19 Ways to Use Leftover Tomatoes
In the peak of the season, the farmers’ market explodes with tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, colors and nuanced flavors. Heirloom fruits such as Cherokee Purple and Green Zebra bring variety and biodiversity to the table. Fat ones, skinny ones, round and oblong. Tomatoes still warm from the field, so ripe they feel like they are about to burst, hold the promise of one of summer’s most prized flavors.
When we can get the good ones, we tend to want a lot of tomatoes. And there is good reason to make a large purchase of farm fresh tomatoes at the height of their season: the possibilities are endless for what to do with leftover tomatoes. Right now you can enjoy caprese salad, fresh salsa and tomato tarts. Freeze tomatoes, turn them to sauce, roast them; follow a few preserving techniques and you’ll also be eating those bright, fresh flavors all winter long.
Why Choose Locally Grown Tomatoes Over Supermarket Perfection
Commercially grown tomatoes, those grown on a scale that can keep large groceries in constant supply, are raised with a list of characteristics in mind; unfortunately, flavor doesn’t happen to be one of them. Industrialized crops are designed to have consistent size and shape to fit into the mechanical harvesters, processors and packers; sturdy constitutions that can handle the bumps and bounces of shipping and handling; and the obedience to turn from unripe and green to stop sign red when blasted with ethylene gas before being put on display.
Tomatoes that do not fit into this system are culled. The cosmetic standards for tomatoes (and all produce) are very strict; there are all manner of reasons that the fruit might be kicked to the curb. Any deviation — a tomato that is slightly too big or too small, one that has a slightly lopsided shape, has a slight discoloration, or a small amount of scarring from the natural elements such as too much sun — and the tomato is rejected. A gorgeous, fully ripe, juicy, tender, if somewhat misshapen heirloom tomato? It would never make it through the system.
Tips for Choosing Better Quality, Flavorful Tomatoes
In a growing population where many go hungry, it’s unconscionable to discard nutritious, wholesome food because it simply isn’t cute enough. Fortunately, some pioneering action is already underway. Efforts such as the @UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign aim to raise awareness about the delicious possibilities of tasty, if not lovely produce. Subscription programs such as Imperfect Produce are delivering less-than-perfect food directly to eaters’ doors, creating a retail stream for such products.
And we eaters can do our part to eat up cosmetically challenged produce:
- In the farmers’ market, don’t shy away from tomatoes that have had a life. If you have a bit of hail or sun damage, a little nibble from a passing bug or minimal bruising, just cut it off and get on with your recipe. Of course, any significant infestation, rot or mold makes your tomatoes a better candidate for the compost than your dinner plate.
- Try not to demand that every tomato looks like it was pressed out of the same mold. Go for variety — your taste buds will thank you.
- Ask your farmer if they have any “seconds:” produce that is fine to eat but perhaps not pretty enough to make it to the display table.
- National retailers Whole Foods and Walmart recently ended their pilot programs to try and sell blemished fruits and vegetables to customers at a discount, citing a lack of popularity with customers. Make your supermarket staff aware that you would be willing to buy “alternatively” attractive tomatoes.
- Eat it. Although I would argue that any tomato that’s good enough to eat is good enough to look at, there are some recipes that do a better job at disguising those that are stronger on personality than they are in appearance. We have plenty of tomato cooking tips and recipes below to get you started.
How to Use Leftover Tomatoes in Chilled Recipes
- Bruschetta is classic for a reason: juicy, ripe tomato slices paired with mozzarella and basil make for a delicious salad, and the tomatoes don’t need to look perfect to slice them. Mix it up by adding those sliced tomatoes to the next fruit salad you make instead; they pair particularly well with grapes and stone fruit.
- A tomato that is on its last leg is likely to be super juicy, making it a perfect addition for fattoush or panzanella salad. Food & Wine has a number of bread salad variations; we’re partial to preparing ours with a host of summer produce such as grilled summer corn or sweet, juicy peaches.
- The traditional Spanish cold soup gazpacho has been modified in so many ways (such as a fruity, tomato-less mango-orange gazpacho) but the classic version is made simply by blending roma tomatoes, cucumber, green bell pepper, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic and day-old bread into a creamy liquid.
- The perfect party app, salsa is an easy way to use-up a big batch of tomatoes. Some recipes cook the salsa for a more roasted flavor, while others keep the salsa raw, processing the ingredients in a food processor for a fresh mix (see recipe below).
- If you are a big Bloody Mary fan, then know it is easy to make your own mix and pass on the overly salty, preservative-packed prepared mixes. Similar to making gazpacho or salsa, the base comes together by either simmering or blending a variety of ingredients with tomatoes, including horseradish, pickle juice, hot sauce and others. The flavors will taste better after the mixture has sat a few days in the fridge, so it’s best to make ahead; Bloody Mary mix can also be frozen for longer-term storage.
How to Use Leftover Tomatoes in Cooked Recipes
- An easy way to use up a large haul of tomatoes, no matter what they look like, is to oven roast them. Drizzle with olive oil, cook in a low oven for around 3 hours, until the tomatoes are completely soft and starting to caramelize. These are great for topping salads, dressing pasta or topping bruschetta.
- A Southern classic, the tomato-and-cheddar cheese pie is another great way to use up a few tomatoes that are overripe.
- If you don’t have the time or energy to make pie dough (we feel you!), you can make a flaky tomato tart using prepared puff pastry. This pretty version updates the classic by using a cream cheese filling and everything bagel seasoning on the pastry edges.
- For a simple, yet satisfying, five-ingredient meal, try the traditional Persian tomato stew pamador ghatogh. Some variations include okra, green lentils and/or potatoes.
- An old school Italian favorite, Hunter’s chicken or cacciatore, can easily be made with tomatoes on their tail end of ripeness.
- If you have a handful of fresh, large, plump tomatoes, try making gemista, aka Greek favorite stuffed-tomatoes. The tomatoes are filled with a mixture of ground meat, rice and spices like cumin and oregano, and can be made ahead of time, making them great for meal prepping.
- For a stunning presentation of a big batch of cherry tomatoes (about 3 pounds) try this savory tomato cobbler from Martha Stewart, filled with roasted cherry tomatoes, onions and garlic, then topped with Gruyere biscuits.
- A simpler way to enjoy those cherry tomatoes is with these grilled skewers, adding smoky, caramelized flavor to the already sweet tomatoes. For the ultimate tomato sandwich treat, served on top of a thick piece of grilled bread dolloped with fresh ricotta cheese.
How to Preserve Leftover Tomatoes
Spend a weekend with a crate of tomatoes and you can have sauce, paste and tomato jam. These are just some of the many ways to use and preserve tomatoes, and if you spend time doing it now, you’ll be able to enjoy their flavor all year long.
- The first step when you are breaking down leftover tomatoes for preserving is to freeze them raw. You’ll want to use blemish-free tomatoes for this, or trim away any small blemishes. First blanch and peel the tomatoes, removing the skins. Prepare raw tomatoes as you prefer; halve, slice or chop. Arrange tomatoes in a single-layer on a lined sheet tray. Freeze until firm, 4 to 6 hours, then transfer to air-tight containers and freeze up to 10 months. You can pull these frozen tomatoes out for use in soups, sauces, stews and other cooked tomato recipes.
- If you have a big haul of tomatoes, you can also turn some into sauce now to freeze ahead of time for winter. This freezer tomato sauce is a great way to turn 8 pounds of tomatoes into sauce for the rest of the year.
- Once you’ve made sauce, you can continue to reduce a portion, baking it in a low-temperature oven until it is very thick and a little sticky, to make tomato paste. Tomato paste can be processed in a water bath canner or frozen to increase its shelf life.
- Another way to give your tomatoes a longer shelf life, and bring more flavor into your day-to-day meals, is by making an Indian tomato chutney, a combination of spices, tomatoes, ginger and tamarind that creates a spicy, sweet chutney. Serve it alongside traditional Indian dishes, or with many other items. (Try using it like you would jelly.) The chutney will last up to 10 days refrigerated and can be frozen for up to 1 year. (Freeze it in portions for easier re-use.)
- Similar to chutney, you can also make tomato jam. My recipe includes tomatoes and chilies, and when properly canned, will last up to a year. You can also combine berries, such as strawberries, or keep it classic and stick with just tomatoes.
- If you’re partial to blanching your tomatoes before using them, you can also save the skins to make tomato powder. Lay the skins in a single layer on a baking sheet and leave in the oven on the warm setting, around 190F, until the skins are completely dried out and brittle, 2 to 5 hours. (Or use a dehydrator following the manufacturer’s instructions.) Once dried, use a cleaned coffee grinder to process the skins into a powder or flakes. Use the powder to make tomato salt, for homemade spice mixes, to make tomato paste or to sprinkle on popcorn or other snack mixes.
Sherri Brooks Vinton, FoodPrint
If you haven’t heard of shakshuka, the classic Mediterranean stewed tomato and poached egg dish, now you have. It’s a popular dish at many brunch spots, easy to make at home, and a great way to use up a surplus of not great-looking tomatoes.
I’ve used some traditional Mediterranean flavors here but you could easily swap in curry powder and chickpeas for an Indian variation or cumin and coriander with some sliced chilies to add a Mexican vibe. You’re going to want a nice sturdy bread to serve alongside so you can mop up every last bite.
4-6 pounds tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 tablespoon fresh fresh, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
8 thick slices good quality bread
- Cut away any scarred or bruised areas of the tomatoes and remove their stem ends. Roughly chop and puree in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add onions, season with a pinch of salt and cook until onions are translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add pureed tomatoes, thyme and oregano and simmer until juices are released and sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low and stir olives into sauce. Press a spoon into the sauce to make an indentation, then crack an egg into the space. Repeat with remaining eggs, spacing them equally across the sauce. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Season eggs with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on low until the whites are no longer translucent and the yolks are cooked to your desired doneness, 7 to 10 minutes.
- Place slices of bread on 4 plates and divide the eggs and sauce equally between the plates. Serve additional bread alongside.
Recipe: Big Personality Salsa
Sherri Brooks Vinton, FoodPrint
Only have a tomato or two to use up? This salsa can be scaled to put just a few or a big haul of those less-than-lovelies to work. Don’t worry about precision, like good tomatoes, the beauty lies in its imperfection. Add extra chilies if you really want to pack a punch.
Any quantity tomatoes, stems removed, blemishes trimmed
1/4 cup yellow onion per 1 cup chopped tomato
Chilies, such as jalapeño or Serrano
Lime juice, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro, minced (optional)
Tortilla chips, for serving
- Roughly chop tomatoes and measure.
- Add 1/4 cup onion per 1 cup tomatoes to a blender or food processor.
- Remove stem end from chili and touch the stem to your tongue to test for heat — chilies vary greatly in their intensity. Add as much chili as you desire — from a sliver to the whole pod — and process with the onions to a fine dice.
- Add the tomatoes and process for a few short bursts for chunky salsa or until smooth, if preferred.
- Season with lime juice, salt, pepper and cilantro.
- Serve with your favorite chips, alongside grilled meat or fish or use to top pretty much anything with melted cheese.
Top photo by azurita/ Adobe Stock.