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Originally published Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Ask the Splendid Table

How to retain flavor when cooking tomatoes

Lynn Rossetto Kasper offer these recipes for summer meals: Caramelized little tomatoes with linguine and chili-spice rub with orange.

Syndicated columnist

Dear Lynne: What's the trick to keeping the fresh flavors of fruits and tomatoes when you heat them? When I top tomato halves with seasonings and bake them or put them on the grill, they taste flat. Peaches are this way, too. What am I doing wrong?

— Alison in Charleston, S.C.

Dear Alison: This mantra will make all the difference: with tomatoes and other fruits, either keep them just about raw or cook them all the way, nothing in between. This doesn't mean cooking to death, but you want to break down enough of the natural structure so the sugars concentrate.

"Just about raw" means cooking with very high heat to caramelize the surfaces while keeping the centers fresh and bright-tasting. Fats and sugar help this happen.

Try this recipe as a test drive of fast tomato cookery. I use grape tomatoes, but larger ones — quartered and sliced — work, too. Small heirloom tomatoes worth trying are Brown Berry, all the currant types, Green Grape, Mexico Midget, Royal Red Cherry, Tiny Tim and Tommy Toe. Ask the produce manager for permission to taste any tomatoes, to see if they're worth investing in.

Dear Lynne: Do you have a really spicy and tasty rub for grilled chicken? Store-bought hot sauce didn't do it for me. I'd appreciate it if the ingredients weren't expensive and hard to get.

— Greg from Kalamazoo, Mich.

Dear Greg: See what you think of this. Everything can be found in the supermarket.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table,"American Public Media's weekly national show. The program airs Sundays at 2 p.m. on KUOW 94.9 FM. Contact Lynne at www.splendidtable.org.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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