Cherry and grape tomatoes are the tasty little harbingers of the greatness to come when their larger brothers reach their peak. But these tiny gems can be enjoyed for what they are and they are delicious; not only in salads or out-of-hand but in recipes, too. Because of their size, they require very little preparation, cook quickly and, therefore, make easy, quick tomato sauces.
For cold salads the only rule to keep in mind is that, like all tomatoes, cherry and grape tomatoes should not be refrigerated or they lose flavor. There is an enzyme in tomatoes that gives them their distinctive flavor. It is killed by temperatures less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Add them to salads just before serving, and cut and add only what can be eaten at one meal so there will be no leftovers going into refrigeration. Throw away any cut, uneaten tomatoes if you want best flavor.
Make a Caprese style salad by tossing grape tomatoes, tiny bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella), basil leaves rolled and cut into ribbons (called chiffonade) and a splash of balsamic vinegar and good extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. BLT salad can be made with cherry tomatoes, chopped lettuce, cooked crumbled bacon, a creamy dressing (blue cheese would be excellent) and croutons to act as the bread.
For a quick tomato sauce, sauté ½ a cup of diced onion, and 2 cloves of minced garlic in a tablespoon or so of olive oil (regular kind-not the extra virgin. The flavor of extra virgin is lost when the oil is heated, so don’t waste your money on the expensive kind.) Splash in a ½ cup or so of decent but inexpensive red wine and let it cook down a bit. Add a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes and bring to boil. Cook 10 minutes, then use a spoon to squish some of the tomatoes, leaving some intact (all of their skins should have popped, though). Toss with hot pasta and parmesan cheese.
It is easy to tweak the above to change flavors—add diced bell or hot peppers (banana peppers are good-just a bit of heat without taking away the starring role from the tomatoes), green or black olives, capers, a splash of lemon juice or vinegar if you like a bit of acidity. Or, brown chicken or sausage (Italian style) and then make the sauce in the same pan, leaving the meat in the sauce. Cook the meat through and serve with the pasta. Add chunks of zucchini or summer squash or eggplant, which all share the season with tomatoes- sauté any or all of these with the onions and then proceed for a vegetable ragout (ragout is traditionally a thick sauce containing meat, but can be vegetarian, too). Another vegetarian option is to add beans—cannellini or garbanzo are good choices.
Whatever else you choose, be sure to choose tiny tomatoes now, while they are at their best.