(Photo by Julie Chernoff)

The tomato: fruit or vegetable? Does it matter? Any way you slice it, tomatoes are delectable. And here in Illinois, late summer is the absolute peak season for these beauties, be they beefsteak, cherry or Roma. When choosing your tomatoes, think beyond the classic red to heirloom varieties like Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Chocolate Stripes, Golden Jubilees or Lemon Boys. Never refrigerate your tomatoes; instead, leave them on the kitchen counter, stem side down, to ripen. If they get too mushy, it’s time for sauce… or sweet-sour tomato jam. Either way, everyone’s a winner. Looking for a few simple ideas to use up the tomatoes on your counter? Here are a few.

Make a Spanish tapa classic.

If you’ve got a really ripe tomato, this may be its highest calling: Pan con Tomate, Spanish bread and tomato. Brush slices of ciabatta or baguette with olive oil and grill or toast to your liking. Meanwhile, cut tomato in half and rub cut side on a box grater. The pulp will collect below, while the peel will naturally come off in your hand. Season pulp with salt and pepper. When bread is toasted, rub with cut side of a raw clove of garlic, then top with some of tomato pulp. I like to add a thin slice of serrano ham or prosciutto and some roughly grated Manchego cheese.

Burst some cherry tomatoes.

This makes a lovely side dish. Get a skillet nice and hot, add a good glug of olive oil, and a pint or two of cherry tomatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, maybe a shake of red chili flakes. The heat of the pan will cook the tomatoes quickly and burst the skins. Add some torn basil leaves at the end. Let cool and serve over burrata, or maybe spoon over a cooked grain, or a steak. Super versatile.

Throw together a no-cook pasta sauce.

Core and chop a few tomatoes; this can be a mix of many varietals and sizes. Mince one or two garlic cloves, season with salt and pepper and a shower of whatever fresh herbs you’ve got – Italian parsley, chives, and oregano is a nice combo – and add a glug of good olive oil. Let sit for about a half hour. Cook off your pasta in water that tastes like the ocean; reserve a little of the cooking liquid just in case. Toss your chopped and marinated tomatoes with the hot pasta, add some grated Pecorino or Parmesan, some torn basil leaves, maybe cubes of feta or fresh mozzarella, and you’ve got a meal.

Roast ‘em and make salsa.

Preheat your broiler. Put some unpeeled garlic cloves, some onion slices, a halved jalapeño or two, and some halved Roma tomatoes – all cut-side down – on a sheet pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Broil until tomatoes are blistered and starting to char, about 7 minutes. Remove pan from oven, discard garlic skin, and let veggies cool a bit. Then it’s right into the blender with all of it, along with a handful of fresh cilantro, some lime juice, a bit of ground cumin, and some salt. Purée and serve with tortilla chips, or make yourself a quesadilla.

Purée in a blender for gazpacho.

Throw a peeled seedless cucumber, about 2½ pounds of chopped ripe tomatoes, half of a stemmed and seeded red or green bell pepper, two peeled and quartered shallots, a few peeled garlic cloves, a handful of fresh cilantro (you can sub in Italian parsley), ¼ cup good olive oil, a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper into blender and process until smooth. Season to taste and chill for a few hours before serving.

Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.

The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that will make the most of all those ripe, juicy tomatoes that are in the market now.

Food and Wine’s Spinach-and-Ricotta-Stuffed Tomatoes with Piquillo Peppers


Vivian Howard’s Southern Tomato Pie


That Viral TikTok Baked Feta and Tomato Pasta


Melissa Clark’s BLT Tart

Julie Chernoff

Julie Chernoff is a freelance food and culture writer and the longtime Dining Editor of Make It Better Media. She loves all things Evanston and has lived here since 1989.

4 replies on “I say tomato”

  1. I love these articles, so helpful and informative! Thank you for writing and for including these wonderful recipes too.

  2. Long ago during WWII my dad took advantage of an empty lot and planted…a lot. Among the standard and the delicacies were white tomatoes..they were good, too. Not sure where he got the seeds from, it might have been from U of I, tho we lived in Ohio..it joined yellow and red tomatoes…I don’t believe they had the seeds again the following summer. Love Ev. Farmer’s Mkt, where they have such variety…

  3. What a lovely, lively and useful guide to enjoying fresh tomatoes! Julie pulled together bits of info and ideas I’ve known and, alas, lost track of. The whole piece is a keeper. Thanks.

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