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The Tomato: Queen of Summer

Juicy, fresh and nutritious, the tomato has everything going for it! Full of sunny flavours, packed with vitamins and antioxidants, the tomato has many uses. So much so, that this fruit, used as a vegetable for cooking purposes, is so ubiquitous that it is taken for granted and assume it is always served in the same manner. Here are some useful tips that will let you rediscover the tomato, along with some new ways to prepare it.


A traveller's anecdote

The tomato has been synonymous with Italian cuisine forever. Ironically, the one Italians call pomodoro, meaning gold apple in Italian, comes from South America. The first tomato, resembling today's cherry tomato, likely appeared in Peru, then made its way to Mexico where it was called tomalt, a word derived from the Aztec word zitomate.

The tomato crossed the Atlantic during the XVIth century on the caravels of Spanish conquistadors, eager to discover unknown plants. The small gold apple entered Italy through Naples, then a Spanish possession. The Italians later transported it to Provence, where for a long time it was considered toxic, and used only as an ornamental plant!

Today, more than 70 million tons of tomatoes are consumed each year, and the fruit/vegetable is commonly regarded as the most widely consumed in the world. Italian, Provencal, Greek, Mexican and Spanish cuisine cannot do without. And, according to the Fédération des producteurs maraîchers du Québec, the tomato is the most popular vegetable with Quebecers after lettuce!

Greenhouse tomatoes and field tomatoes share the Quebec market. The greenhouse tomato captures a larger share of the market because field tomatoes are available only from July to September. It is a short season; you need to rush to take advantage of it!


A tomato a day?

Apart from its culinary appeal, the tomato is a real nutritional storehouse. It is dietetic with about twenty calories per 100 grams. The tomato, 93% of water, is replete with vitamins A, C, B and K as well as folates. It contains 4% carbohydrates, 1% protein. It is said to have diuretic, detoxicating, and demineralizing properties.

Furthermore, many studies point to the antioxidant effect of lycopene, the pigment giving the tomato its beautiful red colour. Lycopene belongs to the same family as beta-carotene and appears to help prevent certain cancers. Just one more reason to include beautiful tomatoes in our daily diet!


Buying, preserving

The ideal tomato has no cracks or wrinkles, and is firm but gives when pressed with a finger. A strong odour lets you know if it has just been picked recently from the vine. If the colour is not uniform, the tomato will ripen if placed in a dark and dry place (a paper bag, for example). Keep your tomatoes out of the fridge, where they will lose their salt content. They are always best at room temperature.


A small culinary glossary

A small tip: Never remove the stem before washing the tomato! Quality suffers. Then peel, seed and trim it.

Peeling or hulling

Plunge tomatoes in boiling water for approximately thirty seconds (do not cook!). The skin will then be easy to remove.

Seeding

Simply cut tomatoes in two and press, letting the juice and seeds out, then dislodge remaining seeds.

Trimming

Remove the part that holds the tomato to the stem by cutting a circle around it.


What a family!

The Classic: It is the common red tomato. Used for everything, good raw or cooked.

Italian: Firmer, less juicy and with fewer seeds, the Italian tomato is perfect for cooking: in sauces and coulis, also canned.

Cherry Tomato: Brings a smile to your lips: Slightly sweet, tastier than ordinary tomatoes, this little jewel adorns salads and brochettes.

Beefsteak Tomato:Ideal stuffed or cooked in the oven, this large ridged tomato is at its best fresh, when the season is at its peak.

Orange or Yellow Tomato: Its colour is attractive, even though it tastes like a red tomato.

In Clusters: Greenhouse tomatoes “on vines” are harvested riper than other tomatoes and are therefore more fragile, explaining why they cost a bit more.


Ideas? and tomatoes!

Why settle for the age-old BLT or the traditional pasta sauce?

Simplicity itself

Raw tomatoes, cut in thick slices or quartered, served anyway you like them!

  • Sprinkled with sea salt and peppercorns.
  • Sprinkled with a drizzle of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Blended with white cheeses: mozzarella, bocconcini, feta, cottage.
  • Topped with fresh herbs alone or sprinkled on cheeses: Basil, thyme, parsley.
  • Covered with a strongly mustarded vinaigrette and grey shallots.

Cooked, it's a hit:

  • Stuffed with rice salad, shrimps or a mixture of cooked meat.
  • Candied at length in the oven, flavoured with a clove of garlic.
  • Grilled on the barbecue with Romano cheese.
  • Halved and coated with breadcrumbs, parsley and olive oil, then cooked in the oven.
  • Pan roasted in butter, and finally masked with sizzling cream (heavenly!).
  • Mixed with squash and fresh thyme for a delicious tian.
  • Sautéed as a ratatouille with eggplant, squash, onions and red peppers.
  • Oven fondue: Small pieces of cheese masked in a tomato and black olive sauce, grilled in the oven until the tomato sauce sizzles… served with a good baguette, no leftovers guaranteed!

Tips on cooking tomato sauce

Don’t cook tomatoes in aluminium pots because acidity of the tomato gives it an unpleasant and harmful metallic taste on contact. Adding a touch of honey during cooking neutralizes the excessive acidity of some tomatoes. Also: prolonged cooking of tomatoes on high heat makes them hard to digest.



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