You Don’t Have to Wait for Peak Tomato

While it has been summer for me mentally since the first warm weekend of May, the season officially kicked off yesterday with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

I’ve anticipated this time of year with equal parts enthusiasm and dread. (Being a summer baby who can’t stand the heat leads to some complicated feelings.) But the steaming subway platforms, sweat-soaked clothes and insatiable mosquitoes are a small price to pay for early excursions to the beach, sun-drenched picnics in the park and leisurely patio gatherings that stretch well into the balmy twilight.

Then there are the meals that punctuate these summer pursuits: tomato sandwiches in the sand, chilled tomato salads in the grass, icy pitchers of gazpacho passed around a rickety wrought-iron table. They may be what I’m looking forward to most.

In a few weeks, when tomatoes are at their most delicious, I’ll adorn them with olive oil, red wine vinegar and a Parmesan and olive bread-crumb mixture flecked with fennel seeds, a recipe courtesy of Christian Reynoso.

And I’ll make my favorite salad in the entire New York Times Cooking database: Hana Asbrink’s cold tofu salad with tomatoes and peaches. A little like Italian caprese, a little like Japanese hiyayakko, the salad is coated in a soy-balsamic dressing and showered with basil and mint. It’s refreshing, savory, sweet and a little tart — everything I want to taste on an oppressively hot day.

But there’s still plenty to do with the tomatoes showing up at markets now. Hetty McKinnon’s new recipe for dumpling tomato salad is an ideal candidate for early season fruit that would benefit from a bit more embellishment. The fiery chile crisp vinaigrette takes pressure off the tomatoes, so any grocery store variety will taste great here.

Cherry tomatoes are always a safe bet when the heirloom varieties still aren’t quite there yet, so pick up some pints for Melissa Clark’s recipe for halloumi with corn, cherry tomatoes and basil. It’s as close to summer on a plate as you can get. And because everything is gently softened in a hot pan, it’s less imperative to use the best tomatoes you can find.

View this recipe.

For some (me), the unofficial start of summer is not Memorial Day, but the day they eat their first dip cone from the Mister Softee truck by the Brooklyn Public Library. If you, too, need a frozen treat to really ring in the season, Melissa Clark has some great new recipes for you.

Pick up a few pints of your favorite ice cream for her take on the Chipwich, which she makes using a single giant sheet-pan cookie that is cut in half, stuffed with ice cream and sliced into squares. Or make one of the other summertime classics: a nostalgic banana split or a fruity ice cream soda made with an easy, homemade berry or cherry syrup.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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