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While many home gardeners are finding themselves busy canning tomatoes to savor during the coming winter months, why not enjoy them now?

It won't be long before the overabundance of ripe tomatoes is just a memory and the ones available in the supermarket during winter months just can't compare to off-the-vine taste.

Here are a few recipes to enjoy those ripe tomatoes now.

Garden Salsa

1 lb. (4-5) roma or plum tomatoes

1/2 c. chopped red onion

1 minced garlic clove

1/4 small jalapeno pepper

2 T. chopped, fresh cilantro

juice from 1/2 lime

salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes into small pieces. Mix all ingredients together and serve. this year is a good one. Fresh salsa will keep in the refridgerator up to three days.

TIP: top tacos, burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas with a dollop of salsa; add salsa to your favorite shrimp, fish or seafood dish; or top lettuce salads or scrambled eggs with fresh salsa.

Tomato Cucumber Salad

2 med. cucumbers, chopped

2 med. Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/4 low-fat mayonnaise

1/4 c. low-fat sour cream

2 T. dill weed

Combine cucumbers and tomatoes in a bowl. Stir mayonnaise, sour cream and dill together in separate bowl. Add to vegetable mixture and mix. Serves 4.

Italian Pasta Salad

2 c. cooked rotina pasta

2 med. Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

2 T. fresh basil, chopped

1/2 c. low fat Italian salad dressing

Combine tomatoes, cooked pasta, cheese, basil and salad dressing in a bowl. Chill and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Spiced Tomatoes

3-4 med. tomatoes chopped

1 lg. bell pepper, chopped

1 lg. onion, chopped

1 T. celery seed

sugar to taste

5 whole cloves

Mix ingredients together and simmer for 1 hour over medium low heat before serving. Excellent with cold meats.

Bacon & Tomato Salad

1 head lettuce, cut into bite sized pieces

2 c. cubed chicken

8-10 slices crisp bacon

1 lg. tomatoes, cut into pieces

1 hard cooked egg, sliced

Have lettuce and chicken well chilled. Combine in bowl; bacon bits, chicken and lettuce. Top with tomato and egg. Top with dressing of your choice.

Tomato Basil Sauce

4 lg. tomatoes, peeled*

1/2 c. onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 T. olive oil

2 T. chopped fresh basil (may substitute 1 T. dry Italian herbs)

salt and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in large skillet. Add onions and garlic to skillet, stir and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes until onions are soft. Add peeled tomatoes and basil to skillet, salt and pepper. Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve sauce on top of cooked pasta. Serves 4.

* To peel tomatoes, place in boiling water for 20-25 seconds. Remove tomatoes and place into bowl of ice water. Skins will easily slip off.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Looking for a way to use up those end of season tomatoes?

3 med. green tomatoes

1 egg

1/2 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. flour, divided

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 t. salt

1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper

pinch ground cayenne pepper

high heat oil, for frying

Sea Salt

Slice tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds. For breading mixture, whisk egg and buttermilk together in a shallow bowl. Scoop 1/4 c. flour onto a medium plate. On a second plate, add remaining flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper and cayenne; blended together with a whisk.

Dredge a tomato slice in plain flour, shaking off any excess; dip in egg mixture; dredge in cornmeal until evenly coated and transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining tomato slices.

Line a plate with paper towels; set aside. In a heavy skillet, heat 1/4-inch of high heat oil to 375°. Carefully place tomatoes into hot oil and cook 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Transfer to paper towel lined plate (keeping tomatoes in a single layer so they don't get soggy) and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. Serve hot. 

Tomato How-to's

Freezing tomatoes: wash tomatoes under running tap water, peel (using hot and cold water bath), pack in freezer bags, removing as much air as possible from the bag. Tomatoes may be stored in freezer at 0 degrees F, for 8-12 months.

Choosing tomatoes: Select tomatoes that are smooth and firm with no cracks or soft spots. 

Ripening late tomatoes: Have tomatoes that won't ripen before the frost? No worries, the best chance for season end tomatoes is to bring them indoors. Like many fruits, tomatoes continue to ripen once they’ve been picked. Left on the countertop, tomatoes will produce ethylene on their own and ripen eventually. HGTV's Mick Telkamp says using a banana will help speed up the ripening process. For just a few tomatoes, place them in a paper bag with a banana and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight.  Check on tomatoes daily and remove any showing signs of mold or disease. Once ripened, tomatoes should be used within a week for best flavor.

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