Ah, fresh local tomatoes. They’re one of the best arguments for eating locally and seasonally. The answer to your question is quite broad, so I’m going to narrow it down. Otherwise, there’s no end to the things I could write about doing with tomatoes, even simple ones. I’m going to stick with ideas for raw tomatoes plus a couple for grilled or broiled, because most cooked tomato dishes can be made with canned ones. It’s the fresh, truly ripe ones that are so special.
Let’s start with dressing up sliced tomatoes. Think of what they pair well with – onions, olives, basil, garlic, cheese are the first things that come to my mind. Begin by slicing your tomatoes lengthwise (from the stem end down, rather than crosswise.) This has the advantage of the slices holding together better, and you’ll lose a bit less juice. A ripe tomato will juice swiftly, though, as soon as you add salt or vinegar to it. So work quickly.
Dress with a vinaigrette with shallots, garlic, or Dijon mustard added. Fresh herbs, especially basil, parsley, oregano, marjoram, and tarragon are all good with tomatoes. Make some pesto, or buy a good quality one made with extra virgin olive oil and pine nuts and parmesan cheese, thin it with a bit more olive oil or mayonnaise, and top your tomatoes with that.
Intersperse tomato slices with slices of avocado or thin slices of red onion (or both) before dressing. They enhance each other nicely. If you like anchovies, lay out tomato slices on a platter and crisscross a few of the salty little fish on top. Sprinkle with some chopped black olives and dress with a vinaigrette made with minced garlic.
Make a salad of chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil (no salt.) Just before serving, add feta cheese to taste. This can be served as a side dish spooned onto lettuce leaves, or used as a bruschetta topping on grilled Italian or French bread. Or add chopped cucumber and onion, Kalamata olives, and some lemon juice; use oregano instead of basil, and you have a Greek salad – just the ticket on a hot summer night.
One of my favorite sandwiches is made by broiling one side of two slices of sturdy bread. Sourdough, Italian, or French bread is good. Then cover the toasted side with sliced tomatoes on one piece, and cheddar, mozzarella, or gruyere on the other. Broil until the cheese is melted, assemble, and enjoy. Cheese and tomatoes are a match made in heaven. Be careful not to burn the roof of your mouth!
Grilled or broiled tomatoes are a quick, easy side dish. Choose firm ripe tomatoes; if they’re too ripe, they’ll disintegrate when cooked. Core them as minimally as possible and cut in half crosswise. Place cut side up in a baking dish that will hold them securely. Salt lightly, and cover with a goodly amount of any of the following: bread crumbs; bread crumbs mixed with chopped parsley, basil, or oregano; grated parmesan cheese; and/or minced garlic. Drizzle with a little olive oil or some pats of butter, and bake at 400º F for 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to over-cook them – the tomatoes should be just heated through – or they’ll collapse.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of simple ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes. Caprese salad with mozzarella, salsa, panzanella (a creative Italian salad that marries tomatoes with stale bread), bruschetta topping, gazpacho, raw tomato sauce for pasta, tomatoes halves stuffed with egg or tuna salad, slow roasted tomatoes… you’ll be tired of tomatoes before you run out of ideas! Enjoy.