post is better with a recipe, here’s a delicious one featuring Florida tomatoes.
Tomato Linguini Sauté
Yield 4 Servings
2 pounds ripe Florida tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 bunch fresh Florida basil, hand torn or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 pound whole wheat linguini (or your favorite pasta)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Wash and rinse tomatoes. Dry tomatoes, then core and cut in half. Use a spoon to remove most of the seeds. Chop tomatoes coarsely. Add chopped tomatoes to a colander, sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and let them sit so they can release some of their water. This should only take a half an hour and can be done ahead of time.
Combine drained tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and garlic into a large sauté pan. Heat tomato mixture over low heat. The idea is to warm the mixture and not cook it. Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Combine pasta and tomato mixture together in a bowl. Add fresh basil and parmesan to pasta dish. Taste for seasoning and adjust with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread or chill for later.
This pasta recipe is a great way to enjoy that fresh tomato taste. May be used as a side dish or add any seafood to make it a main course. Add your favorite vegetables if desired. Remember to always season the just-cooked pasta with salt and pepper.