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For me, summer is all about slices of my home-grown tomatoes, layered with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil, then drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Ahhhh…summer is here!

Tomatoes are versatile because you can enjoy them in many different manners – fresh, cooked or canned. I love to cook with tomatoes as well as mix fresh chopped into all sorts of fresh pasta dishes.  If you grow your own tomatoes or get them at the local farmers market, produce stand or from your neighbors, here are some tips to help you enjoy them to their fullest:

How to Buy Tomatoes:  Look for firm and richly colored tomatoes. A good tomato also has a sorta sweet aroma. If you must buy them in a grocery store, look for “vine-ripened” for best flavor over regular grocery store tomatoes which have been “gassed” to make turn red!  Often times, an “ugly tomato” or less-than-perfect tomato signals a home-grown tomato (or Farmers Market tomato). A perfect tomato is often from a “manufactured” growing environment.

How to Store Tomatoes:  Putting your tomatoes in the refrigerator creates a “mealy” or spongy and tasteless tomato. Instead, find a cool spot in your home that never falls below 55 degrees.

To Peel Several Tomatoes:   Carefully slice an “X” shape at the base (end) of the tomato, then dip tomato into lightly boiling water for about 10-15 seconds. Then remove with either tongs or a sieve and run under cold water to quickly cool them. The peel will now slip off easily.

Freezing Fresh Tomatoes:  Got too many tomatoes? Peel and seed your extras, then place them in zip lock freezer bags and freeze for no more than 2-3 months. Use in soups and sauces or any recipe calling for canned tomatoes.

Making Your Own Sauce:  Plum tomatoes make the best sauce as they have less juice and will cook up faster. When you’re done cooking your sauce, it freezes very well and in fact, tastes better after it’s been frozen.

Serving Fresh Tomatoes:  Always slice/chop tomatoes just prior to serving to keep their juice from expelling and/or creating a soggy salad.

Cooking with Fresh Tomatoes:  Never cook tomatoes (or tomato-based dishes) in an aluminum pan.  Aluminum gives a bitter aftertaste to acidic foods like tomatoes.

Removing Seeds:  Cut the tomato in half crosswise. Then hold the tomato half in your hand, over a bowl or sink. Gently squeeze the tomato so the seeds release and fall into the bowl or sink.