Raymond "Chef Ray" Sierengowski works in the Meijer Innovation Center as a Corporate Research Chef. You can read more about him in our feature profile of him here.
Why am I writing about vine-ripened tomatoes in the dead of winter? I recently had the opportunity to see beautiful, vine-ripened tomatoes grown right in our back yard year round. That’s right! Want to know more? Hang in there and I’ll tell you all about it.
Let’s take a step back and talk about the reason I looked into this winter tomato thing in the first place. As the corporate research chef at Meijer, I am in our stores daily, looking for the best ingredients to include in our recipes. During a recent visit at my local Meijer, I made a comment about how fantastic the tomatoes on the vine looked and tasted – an experience that took me back to my days growing up in Detroit. As a young boy, I remember enjoying fresh tomatoes with my dad (Chef Ray Senior). Two pieces of white bread, a little bit of mayonnaise, several slices of fresh tomatoes, salt-and-pepper, and voila, that was the best tasting tomato sandwich in the world. As an adult, I still eat these delicious sandwiches.
When I took a closer look at the Markets of Meijer Tomatoes on the Vine, I grinned from ear to ear when I read the sticker on the packaging: Grown in Michigan. The sticker was displayed proudly, and definitely peaked my interest because fresh, Michigan-grown tomatoes and winter don’t typically go hand-in-hand.
That is, until now.
This winter I visited Mastronardi Farms in Coldwater, Mich., where they grow the flavorful tomatoes on the vine that we carry at Meijer. Mastronardi Farms has 30 acres of high-efficiency greenhouses that produce some of the most fantastic tomatoes on the vine grown today. The greenhouse uses the latest technologies and techniques, so much so that I felt like I was at Disneyland for foodies!
With great, longstanding partners like the Mastronardi family and the other 100 or so farms that represent the Meijer Homegrown program, we are truly creating the future of food right here in our own back yard. It is so refreshing that chefs, foodies and every other tomato lover in Michigan no longer has to wait until the traditional growing season (July-September) to incorporate this fresh, locally-grown product into a great sauce, or slice one up for a nostalgic tomato sandwich.
And while a tomatoes balance of sweetness and acidity doesn’t automatically scream “I’m good for you!,” they are a great way to boost your healthy eating habits. Adding fresh tomatoes to your diet is an easy way to introduce a fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free vegetable that's also high in vitamins and a great source of lycopene and beta-carotene, which are all proven to help lower the risk of developing cancer.
What more can you ask of a tomato that tastes great and is good for you?
Well, tomatoes on the vine are easy to work with in the kitchen. Their size makes them great to boil, steam, sauté, or toss in a frying pan. But, by far, the simplest way to enjoy is slicing them up for your dinner salad to add flavor, color and nutrients. Tomatoes are at their best when they are fresh off the vine.
Since fresh tomatoes are very perishable, it’s important to handle them properly. Store them at room temperature, out of the sun. Do not store them in the refrigerator as this will cause them to become pulpy and lose their flavor. Use tomatoes within a few days of your purchase. If you see that your tomatoes are starting to get soft or you bought so many that you can't eat them all, go ahead and peel and purée them for use later in a great tasting pasta sauce.
So now that you’ve got tomato on the mind and know that you can stop by your local Meijer store to pick up the Markets of Meijer Tomatoes on the Vine, grown locally in Coldwater, Mich., here’s a great recipe that you can make with your family today.
Chef Ray’s Michigan’s Home Grown Bruschetta
3 Tablespoons Basil, chiffonade
3 cups, Markets of Meijer Tomatoes on the Vine, ¼ inch dice
½ Tablespoon Markets of Meijer Minced Garlic
2 Tablespoons parmesan, coarsely grated
¼ cup Meijer Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1, Markets of Meijer French Baguette, ½ inch slice
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a medium mixing bowl combine basil, tomatoes, garlic, 3 Tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper. Allow the tomato mixture to be refrigerated for at least one hour before serving. While the tomatoes are resting, place the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Brush the slices with the remaining olive oil and bake at 450 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Once the bread has cooled, portion the tomatoes on top of the bread. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and parmesan.
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