Simply Tomato

100 Recipes for Enjoying Your Favorite Ingredient All Year Long


By Martha Holmberg

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Take your love for tomatoes to the next level with this delectable collection of 100 incredible recipes from the coauthor of the bestselling cookbooks Six Seasons and Grains for Every Season.

Americans eat more tomatoes than any vegetable except for the potato. But what do we do with all those tomatoes? Acclaimed chef, cooking teacher, and author Martha Holmberg shares 100 recipes to turn the tomato into glorious dishes. Whether it’s a fresh-off-the-vine tomato or a just-picked-from-the-supermarket-shelf tomato, Holmberg has ideas to make the best of our favorite summer fruit. There are three versions of gazpacho, five ways to top roasted tomato puff pastry, plus Tomato and Zucchini Gratin, Classic Panzanella, Tomato Risotto, and Stuffed Tomatoes with Spiced Beef Piccadillo. With more tomato varieties in existence than ever before, Holmberg explains which tomatoes work best with which recipes: choose a beefsteak to roast with fish or pick cherry tomatoes to toss with corn in a quick summer salad. Holmberg also reveals her secret, umami-packed ingredient—tomato water. She calls it a “magical elixir” that can add intense tomato flavor to most anything you make.



I'm assuming that because you're reading this, you feel about tomatoes the way I do: you're crazy about them. Whether you grow your own or simply look forward to the first Cherokee Purple at the farmers' market, you feel a little ripple of joy when you hold a ripe tomato in your hand.

But lots of fresh vegetables and fruits are delicious, so what is it about tomatoes that inspires such passion in so many people? My theory is that we are first attracted by the sensuous color and shape of a tomato but then get hooked by the flavor, which is a complex dance between sweet, tangy, and that elusive umami flavor (more on that in a minute). And then there's the haunting fragrance of the leaves (see here).

Every year, I grow as many tomatoes as I can find space for, although I am not a very knowledgeable gardener. I skim the research, experiment with a few new ideas, talk to my plants (that's critical), and hope for the best. Fortunately for me, my tomato plants have always been obliging and rewarded me with pounds and pounds of beautiful fruit, which I spend the summer consuming in every way I can think of—in salads, soups cold and hot, gratins, tarts, drinks, pastas, pastas, and more pastas.

But this cookbook is devoted to cooking with tomatoes in all their forms, with recipes for using both fresh and canned tomatoes, of course, but also for what I think of as "semi-preserved" tomatoes: roasted tomatoes, tomato confit, pickled tomatoes, jams, tomato paste, and tomato water and syrup. Every year, I spend hours turning my tomatoes into these components, stashing them in the freezer, fridge, or cupboard to use in other dishes later in the year.

The benefit to these semi-preserved forms isn't that they keep a long time, it's that they're so dang good and fun to make. The transformation of a tomato's fresh delicate raw character into something beyond—deeper, chewier, sweeter—is one more of the daily miracles that make home cooking so satisfying.

What's not in this book is the most basic of preserving methods—canning. You can find countless resources for that in books and online, and given that canning tomatoes for long storage on a shelf involves some food-safety risks and generally should be done using a pressure canner, I like to leave the instructions to the experts. One reliable source is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving; the 37th edition was published in 2015, and you can learn plenty from Ball's website (see Resources).

Doubling Down on Flavor

Researchers have identified hundreds of flavor compounds in tomatoes, about sixteen of which seem to create the unique "tomato" flavor. No one is quite sure which substances play what roles in creating flavor, and in any case, we as normal people can't see the compounds when we look at a tomato, so we won't be choosing between a Green Zebra and a Mr. Stripey based on their relative levels of 2-isobutylthiazole and geraniol. We make our choices by tasting.

The flavor element that I find most intriguing in a tomato is glutamate. This is the substance that contributes to umami flavor, which is best described as meaty or savory. Umami is now widely accepted as the "fifth flavor," flavor being the sensation that we perceive through the sensors on our tongues. You probably remember the diagram from elementary school: sweet, sour, salty, bitter—and now, umami. A perfect example of umami is the flavor of the meat juices on the bottom of a roasting pan. Other high-umami foods include aged cheeses, dried mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, and nutritional yeast.

Unlike most fruits and vegetables, tomatoes are quite high in glutamate—typically 246 milligrams per 100 grams (mg/100 g) for a fresh raw tomato, around 600 mg/100 g for a dried tomato, and 750 mg/100 g for tomato paste—and the riper the tomato, the higher the level of glutamate. For comparison with other high-glutamate foods, dried mushrooms clock in at around 350 mg/100 g, aged Spanish jamón has around 500 mg/100 g, Vietnamese fish sauce has 1,300 mg/100g, and 4-year-old Parmigiano (yum) has a whopping 2,200 mg/100 g.

Glutamate isn't the only compound that adds umami. Meat and fish contain an umami-providing nucleotide called inosinic acid, which, when combined with glutamates, intensifies the savory flavor.

As I learn more about the interaction of glutamate-rich foods, I understand why dishes that create layers of umami from several of these ingredients are often my favorites. Tomato-Peach Salad with Lime-Ginger Dressing, which includes a dash of fish sauce, is a perfect example, as is Braised Beef Short Ribs with Tomato, Dried Porcini, and Red Wine, an umami triple threat of tomato paste, browned beef, and dried porcini.

How This Book Is Organized

Simply Tomato is divided into predictable—though slightly arbitrary—chapters, from snacks and drinks to pastries. (Sorry, no desserts.) I say "arbitrary" because I've got Susie's Tomato and Zucchini Gratin in the side dish chapter, but I've enjoyed many a dinner eating that gratin as my main dish, and on a hot day, a bowl of ice-cold gazpacho—in the soups chapter—makes a fine main dish as well. Not to mention that a couple of G & T & Ts from the snacks and drinks chapter and a bag of potato chips constitute dinner in my house now and again. So if you don't find what you're looking for in one chapter, check the others or the index.

In each recipe, I list the form of tomato that I consider ideal, but when another form would also be delicious, I list that along with any modifications you might need to make to adapt the recipe.

My Thoughts on Recipes

I have been developing and writing recipes for more than thirty years, both for my own dishes and for talented chefs, where my role as a co-writer is to translate their inspiring restaurant creations into something a home cook would be happy to make. But even after all this time, my point of view on recipe writing is still evolving. While parts of a recipe look like a formula—precise measurements (including metric!), temperatures, technical terms—a useful recipe is anything but formulaic. The variables involved in cooking are endlessly shifting, from shopping for ingredients to choosing equipment to regulating your cooktop . . . not to mention that I love cilantro and you don't, and your idea of "mildly spicy" would have me reaching for the fire extinguisher.

And, of course, most of what we're cooking with is made by nature, with a wide range in how juicy, tender, stringy, bitter, spicy, and/or creamy your [fill in the blank] is.

So rather than write my recipes striving for the strictest precision, I write them with plenty of descriptions, hints, tips, and guidance so that you have the knowledge you need to accommodate the differences between your life and mine. I try to imagine the hundreds of choices and decisions a cook will make, from doing the mise en place to adding the final seasoning to a dish, and I call out those moments of inflection so that you can pay special attention to them.

Regardless of the ever-shifting variables in cooking, a few principles are constant. Please read the following guidelines so you can get the best possible outcome from the recipes in this book.

Initial read-through: Please review the recipe before you start cooking. I know it's tempting to jump into a recipe sauté pans ablaze, especially when you're in a hurry, but ultimately you'll save time and angst by reading through the whole thing first. Start with the ingredients list, where much of the prep work takes place. This is called mise en place, meaning "put in place." You'll not only put ingredients and equipment in place, but you'll also wrangle them into the form the recipe requires, such as diced, drained, toasted, etc.

If a recipe entails a task that needs a big chunk of time, such as long cooling or overnight marinating, I signal that up front in the headnote so you don't get an unpleasant surprise. Nonetheless, reading through the entire process lets you understand how the whole flow will go.

Serving size: Honestly, what's a serving size? Who is doing the eating? What else are they going to eat for that meal, or on that day? I calculate servings by averaging what I think I (as a human on the smaller side) and my boyfriend (a larger-model human) would want to eat. But if I say a pasta dish serves two or three and you eat all of it yourself, bravo for you.

Burner temperature: I usually indicate whether your pan should be over low, medium, medium-high, or high heat, but these are relative terms. The heat coming from your burner when the dial is pointing to the middle—medium—may not be the same as mine.

And the burner is only half the equation, because all pans conduct heat differently, liquids evaporate at differing rates depending on the shape of the pan, and the list goes on. All that to say, don't obey my instructions to cook something on medium-high if it seems like your burner needs to be cranked up or down a notch in order to do what it's supposed to do—brown, sizzle, sear, or simmer.

Cooking time: One of the hardest things to quantify in cooking is how long to cook something. A familiar vignette in any cooking school is the student asking the chef "How long should I cook this?" and the chef responding "Until it's done." Annoying, yes, but true. I find that the best way to determine doneness is by describing what I'm looking for. Browned just around the edges or all over? Simmered until syrupy? In every recipe, I try to give the clues that let you know it's time to do something—flip, take from the oven, add another ingredient—so while you should pay attention to the range of minutes I suggest (and set your timer), please use the cooking times as guidelines, not absolutes, and trust your senses.

Tasting (or rather taste, adjust, taste again): I can't tell you how critical tasting is to your success with any recipe, and tasting begins before you even turn on the stove. I start by tasting my raw ingredients in order to get a baseline sense of their flavors before I begin to cook (okay, not all of them . . . not tasting the baking powder). If I've opened a new bottle of olive oil, I'll take a sip to see whether it's grassy, sharp, or nutty. When using fresh herbs, I'll nibble a leaf; sometimes basil can be kind of astringent, or maybe this bunch of cilantro has no flavor. I definitely always taste nuts, because they get rancid easily, and of course for the recipes in this book, I taste my tomatoes.

As for seasoning, it's impossible to prescribe exactly the right amount in a recipe, and more than impossible to know what you, the reader, prefer. Making the dish so that you like it, not me, is the goal . . . at least until you invite me over for dinner. My philosophy is that you should lightly season each component of a dish (the mirepoix, the braising liquid, the sauce, etc.) as it's being created, and then dial in the seasoning for the entire dish when you are getting ready to serve it.

Proper seasoning is sometimes overlooked in our haste to get things to the table (especially if kids or guests are milling about or the cook has been enjoying a glass of wine during cooking), but pausing and consciously tasting and adjusting seasonings is as much a part of cooking as is putting the chicken schnitzel in the skillet or adding the dressing to the salad. As you taste, think of what might make the balance of flavors better. I always want a tension between the leading flavors, some variation of salty, sweet, tangy, spicy, and umami (more about umami here). And you should know that I like my food quite salty (please read about the differences in salt brands here), I like a lot of acid in my food, and I can't tolerate chile heat, so those are the default settings in my recipes. You should feel free to recalibrate to your own tastes.

Storage time: If you aren't familiar with a recipe, it's helpful to know whether you should be reheating those leftovers the next day for lunch or whether you can wait a week and still enjoy the dish. In my recipes, I give an indication of how long a dish will keep well, but of course most fresh food doesn't last long; use your common sense.

Where storage times get murky is with freezing times. Once food is frozen, it's not going to spoil in the way food left too long in the fridge will, so you don't need to worry about food safety. However, frozen food isn't totally inert, and the eating qualities will suffer after too much time in the freezer. I find that most dishes I freeze are excellent when thawed and eaten within 2 to 3 months, and I try to remember what's in my freezer so I can work my way through it. That being said, I just ate a lamb tagine that had been in the freezer for a year, and it was mighty fine.

The key is freezing your food properly, ideally at or below 0°F (–18°C). Food freezes faster in colder temperatures, and the faster it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals inside it will be. Large ice crystals can rupture the cell walls, making foods lose their juices or get soggy as they thaw. I have a very basic inexpensive freezer in my garage that works brilliantly. It's not frost-free, which is a pain because once a year (um, maybe once every five years?), I need to defrost it. But when a freezer is self-defrosting, the temperature fluctuates, which is not good for your frozen casserole.

And of course, you must wrap your food well so it's protected from freezer burn, which happens when moisture that's frozen in the food transforms into vapor, in a process called sublimation, a weird form of drying out. Freezer-burned food isn't harmful, but the flavor and texture won't be optimal. And we're all about optimal flavor and texture.

A Good Reason to Be Lazy and Not Seed Your Tomatoes

So many recipes call for peeling and seeding tomatoes, mainly to eliminate the textural annoyance of curling bits of skin or seeds between your teeth. I rarely bother with either peeling or seeding because I'm lazy, er, focused on essentials, but here's another reason to skip that step: the seeds and other interior parts of a tomato contain more of the key flavor compounds.

British chef and innovator Heston Blumenthal wondered about precisely this question—to seed or not to seed—and partnered with some researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. Their studies, which involved measuring glutamic acid levels as well as conducting a tomato taste test, found that the inner parts of a tomato (the seeds and surrounding gel) contained about three times the glutamic acid of the outer flesh, and the tasting panel confirmed that the inner samples were tastier as well. At last, scientific validation for lazy cooks like me.

Advice on Key Ingredients That Aren't Tomatoes

While the tomatoes are the stars of the show here, every ingredient you use contributes to the success of your dish, so I'm sharing some thoughts on a few key players that will make a big difference.

Aleppo pepper: You'll see this seasoning in many of my ingredient lists, and if you're not yet familiar with this chile flake, I hope you'll have the chance to make its acquaintance. Aleppo pepper comes originally from the region around the city of Aleppo in Syria, but the devastation of war has disrupted the supply. Now much of the crop is grown in Turkey, and some production has even begun in the United States. A few years ago, my boyfriend tracked down Aleppo pepper seeds (which are also called Halaby), and we have been growing our own plants, drying the peppers, and crushing them into a seasoning ever since.

The appeal of Aleppo pepper to me is its mild heat level coupled with a fruity, yes, even tomatoey, flavor, reminiscent of sun-dried tomatoes . . . but with a kick. If you can't find Aleppo pepper, you can use regular chile flakes or cayenne pepper (both of which are much hotter than Aleppo pepper), or perhaps another interesting ground chile such as piment d'Espelette from the Basque region of France.

Butter: To the question "Should I use salted or unsalted butter?" my answer is "Yes." Meaning I just don't think it really matters which type you use unless the recipe calls for a large amount of butter, like more than 8 tablespoons (115 g)—or, of course, you are restricting your salt intake for a medical reason. As illustrated, the difference in the amount of salt found in 8 tablespoons unsalted butter and the equivalent amount of salted butter is not much more than 1 gram. A teaspoon of table salt weighs about 6 grams, so you can see that 1 gram either way won't change the overall balance of your dish, especially one that will ultimately be "salted to taste."

Flour: The recipes in this book were developed and tested using unbleached all-purpose flour. If you'd like to use whole wheat flour, you can safely swap about one-third the amount of all-purpose with whole wheat and get decent results, but to use more whole wheat, or other whole-grain flour, you should either do your own experimenting or find a whole wheat recipe that's similar to mine from another trusted source and make the rest of my recipe using that.

No matter what flour you use, proper measurement is key, and that's not as easy as it sounds. If you're using a dry measuring cup, which measures volume, the way you load the flour into the cup makes a difference. (Be sure not to use a liquid measuring cup, which has extra room at the top plus a pour spout, making it impossible to level off the flour.) If you drag your cup through the bag of flour to scoop it up and then level it off with the back of a knife (the scoop-and-sweep method), you'll probably get more flour in your cup than if you spooned the flour into the cup and then leveled it off (the spoon-and-sweep method). This second method is how I, and most other recipe writers, measure flour using volume.

But even when you use the spoon-and-sweep method, you can have variations from cup to cup. The best way to get accurate measurements every time is to use a scale. The recipes in this book list flour and many other nonliquid ingredients by volume in cups, and then also (in parentheses) by their weight in grams.

Fresh herbs: I know that it's not always easy to find every type of fresh herb, and even if your grocery store carries what you're looking for, you might balk at paying $2.79 for a tired sprig of tarragon that's been entombed in a plastic package. So if I call for an herb that you don't have, it's usually safe to substitute another. Flat-leaf parsley, which is widely available, can play the role of just about any other herb. Just pay attention to whether the recipe asks for a tender herb or a tougher, hardy one (often quite resinous), because 1 cup of rosemary leaves will not give you the same result as 1 cup of cilantro leaves.

Here's how I categorize tender versus hardy:













Mint (unless it's peppermint)


Flat-leaf parsley



To store fresh herbs, first remove any twist ties, rubber bands, or other tags; pull off any leaves or stems that are wilted or are en route to wilted; and then wrap the bunch in a very lightly dampened paper towel. If the herbs are still wet from produce-aisle spritzing, use a dry paper towel. Pack the wrapped herbs in a zip-top bag or an airtight container. Check every few days and do triage, keeping only pristine leaves.

Olive oil (as in extra-virgin olive oil): This is the fat I use most often, whether actually cooking with heat or simply dressing a dish. For cooking, use a moderately priced extra-virgin oil, of which you'll find many brands on the grocery shelves, though not all are actually extra-virgin, or very tasty. Olive oil isn't well regulated in the United States, so producers can get away with misleading labeling, but here are two that I use, which are reliably produced following methods similar to those set by European olive oil standards:

  • California Olive Ranch (note that much of their oil now comes from other parts of the world, not California, but it's all pretty good)
  • Séka Hills, produced by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the original inhabitants of the Capay Valley in Northern California

I also like having a "finishing oil" on hand, usually an Italian extra-virgin oil with a more assertive personality than my daily oil. I use this oil as the final drizzle on a platter of tomatoes, bowl of gazpacho, or pissaladière hot from the oven.

Remember that olive oil is an agricultural product, just like a tomato, and so freshness is key. Look for the harvest date on the bottle. The freshest oil will be dated from the most recent winter, as olives are usually harvested between November and January. Oils will be fine for more than one year, but their fragrance and other flavor nuances fade over time. And olive oil, like any oil, even something like canola oil that we think of as "shelf-stable," will become rancid, especially once it's open and exposed to light, air, and heat. Yes, I (like you, I'm guessing) keep my olive oil next to my stovetop, but that's the worst place to keep it! So taste your oil periodically, and if it doesn't taste fresh and fruity, ditch it and get a new bottle.

Parmigiano-Reggiano: While there are multitudes of "parmesan cheeses" on the market, it is worth seeking out and paying for the real deal. Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy has a deeply nutty, sweet, umami-laden flavor that the others don't come close to, and adding a little Parmigiano to a dish to boost its savoriness is a tactic I employ frequently. While the finest Parmigianos can clock in at $30 per pound and higher, Costco carries a true Parmigiano-Reggiano that's closer to $12 per pound and is reliably good.

Store your Parm properly to avoid it drying out and becoming too piquant. Wrap it in parchment and then put it in an airtight container. The layer of parchment keeps the cheese in much better condition than if it were wrapped in plastic alone.

Salt and pepper: I've noted elsewhere in this book that I like my food on the salty side. I know that some people have to watch their salt consumption, but in general, being generous with salt in your cooking results in only good things, making flavors pop, balancing acid and sweetness, and, overall, helping ingredients become their best selves.

I used Diamond Crystal kosher salt (the stuff in the red box, widely available) when I developed these recipes, so if you are going to use a different salt, please note that you'll need to make some conversions!

Diamond Crystal is sort of "fluffy" (you can easily crush it between your fingers when you want to make it finer), so it takes up more room in your measuring spoon than other brands of kosher salt, and definitely more than table or fine salt.

One tablespoon of Diamond Crystal, which weighs about 8 grams, has only about half the "salting power" of most other granulations of salt, which can weigh up to 18 grams per tablespoon. So when I call for "1 teaspoon kosher salt," and you are using a fine salt or another brand of kosher salt, such as Morton, you should start with 12 teaspoon and adjust up from there.

Diamond Crystal kosher Salt

Morton's or another kosher salt brand, or a fine salt

Weight per tablespoon:

8 grams

18 grams

When a recipe calls for "1 teaspoon kosher salt" use:

1 teaspoon

12 teaspoon and adjust from there

As for salt's frequent partner—"freshly ground black pepper"—please use a pepper mill and grind your own rather than use the preground spice, which loses its fragrance and bite so easily. Freshly ground black pepper, especially a good variety such as Tellicherry, brings a wonderful perfume to your dish that already ground pepper can't deliver.

Here's a tip: it's nearly impossible to grind black pepper directly into a measuring spoon, and grinding it onto a surface and then scooting it into the spoon is a pain. Using the pepper grinder you regularly reach for, figure out how many twists you need to grind a measured amount, say 14 teaspoon, and then any time you need black pepper, you can simply count your twists.

With So Many Tomatoes, How to Choose the Right One?

If you've ever looked at the tomato pages in a seed catalog, you know the waters are deep when it comes to tomato varieties. Crimson, green striped, deep purple, chocolate brown, tiny and round, huge with pleated shoulders, slender torpedo shapes. And the names! Berkeley Tie Dye, Bloody Butcher, German Lunchbox, Hillbilly, Marvel Stripe, Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, Pink Ping Pong, Ten Fingers of Naples.


  • “James Beard Award winner Holmberg informs and delights. . . . An indispensable resource.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
  • “Consider this the tomato Bible. . . . The 100 dishes will turn tomato cooking/eating habits upside down. . . . Destined to be an all-season favorite.”—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
  • “This book is as delightful as its subject matter(if not more so!). I did not know I could love tomatoes more until Martha showed me how. She perfectly masters transforming a simple ingredient into the unexpected in this delightful and whimsical book.”—Justine Doiron of @Justine_Snacks
  • “Martha teaches us how to pick the perfect tomatoes and turn them into dishes you’ll be dying to eat—soups and salads, of course, but also hand pies, gratins, tarts, and more.” —Joshua McFadden, author of Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables and Grains for Every Season
  • “If, like Martha, you get ‘a ripple of joy when you hold a ripe tomato,’ then you’ll get a tidal wave of glee when you cook from this book. Whether it’s the Upgraded Niçoise Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Deviled Eggs or the Seafood and Tomato Soup, there’s a surprise in each recipe and so much delight in the collection. You don’t have to have a tomato patch to cook the recipes, but their allure just might make you want to dig up some dirt and start a garden.”—Dorie Greenspan, New York Times bestselling author of Baking with Dorie

On Sale
Jun 20, 2023
Page Count
248 pages

Martha Holmberg

Martha Holmberg

About the Author

Martha Holmberg is a food writer who has authored or co-authored nine cookbooks. Modern Sauces was a James Beard Award finalist. Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, written with chef Joshua McFadden, won the James Beard Award, and Grains for Every Season, also with McFadden, was a James Beard Award finalist. Holmberg was the editor in chief of Fine Cooking magazine for a decade, the food editor of The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Oregon, and the founder of MIX magazine. She studied cooking at La Varenne in Paris, where she worked for several years as a private chef. Holmberg lives in Spokane, Washington. Follow her on Instagram @marthaholmberg.

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