6 Mistakes You're Making when Cooking Tomatoes

Avoid these tomato cooking mishaps.

Just Ripe for Summer: Tomato Panzanella
Photo: Iain Bagwel

1. Cooking tomatoes in a "reactive" pan.

In the South, we cook just about everything in cast iron. But tomatoes are very acidic and metal cookware can make them taste bitter and metallic. Unless your cast iron pan is seasoned extremely well, it's best to use something else when cooking tomatoes. We recommend non-reactive cookware like stainless steel (or stainless steel-lined) pots and pans.

2. Using the wrong knife.

A serrated knife is the best tool for slicing fresh tomatoes. The ridged blade cuts through the tomato's skin cleanly and won't turn the tomatoes into a mushy mess.

3. Not peeling your tomatoes.

If your recipe calls for the tomatoes to be pureed, be sure to remove the peels. The easiest way is to remove the stem with a paring knife, then plunge the tomato into boiling water for 15 seconds. Then, immediately transfer the tomato into ice water. The peel should come off easily on strips.

4. Cooking them the same old way.

Tomatoes are one of the most versatile types of fresh produce because they can be cooked in so many different ways. Char large beefsteaks on the grill, roast cherry tomatoes to bring out their natural sweetness, cook them down in a slow cooker to make a robust sauce. Or try slow-roasting them in the oven on low (200˚) for 6 to 8 hours. They will dry out and concentrate in flavor, making the most mouthwatering pizza topping or pasta mix-in.

5. Not salting your tomatoes.

Ripe tomatoes contain a lot of moisture—good for when you're eating a messy tomato sandwich, not good when you're baking a tomato pie. To keep baked tomato dishes from turning soggy, it's important to salt your tomatoes, which will draw out the moisture. Place your sliced tomatoes on a few layers of paper towels, sprinkle with salt, then let them stand for about 10 minutes. Pat them dry before using.

6. Cooking them!

Raw tomatoes are delicious too. And there are many more ways to use them other than in a basic salad, salsa, or sandwich. Grate tomatoes with the large holes of a box grater (the skins will be conveniently left behind in your hand) and use the pulp to make a raw tomato sauce mixed with olive oil, grated garlic, and fresh torn basil.

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