It’s hard to deny that tomatoes are the ideal summer food – and that’s saying a lot in a season where so much produce is at its peak. But when a heat wave strikes, as one has throughout much of the United States over the past few weeks, the tomato really proves its worth.
On their own, tomatoes are just what the doctor ordered. “Raw tomatoes are a source of lycopene, an antioxidant, and they’re also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and folate,” said Lauren Manganiello, a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist in Long Island, New York.
Though cooking tomatoes does boost their lycopene content, you’ll still get enough from an uncooked tomato to make it worth your while, according to Manganiello. If you really want to help up your antioxidant intake, add a little bit of olive oil. “Consuming fresh tomatoes with a source of fat, such as olive oil, is a great way to boost lycopene absorption,” she said.
With a few swipes of a knife, you can turn a crop of tomatoes into a truly satisfying meal, and in many cases, you can do it without touching a stove burner knob.
The following incredibly easy tomato recipes are either no-cook or come together with a few chop-and-prep steps, because it’s tough enough to get through these scorching days without adding the misery of a hot kitchen.
Salads and sandwiches
When it comes down to it, almost anything can be a salad or a sandwich – the potential combinations are endless. And nothing demonstrates that better than a tomato sandwich.
Southerners rave over the simplicity of a tomato sandwich on white bread, dressed lightly with mayonnaise and salt. And if you want to pile on more ingredients, you’ll find ways to make a tomato sandwich every day of the week.
Swap out the mayonnaise for hummus, ranch dressing, cream cheese or spicy mustard. Add a sliced hard-boiled egg or avocado. Grab extra napkins for the juicy mess of cherry pepper relish or pickled onions. Or if you’re in the mood for classic comfort, there’s always the BLT.
Similarly, a traditional Caprese salad can become even more summery with a few fruity additions. Layer slices of fresh peaches or watermelon with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil on your salad platter, or for a kid-friendly twist, make caprese skewers.
Got leftover grilled steak, shrimp or chicken? Turn it into the base for a Cobb salad with as many tomatoes and leftover fridge elements as you can handle. Try this recipe as a start, and pick and choose add-ins like roasted red peppers and marinated chickpeas to suit your tastes.
Sauces and spreads
We all love slow-simmered marinara sauce for ladling over pasta, but the heat of July might not be the best time to cook up a big batch. Instead, stir up a no-cook tomato sauce that practically explodes with the juiciness of fresh tomatoes. Try it with a hearty chickpea-based or whole grain pasta.
The word “pesto” seems synonymous with basil, but tomatoes can find their way into this rustic sauce, too. Tomato pesto, or pesto alla Trapanese, is a traditional Sicilian recipe that comes together quickly in the food processor. Use it in a pasta salad or as a grain bowl dressing.
Either of these sauces also works well as a bruschetta and crostini topping for an impromptu happy hour with snacks.
On the grill
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen and fire up the grill. You won’t have to spend much time over the flame, but if you want a hot meal on a hot day, grilled dishes with tomatoes fit the bill.
Foil packet meals are quite possibly the easiest way to grill with very little mess and cleanup. Place salmon fillets on a piece of heavy-duty foil drizzled with olive oil and load them up with halved cherry tomatoes and herbs like rosemary, dill or cilantro.
This method is infinitely versatile – so if you’re craving other seafood, like shrimp or scallops, or more summer vegetables, you can customize it to each family member’s tastes.
If chips and salsa are all you have an appetite for, make homemade salsa by charring whole tomatoes, peppers and onions on the grill. A few minutes are enough to blister their skins and boost the flavor of the blend.
Finally, if you have a bumper crop of tomatoes and a little time on your hands, why not play mixologist and make fresh tomato water for cocktails? Tomato water is nothing more than the slowly – very slowly – strained liquid from a tomato, and it’s a low-maintenance way to make stellar drinks.
Line a metal strainer with a flour sack towel or cheesecloth, then place it over a deep bowl. Chop tomatoes and sprinkle with salt, then pour into the towel and refrigerate for at least eight and up to 24 hours.
What’s left after an overnight rest is tomato water, which can be used in martinis and Bloody Marys or mixed with gin or vodka and tonic for a savory summer sip.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.