A Well-Rounded Meal

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July 30, 2007

Maybe it’s me, but a sandwich isn’t lunch unless it’s served with a side of something. My mom can stand at the kitchen counter eating a PB&J and call it a midday meal, but not me. I need something to nibble between sandwich bites. And right now, that something is cherry tomatoes.

I’m not talking about the plastic packs of grape tomatoes that you can get all year long (and aren’t bad in a pinch), but summer, farmers’ market or backyard garden varieties that are juicy and sweet and round.

Why is the round part so important? At first, I thought I was just being sentimentally resistant to change. After all, I don’t have sweet childhood memories of plucking warm oval tomatoes off my grandfather’s vine when I thought he wasn’t looking. I never got a citation from my landlord for growing egg-shaped tomatoes on my fire escape in Brooklyn. And I never ate a whole pound of elongated tomatoes meandering home from the farmers’ market with a close friend. (Those were Sun Golds—bright orange heirloom cherry tomatoes that are so sweet they’re almost like candy.)

There may just be botanical and culinary proof to support my preference. Turns out, grape tomatoes are a hybrid of small cherry and oblong Roma tomatoes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but Romas are known to be thicker-fleshed, less juicy, and more acidic than other tomato varieties. They’re the ones to choose for sauces and roasting—anything where you want to concentrate tomato flavors. The Roma connection explains then why grape tomatoes aren’t as juicy (or as sweet). Grape tomato fans consider this a plus—no more squirting fellow diners when you stab a cherry tomato in a salad or trying to eat a large-ish one in a single bite. But when you’re just having them with a veggie wrap, what does it matter if you get a little juice on your chin?

—Mary Margaret Chappell, food editor