Has nature ever created anything more delicious than a perfectly ripe tomato? I think not.
And yet, with the possible exception of the peach, there is no other produce I can think of that is so hard to find at its ripe, flavourful best. You know the story: your typical tomato in your typical North American Megamart is green and hard as a golf ball. Slice it open and the flesh inside is mealy and tasteless, suitable, at best, as a garnish on a sandwich, and even that's a stretch.
That tomato is the crowning glory of mass-market, industrial food production. Smothered in pesticides in the field, picked while green, then gassed within an inch of its life, and somehow available fresh year-round, this lipstick-covered pig is then devoured by consumers who value looks over flavour.
What's a tomato-lover to do? For this tomato-lover, the solution is to ask everyone you know with even a modicum of greenspace if they grow tomatoes, and, if they do, to see if you can snag a few for yourself. Then, limit truly rapacious tomato consumption to late summer and early fall, when tomatoes are actually in season. Come fall, it's time to go canned (but that's a separate post).
If you're really lucky, you may even have Italian friends whose fathers have massive backyards and a green thumb. Thank God I do. My friend and co-worker, Carlo, also known as "my best friend" come late-August, is just such a person. For the past two summers, he's stopped by my desk every few days with a massive bag of homegrown, organic, vine-ripened tomatoes.
Now, a fresh, ripe tomato demands to be the star of whatever dish it ends up in. This is not the time or the tomato to contemplate a couple of slices as a garnish on a sandwich. Nope, you've got to seize the moment -- eat the damn thing on its own like an apple, or, if you're like me, consider a salad.