This is the time we dream about all year long: ripe, juicy summer tomatoes in myriad colors and sizes are exploding from backyard gardens, farmers markets and ordinary grocery stores alike. But with thousands of varieties out there, it can be tough to suss out the best way to use one from another. Here are the four basic types of tomatoes, and the best ways to maximize their height-of-summer flavors.
Cherry & Grape
Generally speaking, the smaller the tomato, the higher its sugar content — and the sweeter its flavor. That’s why cherry, grape and pear varieties including classic red ‘Sweet 100,’ bright orange ‘Sungold’ and deep purple ‘Black Cherry’ are perfect for popping in your mouth raw. They can be so sweet and colorful, in fact, that you might just see your veggie-adverse kid gobble them up like candy.
You can also simply roast them the oven (make a big batch and toss some in the freezer for winter months), or throw them into pasta with other summer M.V.P.s like corn and basil. Or, thread them onto skewers and toss them on the grill solo, or with fish, chicken or steak.
Skinny, oblong “paste” tomatoes like ‘San Marzano,’ ‘Roma’ and ‘Amish Paste’ boast meaty interiors and lower water content and fewer seeds than other types, making them ideal for sauces or roasting. Stir up Alton’s basic Tomato Sauce recipe and follow our step-by-step instructions for canning your own tomatoes at home so you’ll have a year-round supply.
Medium-sized fruits like ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Valencia’ (to name a few) may be the most all-purpose of all tomato varieties. They’re usually a little tarter and juicier than beefsteak or cherry tomatoes, and have a nice balance of acidity and sweetness.
Add them to any kind of green or grain salad you’d like, or use them to make Ina’s Provencal Tomatoes. You may also use these tomatoes for sauces, but beware that they’ll take longer to cook down since they’re more juicy than plum tomatoes.
These kings of the tomato world — including ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Brandywine Pink’ and ‘Black Krim’ — are large, heavy and meaty. That means slices of beefsteaks are the perfect size to match up with round of mozzarella in a Caprese Salad, or to tuck into a breakfast sandwich, B.L.T. or grilled cheese.