Walk through your local grocery store’s produce section and you will likely find a multitude of tomato varieties. Beefsteak, plum, roma, cherry, grape, and campari are just a few of the many that can be found, not to mention the abundance of the nightshade fruit during the summer. One dilemma that often poses a challenge to home cooks is deciding which tomato to use for a specific dish. Even more intimidating, attempting to make homemade tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes can appear daunting when faced with several tomato varietals. Although there are many options available, there are only a few tomatoes worth using to create a memorable meal.
Before explaining the strengths and weaknesses of certain tomato varietals, it is important to note that the type of tomato used is actually less important than how it is used. Careful preparation and an understanding of how tomatoes cook is essential to creating a great sauce. Once common mistake made when attempting tomato sauce is to use the entire tomato. When cooked, the skin of the tomato will give the sauce a bitter and unpleasant taste. Therefore, the tomatoes should be blanched and the skins removed. Next, some tomato varieties have a high water content and many seeds that will require longer cooking, and any extra cooking time will alter the fresh taste of the tomatoes. In order to avoid this, the tomatoes should be cut, drained and seeded after blanching.
Concerning the type of tomatoes used, a few suitable varieties found in most produce sections include plum, roma and beefsteak tomatoes. Beefsteak tomatoes, large and oblong-shaped, are one type of tomato that can be used in homemade sauces. When using beefsteak tomatoes, it is crucial to remove extra water and seeds that would dilute the sauce. Plum tomatoes are small and longer than they are round, and their small size makes for a high flavor concentration. Plum tomatoes and others like them are very suitable for sauces, and are often called “pasta” tomatoes.
Third, roma tomatoes are a type of plum tomato which perform well in tomato sauces. Roma tomatoes contain few seeds and lack the mealy texture of many others. Roma tomatoes are often preferred over other types because of their Italian origin.
When choosing a tomato to make a homemade sauce, it is important to remember that tomatoes should be firm, lack bruises and appear vibrant in color. It is not wise to cook with tomatoes that are not yet fully ripe or have discolorations. The manner in which the tomatoes are prepared plays a major role in the outcome of the sauce, and the type of sauce desired will determine how to prepare them. For pomodoro or thinner sauces, not all of the seed areas need to be removed. However, for thicker sauces, only the “meat” portion of the tomatoes should be used. Additionally, the other ingredients used will undoubtedly have an impact on the flavor of the tomatoes. Using fresh tomatoes in a homemade sauce is well worth the effort, as long as the tomato is allowed to lead the other flavors and is not overpowered by additions such as salt or garlic.