10 Ways to Use Ugly Tomatoes

Bashed, bruised or split, these casualties of poor packing or neglect may not be good for a fresh Caprese salad, but they've got a lot of life in them yet. And salsa is just the beginning.

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Photo by: Maureen P Sullivan

Maureen P Sullivan

Tomatoes are tricky. You choose the plumpest, shiniest specimens at the market and no matter how you pack them, you arrive home with at least one dented and oozing juice. Or maybe they're a little firm and you leave them out to ripen on the windowsill only to discover one morning that they've gone too far. Rather than relegate them to the compost bin, try one of these easy ideas. (Make sure you cut off any sad or rotten parts first.)

1. Spanish Rice: Toss ripe tomatoes in a blender with some onion and cilantro (add a jalapeno if you like) and puree; combine with rice, water and a shake of oregano or cayenne, and cook until fluffy. Serve with beans, seafood or chicken. 

2. Tomato Jam: Combine peeled and chopped tomatoes with some brown sugar and a dash of cider vinegar. Simmer low and slow until thick, shiny and…well, jammy. Slather it on a crostini and top with fresh ricotta or use it to upgrade a classic grilled cheese.

3. Tomato Butter: Roast seeded and quartered tomatoes tossed with oil, a clove of garlic and a sprig of thyme at 375 degrees F until very soft. Puree with softened butter to swipe on warm biscuits, toss with steamed green beans or mash into a baked potato.

4. Baked Tomatoes: For a juicy accompaniment to white fish fillets, halve tomatoes, and sprinkle them with coarse herby breadcrumbs (thyme, parsley, or oregano are all nice), salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees F until the tops are golden brown and the tomatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Pan Con Tomate: For a no-frills version of this classic Spanish tapas, rub the cut side of a tomato on slices of toasted bread, sprinkle with salt and cut into pieces for an instant appetizer. If you want to get a little fancier, you can rub the toast with a clove of garlic and grate the tomato on the big holes of a box grater. Add a glug of olive oil and sherry vinegar before spooning it on the toast. Both are delicious.

6. Tomato Vinaigrette: Puree a tomato with some Champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar), soft-cooked shallots and olive oil for a dressing that goes beautifully with almost any kind of greens.

7. Roasted Tomatoes: Stock up for winter and roast halved tomatoes skin-side up with olive oil and crushed garlic at 400 degrees F until the skins start to blister and wrinkle, about 30 minutes. Slip off the skins and freeze in resealable plastic bags for up to 6 months to use in fresh sauces and soups. In the depths of February you will be happy to have a taste of summer.

8. Creamy No-Cook Pasta Sauce: Chop up tomatoes and toss them with crushed olives, fresh herbs — think basil, parsley or chives — and olive oil. Let sit while you cook your pasta. Add the hot noodles to the bowl and toss with crumbled fresh goat cheese or ricotta for a simple one-pot dinner.

9. Chunky Gazpacho: Combine peeled and chopped tomatoes with crunchy vegetables like chopped cucumbers, red or yellow bell peppers, red onion, fennel and garlic. Add a generous amount of lime juice and enough tomato juice to make it soupy. Season well with salt and pepper and refrigerate until well chilled. Just before serving, stir in chopped cilantro, olive oil and more lime juice. If the tomatoes are really ugly and won't hold their shape, make pureed gazpacho instead.

10. Tomato-Watermelon Cocktail: Muddle chopped tomato and watermelon chunks with fresh basil in a cocktail shaker. Add vodka, simple syrup and ice. Shake well, strain into ice-filled glasses and garnish with basil sprigs. Summer in a glass. 

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