Here we are, on the eve of tomato season, and I’m telling you to marinate your tomatoes. Honestly, it’s one of my most favorite kitchen secrets. Except the secret is terribly-kept because I tell everyone I know.
See, tomatoes, even — especially — the supermarket ones, can be a real workhorse. They’re easy to find all year, they’re packed with healthful components, they lend excellent color, require very little processing (unlike, say, a butternut squash), possess valuable acid (unlike most vegetables that require some sort of acid application later in the form of a dressing or sauce or final squeeze of lemon) and most people like them. Halve a carton of those little grape tomatoes, even in April, and you’re halfway to a pretty lovable salad. Or a topping for fish or chicken. Or a respectable appetizer. Tomatoes get the job done.
And yes, I promise that once proper tomato season is here, you can do whatever you like with them when they’re perfectly ripe, hot from sun and vine. When the tomatoes are juiciest, sweetest, reddest, richest, I will make BLTs. I’ll make pan con tomate. I’ll make fresh pasta just so I can make a raw tomato sauce to put on top of it. I stop short of eating it straight out of hand like an apple because I am not one of those people. But I salute you if you are.
But until then, I’m marinating mine. Nothing serious, no sleepovers in the fridge. We’re not inventing flavor or coaxing tenderness where there is none. We are simply getting the most out of the tomatoes we have, and outside of July, August, and September, I think that’s what you should do, too.
It’s a quick marinade, fast to assemble and the tomatoes don’t spend long in the bath. Just long enough to roll your pizza dough, whisk together some salad dressing, steam some green beans or roast a piece of fish. Or microwave leftovers or reheat soup or toast a piece of stale bread or scramble some eggs. Or shingle some slices of mozzarella, or tear some burrata, or slice the little salamis or the baguette. These beauties become the ultimate accessory, and this is coming from someone who owns more than three pairs of tassel earrings so I know from accessories.
They make lean times feel downright plentiful, busy times feel slower and brighter, Tuesdays feel like Sundays. Your aunt will ask what in God’s name you did with those tomatoes before you scattered them over the grilled chicken. Your college friends will ask you for the recipe and you will smugly announce to them that there isn’t one because it’s more of a formula, darling. Your partner will ask you to turn those tomatoes into a condiment so he can put them on buttered toast or rice or basically everything from now on. And you can! These tomatoes are basically the bringers of un-boring. They just make you look really good.
- This really is more of a formula, darling. It works for a small amount of tomatoes you’re trying to use up, or a bumper crop you’re trying to just do something — anything — with. I’m going to give you a basic proportion here, and you can scale up or down to taste or depending on the quantity you’re working with.
- Outside of July-August-September, this is also what I use as the base for any tomato salad — caprese, caprese-adjacent, or otherwise. I let the tomatoes marinate while I’m prepping the cheese, herbs, shallots, whatever else I’m using.
- Speaking of salads, you can also add a little extra oil and maybe a squeeze of lemon, and make these tomatoes and their resulting garlicky, tomatoey juices the dressing for any green salad. Just marinate while you chop the veg and lettuce, and dump it in right before serving. Shave on some parm and you will be a hero for life.
- If you chop instead of wedging these, you can make an unbelievable sauce-salad thing for grilled steak. It will happily hang out while you grill, and I promise it is the ONLY thing you will want to eat every August for as long as you live. (Which is why I ask for it every year for my August 20 birthday dinner.)
1 pound tomatoes, any size
1 garlic clove, grated or minced very fine
1/4 cup olive oil (this is a great time to bust out the nice olive oil, if you’re hoarding some for the right occasion)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
For larger tomatoes, i.e. anything vine-ripened, Roma, or larger, cut the tomatoes into quarter wedges, or even sixths depending on the size. For smaller tomatoes, cut in half. Place the tomatoes in a medium bowl and add the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat the tomatoes in the oil, and agitate gently with a spoon to release a little of the tomatoes’ juices. More will seep out as they sit, but massaging them a bit will give them some encouragement. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes and up to a few hours. These will keep covered at room temperature for an extra day, but after that they’ll start to lose some structure. But you'll gobble them up before then, so I'm not worried.
- baked goods
- beans + legumes
- dinner party
- gluten free
- make ahead
- pregnant food
- roasted stuff
- special occasions
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