One of the greatest pleasures of summer in the South is the abundance of ripe red tomatoes growing in our gardens or overflowing at farm stands and grocery stores. Many summertime picnic baskets have been filled with nothing more than perfectly ripe tomatoes, a loaf of white bread, and a new jar of Duke’s mayonnaise.
However, tomatoes don’t tend to hit perfection until mid to late August and sometimes it’s hard to wait that long. If you’re like us you may be tempted to pick up tomatoes at Publix or Piggly Wiggly a bit too early in the season. The tomatoes may be red and look ripe, but when you slice them up, they taste like mere shadows of their summertime glory. If you have fallen into this trap and find yourself with a few sad, sub-par tomatoes, you do have a few options.
One of the reporters at Lifehacker attempted to transform a few lackluster tomatoes into summer blockbusters by slicing them up and sprinkling on a little salt and “healthy pinches of table sugar”. After leaving them on a wire rack for 10 minutes to dry out a bit, more salt and sugar was sprinkled on the slices. The results were tomatoes that tasted “riper and fruitier” and good enough to add to a sandwich.
If the sugar-salt combo doesn’t do the trick for your sad tomatoes, Bon Appetit suggests getting tropical and adding pineapple juice. Really! They claim that when paired with raw tomatoes, pineapple juice mimics the acidity and sweetness you would typically find in a ripe tomato making sub-par tomatoes much tastier. They recommend only adding a tablespoon of the juice at a time to make sure it stays more marinara then piña colada.
Another option for unripe tomatoes is to turn them into a confit by cooking them in a 200-degree oven for an hour with olive oil and salt and pepper. The slow cook concentrates the flavor and makes them the perfect accompaniment to pasta, sprinkled on fresh mozzarella, served with a white flaky fish, or simply slathered on bread. If you need something a little quicker, slightly bland tomatoes can still make a delicious fresh Bloody Mary or be used for tomato sauce.
And if you pluck those tomatoes from the vine way too early, there’s always fried green tomatoes—or green tomato vinaigrette or green tomato soup with lump crabmeat or green tomato relish or sweet green tomato muffins. Who needs ripe tomatoes anyway?