COL At last, a ripe, red tomato in winter

Hence, this recipe from Italy

I don't want to retract every ugly thing I ever said against supermarket tomatoes, but I do want to update and clarify my remarks on that important subject.

The last couple of winters, we suddenly have a new kind of essentially ripe and fairly flavorful tomato in supermarkets that previously offered nothing but green croquet balls in the dead of winter.

Mind you, the new ripe winter tomatoes are not quite like a deep red, provocatively fleshy tomato out of your backyard vegetable garden during the days of summer when tomatoes virtually define the word "ripe."

Nothing better


Two of the best examples of overachieving fruits and vegetables are tomatoes and peaches.

And yet, until recently, few fruits and vegetables were more pathetic in their supermarket versions. Something that is so far off the scale at the peak of its summer season could be a disappointment in winter, even if it comes fairly close to perfection.

But winter supermarket tomatoes and peaches have been far worse than disappointing. They haven't really been tomatoes and peaches in the normal sense of those terms. They have fallen shorter of their potential than most of the competition in the store.

Most vegetables manage a 7 or 8 in winter on a summer scale of 10. Tomatoes and peaches strain to reach 1 or 2.

Normally, a peach is soft and juicy and the ultimate proof of how much scent is a part of flavor.

But the winter peach people have taken that masterpiece and reduced it to a fuzzy rock. You could stun an ox with a commercial winter peach.

The reason is that normal peaches don't travel well. They bruise and mash and become visually pathetic. They can't make it to market in a presentable condition, unless they are grown nearby. So the wicked fruit scientists have bred a lovely cast iron peach that will stand up to shipping without damage.

The tradeoff, of course, is the loss of flavor, not to mention a peach with the chewing texture of celery. And a peach the texture of celery is about as appetizing as celery the texture of a summer peach.


The winter peach remains a failure. But the tomato has come a long way. What used to be a light pink, rubbery thing, is suddenly -- in its pricey new form -- a tomato, an actual tomato.

The first wave

The first wave was the little egg-shaped Roma tomatoes that started showing up in stores around here four or five years ago -- not dazzling but with something of a normal ripe tomato flavor and texture.

Now we are getting some kind of vine-ripened cluster tomatoes -- usually still attached to part of the vine. You could tell them blindfolded from a fresh backyard summer tomato.

But you can choke them down and feel you have eaten an actual tomato rather than a rubber ball with seeds.

Hence, a recipe copied from a favorite version in Italy:

Skin and seed a number of tomatoes appropriate to your appetite. Dip them in boiling water for about 10 seconds each and peel them.

Then cut them horizontally into two halves. Grabbing each half with the cut side down, squeeze and shake them until most of the seeds fall out.


Chop the remaining red, pulpy flesh into chunks about a quarter inch square. Set them aside.

Chop fresh basil and set that aside.

Chop garlic fairly fine and simmer it briefly in hot olive oil, long enough to flavor the oil without burning the garlic.

Turn off the heat, remove the pan from the burner and dump the tomatoes and basil into the oil, warming them more than cooking them.

Stir briefly and combine with your favorite pasta. Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The traditional long-simmered, dense tomato sauces popular here and in parts of Italy have their place in a person's heart as well. But the flavors of a fresh, simple sauce made with ripe red tomatoes and barely cooked will bloom in your mouth for hours if you don't do something stupid like brushing your teeth right away.

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