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Juicy, Ripe Beefsteak Tomatoes

These meaty, succulent tomatoes are one of summer's most flavorful gifts

by Ruth Lively

fromFine Cooking
Issue 80

It’s only when I can dig my teeth into that very first slice of thick, juicy beefsteak tomato that I know summer is really in full swing. Beefsteak tomatoes are the greatest gift of this season; I love to savor their sweet, intense flavor with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. When you have truly good tomatoes, you don’t need much else.

What’s in a name

I can’t think of a better word than “beefsteak” to describe these meaty, succulent tomatoes when they’re sliced. But beefsteak isn’t a botanical term. Any of several varieties of large tomatoes with thick, plump flesh can be called beefsteaks. And not all beefsteak varieties are huge. Although many produce fruit weighing well over 1 lb. (I’ve grown some that weighed more than 4 lb. apiece), there are some varieties that weigh less. A beefsteak has smaller seed cavities and therefore a greater ratio of flesh to juice and seeds than other kinds of tomatoes. Then there’s shape. Beefsteak varieties are typically—though not always—slightly flattened (oblate, in botanical terms) and sometimes lumpy, with a slightly irregular shape. We’re so used to perfectly shaped supermarket tomatoes that many of us consider an imperfect shape undesirable. That couldn’t be less true. The tomatoes that look the ugliest, including beefsteaks, are often the best tasting.

Don’t refrigerate

Leave tomatoes at room temperature until you’re ready to use them. Refrigeration causes loss of flavor and a mealy texture.

Where to get great beefsteaks

As a gardener, I’m a firm believer that the most flavorful tomatoes are homegrown, but I realize not everyone can manage that. The next best place to get great tomatoes is at a farm stand or a farmers’ market, while the supermarket is where you’re least likely to find a tasty tomato—although some grocery stores do carry beefsteaks now. (Supermarket tomatoes are usually picked too soon and never achieve the full flavor and texture of vine-ripened fruits.) When shopping for tomatoes, I go for those with intact skins and no bruises, firm but yielding under gentle pressure, and with a deep color. Of course, color is a useful indicator only if you already know what color the variety should be when it’s ripe.

What to do with all those tomatoes

Here are some ideas for using fresh beefsteak tomatoes:

Add a twist to the classic BLT by replacing lettuce with arugula, bacon with prosciutto, and plain mayonnaise with green mayonnaise. To make green mayonnaise, stir some puréed herbs, like basil, cilantro, chives, and parsley and some grated garlic into homemade or your favorite store-bought mayonnaise.

Other simple sandwich combinations include Cheddar, tomato, and a thin slice of red onion on rye; or tomato, watercress, mayonnaise, and black pepper in a pita pocket.

For a beautiful salad platter, lay out slices from various colors of beefsteak tomatoes and drizzle with a tasty vinaigrette. This could be as simple as balsamic vinegar and good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, or a thick Dijon-spiked emulsion of olive oil and red-wine vinegar speckled with minced herbs, or even a dollop of pesto thinned to pouring consistency with olive oil and a touch of vinegar.

For a quick, fresh pasta sauce, roughly chop a large beefsteak tomato and toss with hot pasta, plenty of grated cheese, pitted olives, and lots of herbs.

For a late-summer breakfast treat, add fat slices of fried tomato to a plate of eggs and bacon. Fry the tomatoes briefly on both sides in a little olive oil just until they blister and color slightly.

And for a terrific tomato and bread salad, see the recipe for Grilled Sourdough Panzanella.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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