How to ripen winter tomatoes at home

You don't have to eat the pale-pink, over-firm tomatoes that are in the grocery store at this chilly time of year. A few simple tricks will transform them into a juicy, red fruit that is good in salads, or for making a fresh tomato sauce or soup. Here's how:

Put the tomatoes in a fruit bowl, or a ripening bowl, along with another fruit, such as a pear. Place the tomatoes smooth side down and stem side up.

The bumpy ''shoulders'' of the stem end are the tenderest part of the tomato, and will bruise simply from its own weight.

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The time it takes to redden and soften the tomatoes will depend on how red they were when you bought them. Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator - it robs them of all their flavor.

Here is a colorful salad to make with your juicy, red February tomatoes. Marinated Tomatoes and Onions 1 pound tomatoes 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil 1 tablespoon cider vinegar 3/4 teaspoon basil leaves, crushed 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon powdered mustard 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder 1/8 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Use tomatoes held at room temperature until fully ripe. Cut out stem ends of tomatoes. Cut tomatoes in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Prepare marinade by combining oil, vinegar, basil, sugar, salt, mustard, garlic powder, and black pepper; mix well.

In shallow serving bowl, arrange half of tomatoes in a layer; scatter half of sliced onion and parsley over tomatoes; sprinkle lightly with marinade. Repeat. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving. Makes 3 or 4 servings.

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