There are few types of produce as evocative as a fresh, ripe tomato. It sings to us of sun-drenched climates and flavourful, exotic foods. In Mediterranean countries, one can buy fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes throughout much of the year, and they are delicious. Translating this taste experience to northern climates presents its own challenges.

In the summer, it generally possible to get fresh, local tomatoes. However, shoppers should beware of the temptation to follow cookbook instructions which recommend specific breeds of tomatoes as being the best. These tomatoes (such as the famous San Marzano tomato of Campania) are not necessarily at their best growing in our northern regions for example. Heirloom tomatoes of any kind require specific types of growing seasons in order to flourish, and unless the breed is native to your area, it might not produce a quality product. Best is to find a tomato you need (plum, salad, etc.) that will thrive in the conditions that you have locally. This is true when planting them yourself (a wonderful option if you can do it) or even when selecting tomatoes at the farmer's market or grocery store. Ripeness, meatiness, and flavour are more important than the particular name of the tomato.

In the winter, when even hothouse tomatoes are hard to come by, good quality canned tomatoes are an excellent alternative. Try the brands available to you and make your own choice. Although we generally prefer local products, when it comes to canned tomatoes, we have opted for a good brand of organic Italian tomato. Not all producers allow the tomatoes to ripen thoroughly before harvesting and canning, and ripeness is as essential to the flavour of a canned tomato as to a fresh one.

In some cases, canned tomatoes won't do, and in our view, these seasonal dishes must simply wait for the return of the fresh tomato. In our family, the spring day in which the first B.C. grown hothouse tomatoes reappear in our shops marks the ritual return of insalata caprese to our menus! 

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