Chow Bella

AndyTalk: Attack of the Hot Tomatoes

When a tomato is cooked, its inherent sugar caramelizes. That's why there's a distinct difference between the flavor of raw and cooked tomatoes. I think we're genetically predisposed to like caramelized food.A cooked tomato tastes sweeter and less acidic than its raw sister. Cooked tomatoes have rounder tones (to borrow a wine-speak term). If you put cherry tomatoes into a hot oven -- just long enough to warm -- they taste sweeter. Warm tomatoes are a nice side dish; raw tomatoes are a salad.

Broiled or baked, seared or simmered -- there's an easy way to cook tomatoes into your next meal. What follows are some of my favorite everyday tomato recipes.

Before you start to cook with tomatoes there's one important first step. It's not written in any of the recipes. You need to taste the tomatoes. Slice or dice your tomatoes and then taste. If the tomatoes are ripe and delicious start cooking. If they're a bit tart or sour add something sweet to the recipe, like a little sugar or balsamic vinegar. If they're a bit bland add a pinch more salt and pepper - and maybe a little more of whatever herbs and spices are in the recipes.

Warm (Barely-Charred) Tomato Salsa is good with chips - but I like it best with grilled chicken or steak. If I make enough for leftovers I add it to rice or orzo for an easy Spanish Rice-like side dish.

An updated version of a 50's restaurant staple, Tomatoes Gratin takes only few minutes to assemble and cook, and it perks up any plate.

A bit more impressive, but not that hard to make, are Spinach Stuffed Tomatoes. You can also stuff the tomatoes with leftover mashed potatoes, fried rice, or macaroni and cheese.

I make some sort of Fresh Chunky Tomato Sauce a few times a month. It's my go-to every day pasta sauce. I add fresh herbs if I have them on hand. I'll also add peppers, chilies, zucchini, and/or any other vegetable odds and ends lurking in my refrigerator. I also use this as a pizza sauce or a base for tomato soup (add chicken or vegetable stock for soup).

I shy away from fried foods - but I love a tomato that's been seared in a hot pan. Pan Seared Tomatoes on toast, or served with scrambled eggs are my idea of a good Sunday breakfast. If you cook the eggs in same pan they pick up some nice flavor from the just-cooked tomatoes.

The nice thing about tomatoes is that they're wet. If you experiment and the recipe isn't working they get soft and turn into sauce. Who can't find a way to use a little homemade tomato sauce?

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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Andy Broder