Do good things really come in small packages? For produce, maybe so. It’s a given that a small zucchini is going to taste better than one of those torpedo-sized specimens, and all kinds of fruit, from watermelons to pineapples, are now available in “personal size.”
Small tomatoes, though, haven’t always gotten the love. Cherry tomatoes have often been regarded as a pallid stand-in for their bigger counterparts, relegated to the salad bar and appreciated more for their pop of color than their taste.
A new generation of cherry tomatoes, and the even smaller grape tomatoes, is changing that perception. Stores and farmers markets now carry specific varieties of cherry tomatoes bred for intense flavor. Even the San Marzano tomato, a favorite for cooking Italian food, has been bred into a cherry tomato. Texas-grown San Marzano cherry tomatoes from Marfa are available at some local groceries, including some HEB stores.
Most cherry tomatoes are eaten raw, partly because the bright red or yellow globes are almost irresistible. They are great to use in cooking as well. Cherry tomatoes have a higher concentration of pectin, making them a great choice for thicker, and quicker, tomato-based sauces.
One of the easiest of all pasta sauces relies on cherry tomatoes. The time savings starts with not having to chop them, just simmering them in a bit of olive oil until they burst. The higher pectin content thickens the sauce in 10 minutes, producing a pasta sauce with the bright, sunny flavors of fresh-picked tomatoes and basil. While it’s meant for pasta, the sauce can also top grilled fish or be spooned over Italian sausage and peppers in a sandwich.
Uncooked sauces are a natural for cherry tomatoes as well. Since their juice-to-flesh ration is lower than a big tomato, they make a less watery salsa. They shine in a simple salsa made with onions and cilantro and also work in salsas with fruit. Again, no chopping is required.
Cherry tomatoes come in an array of colors. In addition to the basic red or yellow, there’s one variety of cherry tomato that ripens to a deep green (not to be confused with a tomatillo, which is a similar green but actually not a tomato at all).
There are also striped “zebra” varieties and a dark, purplish variety with a smoky flavor. Buying a mixture of colors makes for a vivid salad or an update to the old Southern standby, tomato pie. Topping the cheesy pie with a mosaic of multi-colored tomatoes, accented with fresh basil, creates an appealing tribute to summer flavors.
Not all vegetables are better small; my family delighted in growing cucuzza, the Italian squash notorious for quickly outgrowing the children in the family and reaching 3 to 4 feet in length. But even those deliciously edible baseball bats can be paired with tiny tomatoes bursting with flavor.