My favorite summer recipes happen to include my favorite vegetable to grow in my garden — tomatoes. In fact, there have been years when my Southern Californian garden consisted of nothing but tomatoes. We grew about 15 varieties of tomatoes, and four of those fell into the cherry tomato category. When summer arrived, so did hundreds of tomatoes, and I found myself creating summer cherry tomato recipes for every occasion.
The Best Cherry Tomatoes
Cherry Tomato Varieties
We tend to think of cherry tomatoes as the small round red tomatoes found in restaurant house salads everywhere. However, over 100 different cherry tomato varieties exist. Besides the most common red variety, these conveniently sized tomatoes can also be any color that larger tomatoes can be, like yellow, purple, brown, and orange. They can vary in size from a pea all the way up to a golf ball.
What Are the Best Cherry Tomato Varieties?
Cherry tomatoes taste sweet and flavorful. Many times my choice of tomato will depend on the color and size that best match the dish.
If the recipe calls for raw tomatoes, I will select a variety of tomatoes in different colors for an eye-popping presentation. For a brown tomato, I like chocolate cherry tomatoes. Orange sun gold cherry tomatoes and yellow sun sugar cherry tomatoes are both excellent choices, My favorite red cherry tomatoes are the tiny sweet pea currant tomatoes. The sweet pea currants are definitely the cutest tomato you’ll ever see. Yes, tomatoes can be cute!
Cherry Tomatoes Versus Grape Tomatoes
The biggest difference between cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes is the shape. Cherry tomatoes are more round and grape tomatoes are more oblong. Cherry tomatoes tend to be juicier and sweeter with a thinner skin. Because the thicker skinned grape tomatoes have a longer shelf life, you will find them more readily available in the grocery stores. Don’t fret if you cannot find cherry tomatoes. You can substitute grape tomatoes in almost any recipe without complication or great loss of flavor.
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Recipes
Growing up with Italian grandparents, I most closely associate tomatoes with Italian food. No matter the season, at least one dish typically contained tomatoes at our Sunday dinners. So, most of my favorite summer cherry tomato recipes have Italian roots.
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Salad: Burrata Panzanella
Inspired by the Tuscan bread and tomato salad, Panzanella, this recipe continues to steal the show at my summer dinners. If you’re a cheese lover like me, this is the salad for you!
Adding an incredibly creamy center to mozzarella results in the amazing cheese, burrata. The creaminess of the burrata combined with the crunchiness of the bread makes this summer salad extra delicious. The variety of cherry tomato colors along with red onions make it especially beautiful.
With just a handful of ingredients and a simple balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing, this cherry tomato salad can be prepared in less than half an hour. As my go-to salad recipe for entertaining, Burrata Panzanella can act as an appetizer or side dish. Serve it with a charcuterie board al fresco for the perfect summer meal.
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Pasta: Orecchiette Pugliese
Living in San Diego where the year-round temperatures hover between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ve become a bit of a “Goldilocks.” I don’t like to be too hot or too cold. So, in order to keep the house cool in summer, my number one cooking rule is not to use the oven. The stove will not heat up the house nearly as much, and, of course, a quick and easy recipe also helps keep things cool.
It seems fitting that this simple summer pasta dish comes from one of the hottest regions in Italy, Puglia. In Italy, each area has a specific pasta shape that you will find throughout the region. In Puglia, it is orecchiette, which means “little ears.” The ear shape perfectly holds the three main ingredients of Orecchiette Pugliese: crumbled sausages, spinach, and cherry tomatoes.
Loaded with veggies, this Pugliese pasta makes an unexpectedly light summer dinner. Adding to the lightness of this dish is the sauce that naturally forms from the juice of the cherry tomatoes and olive oil. The sauce basically makes itself, so there’s no saucepot to clean — another reason I love this dish! Best of all, my family loves it too. It’s the summer dish they request the most!
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Salsa: Italian Checca
Think of Checca as Italian salsa. The classic Italian Checca can be made in minutes by chopping tomatoes, garlic, and basil, and adding a little extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. With such a simple recipe, it is imperative to use the freshest most flavorful tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes will fit the bill.
Just as versatile as salsa, Checca can be enjoyed in many ways. Give your grilled chicken or fish a flavor boost with Checca. Toss it with pasta, rice, or any grain for a refreshing side dish. Spread it on bread for a delightful appetizer. This Italian cherry tomato salsa will make almost any dish look and taste better!
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Sauce: Marinara Sauce
Contrary to popular belief, Marinara from scratch is a quick sauce for an easy summer dinner. If you have a garden full of cherry tomatoes, homemade Marinara should be on your list!
Because of their naturally high sugar content, cherry tomatoes are one of the best tomatoes to use for Marinara. You probably have the rest of the necessary ingredients (garlic, olive oil, basil, oregano, and onion) in your refrigerator or pantry.
Additionally, this sauce freezes really well. Make a big batch and freeze the leftovers. You will not be sorry!
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Accompaniment: Blistered Tomatoes
Blistered cherry tomatoes go with almost any meal! Just heat a frying pan on high with a little olive oil, add the cherry tomatoes either whole or halved, and char lightly. In just a few minutes, you’ll have an accompaniment to perk up most any meal.
If you’re grilling, put some cherry tomatoes on a skewer and rub them with olive oil. Watch them closely because they’ll cook quickly.
Top grilled chicken, steak, or fish with blistered tomatoes, add them to a charcuterie board or cheese platter, jazz up broccoli, green beans, or rice. Get creative! You cannot go wrong here.
Favorite Summer Cherry Tomato Appetizer: Caprese Skewers
In a pinch for a no-cook summer appetizer? Try this simple solution! Stick cherry tomatoes and mozzarella on a toothpick or small skewer, drizzle with balsamic reduction or glaze, and garnish with chopped basil.
Summertime is tomato time! No matter where you live, tomatoes taste best in summer when ripened on the vine. It’s when the best tomatoes of the year are available.
At the peak of the season, you’ll find hundreds of tomato varieties offered. Try the many different varieties of cherry tomatoes. High in sweetness, they make a great choice for both raw and cooked tomato recipes.
I hope some of my favorite summer cherry tomato recipes will brighten your table and become some of your staple recipes, too.
by Denise Macuk
For more Italian recipes, check out Diego’s Food-Inspired Guide to Calabria, Italy.