There's nothing quite like a fresh, ripe, juicy tomato right off the vine. The best place to find a vine-ripened tomato is on a tomato plant in a garden -- yours or your neighbor's. Pluck one off the bush, sprinkle it with salt and take a big bite, as you would an apple.

Now, you understand. (Lacking a garden, your next best bet is to drive to a country farm stand.)

Ripe tomatoes are heavy, squishy and bright red, but don't overlook hard green tomatoes; they are excellent for pickling and pan-frying. And red-green tomatoes will ripen; put them in a paper bag with an apple and the ethylene gas exuded by the apple will help speed the ripening process, although the tomato will never be as luscious as fruit plucked at its peak off the vine.

Other than eating them like apples, the easiest way to enjoy tomatoes is sliced and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar as a salad (add a sprinkling of fresh thyme or tarragon). When cooking tomatoes, keep the cooking time brief.

To peel a tomato, cut out the stem end with a paring knife and cut a small "x" on the bottom. Plunge the tomato in rapidly boiling water for 20 seconds, or until the skin starts to wrinkle, then rinse it under cold water and pull the skin off with your fingers.

To seed a tomato, first cut it in half across the middle. Then, holding a half in the palm of your hand, cut side down, gently squeeze it over a bowl to wring out the seeds and watery juices.


Here's an hors d'oeuvre that's as pretty to look at as it is tasty to serve. The herbed cheese is a homemade version of French boursin, but it costs a fraction of the price.

30 red or yellow cherry tomatoes

30 tiny sprigs of fresh tarragon or dill


3 tablespoons minced scallions

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil, dill, thyme, oregano, and/or other fresh herbs

1 clove garlic, minced

1/3 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the stem from each tomato and cut off the rounded bottom (cut about 1/4 inch). Hollow out each tomato, using a paring knife, paper clip or tiny melon baller. Arrange the tomatoes, stem side down (this will keep them from rolling away), on a platter.

Prepare the 30 sprigs of tarragon or dill and set aside.

Mince the scallions, parsley, herbs and garlic as finely as possible. Cream the cheese and butter in a bowl with a whisk. Beat in the herbs and seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Using a piping bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip, pipe the herbed cheese into the tomatoes. Top each rosette of cheese with a sprig of tarragon.

Per tomato: 31 calories, .6 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 17 mg sodium.


The virtue of this sauce lies in its speed of preparation; it takes only 10 minutes. The quick cooking retains the natural freshness of the tomatoes.

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Assemble chopped vegetables. Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Saute' onion, pepper and garlic over medium heat for 3 minutes or until soft (but not brown). Add tomatoes, increase heat to high and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft.

Stir in the fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste. This sauce can be served with grilled chicken or fish and is delicious over fresh pasta.

Per 1/2-cup serving: 186 calories, 3 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium.

PESTO TOMATOES (8 servings)

Tomatoes baked with pesto make a wonderful accompaniment for lamb. For an offbeat twist, try making the pesto with equal parts parsley and mint.

8 ripe tomatoes or 16 plum tomatoes


1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese

1 cup (tightly packed) fresh basil leaves

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for the baking dish

Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut top off the rounded end of each tomato and reserve. Using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, scoop out a 1-inch cavity in each tomato. Invert tomatoes on a rack to drain.

To make the pesto: Pure'e pine nuts, cheese, basil and garlic in a food processor. Gradually work in oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each tomato with pesto and loosely cover with a cap. Arrange the tomatoes in a lightly oiled baking dish. The recipe can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead to this stage.

Before serving, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake tomatoes for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sides feel soft and squishy and pesto is bubbly.

Per serving: 106 calories, 2 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 59 mg sodium.


This smoky soup is the latest symptom of the grilling mania that is sweeping the country, well, like wildfire.

4 pounds ripe tomatoes

Olive oil, as necessary

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1 large onion

3 cloves garlic

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups chicken broth, approximately

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or to taste)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Remove the stems from the tomatoes and cut in half. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place the tomatoes on the grill over a low fire. Cook the tomatoes for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until nicely charred. The longer tomatoes stay on the grill, the more smoky the flavor.

Peel and quarter onion, rub with oil, and place on grill. Grill until nicely browned, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Chop the grilled onions and tomatoes coarsely and place them in a large pot with the garlic, white vinegar, sugar and 1 cup of chicken broth. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour.

Pure'e the tomato mixture and cool to room temperature. Thin the mixture to the consistency of a chowder or cream soup, by adding the second cup of chicken stock as necessary. Refrigerate soup until cold.

Stir in the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and basil. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and serve chilled or at room temperature. Covered and refrigerated, this soup will keep for 5 days.

Per serving: 144 calories, 5 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, .8 gm saturated fat, .3 mg cholesterol, 285 mg sodium.

"Thrill of the Grill" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (William Morrow, 1990) TABOULEH TOMATOES (6 servings)

Tabouleh tomatoes make an excellent first course for brunch.

1 cup bulghur (cracked wheat)

6 ripe tomatoes

Salt, for tomatoes

3 to 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint

3 chopped scallions

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 Belgian endive or small romaine lettuce leaves

The night before, place the bulghur in a large bowl with cold water to cover by at least 3 inches. Let stand until the grains are soft and swelled to several times their original bulk. Thoroughly drain the bulghur in a strainer, pressing to extract excess water.

Cut the top off the rounded end of each tomato and reserve. Using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, hollow out the tomato. Lightly sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with salt and invert them over a cake rack. This will draw out excess moisture.

To prepare the tabouleh: Place the soaked bulghur in a large bowl and mix in the flavorings, adding additional salt, lemon juice or oil as necessary. The mixture should be piquant and highly seasoned. Shake the moisture out of the tomato halves. Spoon in the tabouleh. Garnish each tomato with an upright leaf of Belgian endive or romaine lettuce.

Per serving: 195 calories, 4 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 14 mg sodium.

Steven Raichlen is a Miami-based national food writer.