Tomay-to, Tomah-to


August in the kitchen is all about maximum flavor and minimal effort. Lucky for North Carolina folks, this month is also peak tomato season. A trip to the local farmers market or roadside stand can yield a bounty of tangy, juicy fruit — a taste of summer in every bite.

Nearly all tomatoes grown in North Carolina are eaten fresh, shipped to restaurants, grocery stores or farmers markets, according to Michele Roberts, marketing specialist at the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

Tomato Tidbits

3,000 N.C. acres of field tomatoes harvested in 2018

85 million pounds produced annually in N.C. greenhouses and fields

7 North Carolina’s rank in national tomato production

$52 million annual sales of tomatoes in N.C.

0.3 percent of U.S. tomatoes produced in N.C.

And many of those fresh tomatoes aren’t even round or red.

“There’s been a resurgence of the heirloom varieties, as people have realized those tomatoes, just like any other crop, really had a lot of flavor,” Roberts said.

There are hundreds of heirloom cultivars, but most of those are only available to the backyard gardener. At local farmers markets, favorites include German Johnson, Mr. Stripey and Sun Gold. Lucky tomato lovers might find a rainbow of other varieties: Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine Pink or Green Zebra.

“They may not have necessarily been the best shipping tomatoes, but for the homeowner, someone growing them for themselves, or even a restaurant that may have their own little garden, there are some of the older varieties that may not be as disease resistant, but they have a lot of flavor.”

Commercial growers and plant breeders are constantly looking for that sweet spot — maximum flavor, disease resistance and sturdiness. According to Roberts, just this year N.C. State University introduced nine new varieties.

“There’s just multiple choices out there as far as tomatoes go,” she said.

Wherever you get them and whatever your favorite variety, perfectly ripe tomatoes don’t need much to be satisfying and delicious.

Slip thick slices between slices of soft bread with a generous smear of Duke’s mayonnaise, and lunch is served. For a quick dinner, chop the tomatoes, toss with fresh basil and minced garlic, drizzle on some high-quality olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and allow to marinate on the counter for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours. When you can’t wait any longer, toss the marinated tomatoes with hot angel hair pasta and Parmesan cheese.

If you’re up for a bit more effort, or you have a bumper crop of backyard beauties, here are a few more ways to take advantage of peak tomato season.

More tomato recipes can also be found at Not sure where to buy locally grown tomatoes? Check out

Roasted Tomatoes

Roasted tomatoes. Shutterstock.

More a technique than a recipe, roasted tomatoes are intensely flavored and versatile. Roasting tomatoes in a hot oven concentrates their liquid and their sweetness. Toss them with pasta and feta or Parmesan cheese, pile them on toast or crostini, stir into soup, or dollop on scrambled eggs. The possibilities are endless. Best of all, roasted tomatoes keep in the fridge for several days and can be frozen for up to four months.

2 pounds tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the cut tomatoes with a good drizzle of quality extra virgin olive oil, the minced garlic, dried herbs, kosher salt and black pepper. The tomatoes should be well coated with oil and seasonings.
  3. Spread the tomatoes on a large, rimmed baking sheet in a single layer, skin side down.
  4. Roast for 35-45 minutes, until the tomatoes are at your desired doneness.
  5. Serve immediately as a side dish, or for long-term storage, cool and place in a container with a tight-fitting lid or freezer bag.

Notes: Any kind of tomato will work in this recipe, but larger varieties with more liquid may need more time in the oven. The spices are negotiable as well; instead of basil and oregano, try thyme, za’atar, or red chile pepper flakes.

Fresh Tomato Soup

Fresh tomato soup. Shutterstock.

Roasting Fresh Tomatoes gives this easy homemade soup a flavor boost. The red bell pepper adds a bit of sweetness.

3 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup diced onion
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons fresh herbs basil/parsley/oregano fresh basil & parsley for serving
½ cup heavy cream, if desired
Parmesan cheese, shredded, as a garnish

  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Wash and cut tomatoes; cut smaller tomatoes in half, larger tomatoes into quarters or eighths.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the cut tomatoes, garlic, onion and bell pepper with the olive oil and seasonings (salt, pepper and dried herbs). Place seasoned vegetables in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Roast 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.
  5. Bring vegetable broth to a boil, add the roasted tomato mixture and the fresh herbs. Using a hand blender, blend the mixture until smooth.
  6. Taste the soup. If your tomatoes were tart, and your soup is more acidic than you like, heavy cream can smooth out the flavor. Stir in a little at a time, until the flavor suits you. To keep the soup vegan, a bit of sugar or full fat coconut milk can be used instead of heavy cream.
  7. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and more fresh herbs.

Fried Green Tomatoes and Lemon Aioli

From the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
Makes 4 servings

Fried Green Tomatoes and Lemon Aioli. Shutterstock.

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1½ cups buttermilk
Salt and pepper
4 large green tomatoes, cut into ½-inch thick slices, ends removed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, for frying
Lemon aioli, recipe follows

  1. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, garlic powder and cayenne together.
  2. Pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk and then dredge them in the cornmeal mixture, coating both sides well.
  4. Place a large skillet over medium heat and coat with olive oil. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the tomatoes (in batches if necessary) until golden brown and crispy on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
  5. Carefully remove the tomatoes and drain on paper towels. Serve hot, drizzled with lemon aioli.

Lemon Aioli

½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together.

Marinated Four-Tomato Salad

Makes 4-6 servings

Marinated Four-Tomato Salad. Shutterstock.

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 yellow tomatoes, sliced
2 red tomatoes, sliced
3 cups red grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup diced red onion
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1½ teaspoons chopped garlic
½ teaspoon dried basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Soak sun-dried tomatoes in warm water, drain the liquid and coarsely chop the rehydrated tomatoes.
  2. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients to a large bowl; toss gently to combine. Let marinate for 30 minutes or until ready to use.
  3. Serve over your choice of spinach, lettuce or mixed greens.

Baked Feta and Tomato Pasta

Adapted from
Makes 4 servings


Since this recipe took the internet by storm earlier this year, lots of versions with the #bakedfetapasta hashtag have appeared. Most agree that the recipe’s success depends on quality ingredients like Greek feta cheese, good quality olive oil and fresh cherry tomatoes.

7 ounce block of Greek feta cheese
1 quart (2 pints) fresh cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, smashed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
¼ cup packed chopped fresh basil
10 ounces dried cavatappi or other sturdy pasta, like bowties or rigatoni

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place the cherry tomatoes and garlic in a 9×13 oven-safe baking dish. Pour ¼ cup olive oil on top, and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well combined.
  3. Place the feta block in the middle of the baking dish surrounded by the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and sprinkle on the red pepper flakes, if using. Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, until the cherry tomatoes have burst their skins and the garlic is soft.
  4. While the tomatoes and feta are baking, cook the pasta in a pot of salted water according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.
  5. When the tomatoes and cheese come out of the oven, mash the tomatoes, garlic and cheese into a chunky sauce. Transfer the cooked pasta to the baking dish and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, mix in the reserved pasta water, a little at a time.
  6. Sprinkle chopped fresh basil over the top and serve.

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