|Nine local varieties of tomato, in search of the best.|
A friend complained that she couldn’t find good tomatoes—right now, at the height of tomato season! I took up the challenge—to find the best tomato. I bought a lot of tomatoes at my local, village market and set up a cata, a tasting.
|Top row, from left: Daniela, Castellano, Ensalada, Rama. Second row, Canario, Roma, Raf, Kumato and Corazon de Buey. The cherry tomatoes are just for pretty; I didn't include them in the tasting.|
I had nine different varieties (plus cherry tomatoes). Using local (Málaga, Andalusia) nomenclature they were Daniela, Ensalada, Kumato, Canario, Castellano, Corazon de Buey, Raf, Rama and Roma.
I soon discovered that the local names are not all actual varietals. “Rama” just refers to tomatoes “on the vine.” “Ensalada” just means “salad tomato;” it may or may not be the same as Valenciano, which may or may not be a Rutgers tomato. Nor do the names correspond to American names. Buying locally, I did not have access to varieties from other regions of Spain.
|The Daniela variety, widely commercialized. Large, round, red, it is gorgeous. It will keep a couple weeks without deteriorating.|
|The Kumato is a protected cultivar, developed in Spain, unusual for its darkened red color. It is tough skinned (best peeled) and has a winey, tart flavor, very firm texture.|
|Deeply ridged, the bright red Raf tomato is very pretty. It has an intense flavor and is quite firm. Developed in Almería, the name stands for resistance to Fusarium, a disease that affects tomato plants.|
|Rama tomatoes come to market dangling from the vine. They are medium-sized, very red and long lasting. The rama, or branch, is useful for hanging the tomatoes, the best way to keep them.|
|The tasting plate--nine varieties, no salt, no oil, plain toast to nibble between tastes.|
Was this beauty the best tomato we tasted? It's probably the variety that so disappointed my tomato-loving friend. With its smooth red skin, no lumps or blemishes, it looks like the perfect tomato.
Maybe somewhere it's as good as it gets. The Daniela is bred to stand up to industrialized picking, packing and shipping. Besides looking good, it has a long shelf life.
No, along with Rama and Canario, the Daniela was the least good tomato we tasted. They are insipid in flavor, mealy in texture. Not what you want to make a great gazpacho.
And the winner is--- This wasn't a fair fight. The best tasting tomato was not one purchased at the municipal market. It was the stunted Corazon de Buey from my own garden. Of the market tomatoes, I liked best the Castellano (bigger than Beefsteak!), the Ensalada and, surprising to me, the Kumato. All three had the most intense flavors, best sweet/acid balance. The Ensalada, in fact, is my go-to tomato for salads, gazpacho, sandwiches.
Tomato Salad with Cheese
Ensalada de Tomate con Queso
This salad is best if the tomatoes are sliced and dressed with vinaigrette shortly before serving. The longer they stand with salt, the more juices they give off. Of course, the juicy version of tomato salad is pretty delicious too; served with bread for dunking.
Tomatoes with especially tough skins are best peeled. Your choice. Slice the tomatoes not too thick, not too thin—3/8 inch is about right.
I like queso fresco de cabra, a fresh, soft, white goat cheese, for this salad. It’s very mild in flavor and not very salty. Feta or fresh mozzarella could be used instead.
4 ounces fresh white goat cheese
Vinaigrette for Tomato Salad (recipe follows)
Maldon salt flakes
|Use very sharp knife to slice tomatoes.|
If desired, peel the tomatoes. Cut away the stems and slice the tomatoes crosswise. Cut large slices in half. Spread the sliced tomatoes on a platter or divide between 4 individual plates.
Slice the cheese and cut it into 1 ½ -inch pieces. Tuck the slices between the sliced tomatoes. Spoon the vinaigrette over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with croutons, if desired. Sprinkle generously with salt flakes.
Vinaigrette for Tomato Salad
Vinagreta para Tomates
For this vinaigrette, I used Picual, a single varietal extra virgin olive oil, instead of my usual blended oil. It’s pungent, with a bite that complements the sweetness of fresh tomatoes. I added vinegar in moderation. Tomatoes are good with no vinegar at all, but a small quantity of vinegar helps to emphasize their sweetness. There’s not much salt in the dressing, but be sure to sprinkle the tomatoes liberally with flaky salt to serve. Garlic is optional; you may prefer to leave it out.
The vinaigrette can be made in advance. Keep it, covered, at room temperature up to 8 hours. Add the parsley immediately before using the vinaigrette.
1 small clove garlic, minced or crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
In a small bowl combine the garlic, salt and vinegar. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the parsley immediately before using the vinaigrette.
Toasts with Tomato
Pan con Tomate
|Spread grated fresh tomato pulp on toasted bread. Add olive oil and sliced ham.|
For pan amb tomàquet in Cataluña, you rub toasted bread with tomato, but in Andalusia, for pan tumaca, you spread the toast with lots of grated tomato pulp. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and you’ve got a perfect breakfast or snack. Add thinly sliced serrano or ibérico ham (omit the salt) and it’s sensational.
Sliced bread or rolls, split open
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, if needed
Sliced serrano or ibérico ham
Use thickly sliced country bread, baguette, split bollos (crusty rolls) or molletes (soft buns). Toast the bread slices or split rolls in a toaster, on a ridged grill pan or under the broiler.
|Grate tomato, discard skin.|
Grate the tomatoes coarsely, discarding the skins. (Approximately 1 medium tomato for a 7-inch bread roll.) Spread the tomato pulp on the toasted bread. Drizzle generously with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay sliced ham on top. Serve rolls open-faced or as sandwiches.
Lots more ideas for how to use tomatoes here.
The festival of the Tomate Huevo de Toro (Guadalhorce, Málaga) runs all through the month of August. See a list of restaurants featuring special menus with this outstanding tomato here.