12 Ways To Boost The Flavor Of Fresh Tomatoes

While some vegetables are fresh and delicious all year, there are many that just taste better freshly picked during their growing season. This is because certain vegetables lose flavor after they're picked, so if they need to travel a long distance (for example, from a year-round warm climate like Florida to snowy New England) they are bound to lose some of that fresh deliciousness. Tomatoes, in particular, are extra sweet, flavorful, and juicy when grown fresh and consumed at the peak of ripeness. So, during the growing season, you may want to consider enjoying these red, ripe beauties simply sliced or with very little seasoning. Without overpowering their flavorful umami flesh, there are a number of ways to boost the flavor of fresh tomatoes.

Start by learning how to choose ripe tomatoes so you have a solid foundation to start with. They should be fragrant and have deep coloring. Scentless and washed-out tomatoes tend to be underripe and have much less flavor. They should be soft, but not mushy when gently squeezed; and luckily, if your tomato is underripe, it can ripen on the vine even if it's been harvested. From there, you can decide how to boost its flavor using sauces, seasonings, and complementary pairings. Just remember, if the tomato is of high quality, it may not need any ultra-mouth-watering additions.

Use mayonnaise

You've likely heard of a Southern tomato sandwich before. It's simple yet effective and works best with ripe, flavorful tomatoes. Besides the bread, there are just two ingredients necessary for this famous combination: tomatoes and mayonnaise. Slather the mayo on both sides of the bread, and sandwich a thick and juicy slice of tomato right in the middle. However, while this does make a classically delicious sandwich, the dynamic duo of tomato and mayonnaise does just fine on its own without bread. Simply enjoy sliced heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, or any variety you have, served with a smearing of mayonnaise.

Use a bottled, or classic homemade mayonnaise recipe, or choose one of the many brands of vegan mayonnaise new to the shelves. The creamy, fatty, sour, and salty flavor of the condiment pairs magically with the juicy, sweet, umami notes of the tomato. The two textures create a pleasing mouthfeel. For a little extra kick, and a variance in texture, consider using a small amount of freshly crushed black pepper on top of the mayo-smattered tomato slices. And fair warning, you'll want to use a fork and knife to enjoy this juicy side dish.

Go simple with salt and pepper

Even if you're not sure what cumin smells like, thyme looks like, or paprika tastes like, you likely know your way around a salt and pepper shaker. For even the most basic cooks, the two seasonings are unavoidable, and can even be found on most restaurants' tables for last-minute enhancements to cuisine. Pepper is spicy, while salt enhances the flavor of everything it touches. And while salt and sodium are essential for human life, pepper is just along for the ride. So, who was the first person to actually put salt and pepper together? It would seem the French are responsible for this match made in heaven, which has spread all over the world and held a great deal of popularity in the United States.

Well, the pair can play a pivotal role in boosting the flavor of your fresh tomatoes. Consider cutting your juicy veggie up into thick slices, and seasoning ever so gently with both course sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Take it easy on both ingredients and let them work their magic to elevate the natural flavors of the tomato. Not only is this pairing delicious, but the pepper adds aesthetic texture, making the appetizer or side dish quite beautiful to look at as well. In fact, with any sauce or dressing you choose to enhance your tomatoes, feel free to add a sprinkling of salt and pepper in addition.

Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic

Just like how salt and pepper found each other in this crazy world, olive oil and balsamic were just as lucky. The combination is quite powerful in both flavor and mouthfeel, and it's no wonder that these tasty liquids can boost the flavor of fresh tomatoes. A high-quality extra virgin olive oil can carry the team all by itself. It should be subtly floral and fruity, fragrant, with peppery undertones. Its rich mouthfeel should be buttery, smooth, and fatty. Be sure to spring for a fresh jar, as the flavors and aromas will be much more intense. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over fresh tomatoes, and if you're looking for a little extra kick of flavor, include the balsamic vinegar.

What makes balsamic vinegar so different from other vinegars has to do entirely with the way it's processed. It's quite a process to create a true balsamic, so you're better off buying one than trying to make your own. It's incredibly sweet with pungent undertones of fig, pomegranate, chocolate, and a slight smokiness. It's quite tangy, as is most vinegar, but is also incredibly sweet. In fact, it's balsamic's intensity that allows it to make such a beautiful match with rich olive oil. When drizzling balsamic vinegar over freshly sliced tomatoes with olive oil, go easy. Just a small amount will go a long way, and you don't want to overpower the natural flavors of the tomatoes.

Top with fresh basil and salt

Both tomatoes and basil are staples of Mediterranean cuisine. Plenty of recipes use an overlap of the two ingredients, especially when it comes to pizza and pasta, but we think they do best when paired together fresh. The delicate green herb is sweet, and slightly spicy with undertones of mint and anis. It's a great grow-it-yourself herb and can flourish in your backyard (depending on the climate and season) or kitchen. It's quite fragrant, bright, and tender. Basil's refreshing flavor pairs perfectly with the rich umami of tomato. Its delicate leaves won't disturb the soft and juicy tomato slices but instead, melt right into the texture.

Because the duo makes such a show-stopping combination, they are often paired fresh together in Caprese salads, alongside buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, and balsamic. You can also find basil in elite BLT sandwiches that have gone one step further than the rest to create a superior version of the classic. However, even without all of those other ingredients, basil, and tomato know how to wow our tastebuds. Simply layer freshly picked basil between thick slices of ripe tomato. Sprinkle with just a little bit of sea salt to help enhance the natural flavors, and enjoy a simple yet intensely flavorful fresh side dish. Use flakey sea salt for a particularly beautiful aesthetic.

Sprinkle with dried oregano

Almost every pizza parlor in the United States serves pizza with three things: Sprinkle parmesan, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. It's that green, flakey, intensely aromatic, and flavorful herb that just seems to take Mediterranean cooking to a whole new level. It's slightly minty, peppery, and bitter in a pleasing way, and can add a whole new flavor to a dish with just a few flakes. Ina Garten's trick for maximizing the flavor of dried oregano is to grind it slightly in your hands before adding it to a dish. Give this technique a try next time you enjoy sliced, fresh tomato.

Simply use a serrated knife to slice your beefsteak tomato horizontally, not vertically. This will produce more uniform slices. Be sure to remove the stem, as it's quite chewy and fibrous. Grind the dried oregano in your palms and sprinkle it lightly over the tomato slices. Add a little salt if desired, but allow the oregano to be the featured seasoning. Extra virgin olive oil is another option to pair with oregano over sliced tomatoes. The aromatic herb will add depth to the sweet and juicy tomatoes, and as you chew its pungent flavor will be released even further. If you enjoy oregano on your pasta marinara or pizza, then you'll likely love it sprinkled over fresh tomatoes.

Smear on some pesto

Just like basil makes an impact on the flavor of fresh tomatoes, there's an option to go even one step further when it comes to complexity. Basil is one of those sauces that often goes overlooked outside of the pasta sauce department, but can have varying applications in the culinary world. It's also quite adaptable, and you can produce endless variations if you know the basics of how to make basil pesto. Start with a foundation of basil, raw garlic, salt, pepper, and nuts. Classically, buttery pine nuts are used, but walnuts have a meaty flavor, and cashews can be mellow and chunkier. Use a combination of nuts if you desire, and wish to alter the texture and flavor. Use high-quality extra virgin olive oil, and include nutritional yeast, parmesan, or lemon juice to create an extra bitey punch of flavor. Overall, the sauce should be oily, intense, herby, and pungent.

Smear just a light amount of basil pesto onto your freshly sliced tomatoes to boost their flavor. Because pesto is powerful, you'll want to avoid overpowering the tomato's subtle notes. Use room temperature pesto, as refrigerated pesto tends to solidify because of the olive oil and doesn't melt quite as easily into the tomatoes. Halved cherry tomatoes with a small smear of pesto make for a fantastic finger-food appetizer, and the combination works wonders on sandwiches.

Pair with ricotta

If there's one thing that goes well with juicy ripe tomatoes, it's something creamy and fatty. Dairy tends to do the trick, and a soft cheese like ricotta is particularly exceptional. Ricotta has a slightly nutty and refreshing flavor and is thick, spreadable, and textured. It's creamy and light, neutral, and made primarily from whey. It has a coagulated texture, and homemade ricotta cheese recipes aren't terribly difficult to make. Essentially, the goal is to curdle milk and separate the solids from the liquid. You can do this with an acidic component like lemon juice, and a little heat. However, you can make your life simple by just purchasing a tub of pre-made ricotta cheese from any grocery store.

The slightly tangy, incredibly rich, and vibrantly creamy ricotta cheese, whether homemade or store-bought, has quite a bit of contrast in both texture and flavor to sliced tomatoes. This duality helps to highlight the components of both ingredients that we love. Because ricotta is mild, you can spread it on thick to each tomato slice. Consider getting a little messy and using your hands to enjoy thick slices of tomatoes, loaded up with fresh ricotta cheese. Sprinkle a little black pepper on top for some heat, or use a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to enhance the fatty mouthfeel of the cheese.

Splash with infused vinegar

Have you ever been to one of those stores that have infused vinegar and olive oils? The experts that work there can show you just how magical a proper pairing can be. In fact, the two contrasting flavors can be combined to make a pleasing yet simple dressing, marinade, or sauce. Infused oils and vinegar contain one or more additional flavors that have been infused into the liquid by allowing the herb, spice, fruit, or other flavor to sit in the liquid for an extended period of time before the solids are removed. In fact, you can preserve your homegrown herbs by using them to infuse vinegar.

After slicing your freshly grown tomato, consider lightly splashing it with infused vinegar. Choose a vinegar that will complement the red juicy fruit. Herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage are safe bets, but you can also opt for a citrus flavor which tends to help tomatoes shine. Lemon and orange-infused vinegar carry intense oily aromatics, so be sure to just use a small splash. Sweet vinegars like fig, or cherry can be quite powerful as well, along with the vinegar itself which is notorious for taking center stage. The liquid should simply complement the fruit, so if you're noticing that it's puddling under the tomato slices, you may have used too heavy of a hand.

Use everything bagel seasoning

Believe us, your life will never be the same after you discover the wonders of everything bagel seasoning outside of the world of bagels. It goes with just about any savory dish and adds flavor, salt, and texture. It makes for a great sandwich topping, goes well with salads and fresh vegetables, and doesn't even get us started on eggs and avocado toast. For those of you who don't know what it is, it's just what it sounds like... the seasoning that goes on everything bagels. It consists of dried onion and garlic, salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper. You can buy it as its own seasoning or DIY everything bagel seasoning.

Sprinkle enough everything bagel seasoning on your tomatoes to make an impact, but remember that most mixtures are quite salt-heavy. How salty you want your tomatoes will be a determining factor of how much of the spice mixture you end up adding. The crunchy texture of the seeds, along with the pungent flavor of the dried aromatics create a mouthfeel drastically different from juicy and soft tomatoes. This contrast is rather pleasing and can help to elevate the overall tomato-eating experience, without taking away from the tomato's natural flavors.

Rub with fresh garlic

Raw garlic is intense, nobody will fight you on that one. And once it's consumed, anyone you're going to chat with within close proximity will know what you've eaten. But, sometimes it's worth it, like in the case of pesto or bruschetta. And although chomping right into a clove of raw garlic sounds not so appealing, there are ways to get that fresh-garlic taste without having to consume a whole mouthful of it at once. Raw garlic is spicier than roasted, and less sweet, so it's no wonder we typically enjoy it cooked. However, there's a time and a place for raw garlic, and freshly sliced tomatoes just happens to fit the bill.

Grab a clove of garlic, slice it in half, and simply rub the cut edge over your sliced tomato. The intense flavor will subtly infuse the tomato without becoming overpowering. In fact, the essence may be so subtle you barely pick up on it, but it's enough to give your tomato an extra boost of flavor. There are different variations of garlic, so consider being choosy when selecting a variety to use raw. Rocambole garlic is a sweet variety but still carries quite a bit of flavor. This technique of rubbing garlic works best on a high-quality, freshly ripened tomato that carries its own flavor and texture proudly.

Drizzle with tahini

While dairy products like buttermilk and soft cheese are an ultimate dream pairing with tomatoes, there are nondairy alternatives that are just as creamy, and carry a similar mouthfeel. For instance, tahini, which is simply ground sesame seeds, is slightly nutty, sweet, and bitter but intensely creamy. There are many types of tahini, but we think raw, hulled tahini works best because it's both mild and smooth, without the intensity of flavor that roasted tahini carries. There's a reason that vegans use tahini in their cooking to mimic the density and creaminess of dairy products.

Tahini is thick, oily, and sticky like peanut butter, but can be thinned out into a creamy sauce simply by whisking it with water. Add a little water at a time and use a fork or whisk to keep it moving. At first, the water and oil will separate and the texture may look displeasing. Don't let that discourage you, just keep whisking until the color brightens and the liquid becomes smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Use a spoon to lightly drip and drizzle the thinned-out tahini over your sliced tomatoes, and enjoy the fatty, juicy combination, totally vegan and dairy-free.

Top with fresh dill and olive oil

Although creamy sauces and cheeses tend to add contrast and boost the flavor of fresh tomatoes well, there is another direction that is just dying to be ventured. That's one of the refreshing, earthy, and delicate flavors, like those of fresh herbs. Dill, for instance, has a grassy flavor with undertones of citrus and anis. Its leaves are extremely tender and lacy, creating both a pleasing mouthfeel and a beautiful aesthetic. Because tomatoes are so delicate as well, the herb does a great job of blending into the flavor without altering the texture terribly. Try splashing your sliced tomato with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil, and using fresh dill to garnish.

There's a time and a place for fresh dill weed versus seeds, and when it comes to using fresh tomatoes you'll want to match that energy. Select fresh dill weed that is perky and brightly colored. Dill seeds are quite crunchy and are often used when pickling cucumbers. They are intensely flavored, and can certainly be enjoyed with tomatoes, but keep in mind they will carry a very different mouthfeel than the fresh version. If you opt for dill seeds, enhance them with a little sprinkling of sea salt, and don't forget about the extra virgin olive oil to bring it all together. Use a light sprinkling, as it's important to simply boost the flavor of fresh tomatoes, not change the flavor of the fruit entirely.