The tomato is the fruit of the plant Lycopersicon esculentum. (Botanically speaking, tomato is not only a fruit, but also a berry since it is formed from a single ovary.) Originally, tomato was named after the food family to which it belongs – the Solanaceae (sometimes called “solanoid” or “nightshade”) family. Although tomatoes are fruits in a botanical sense, they don’t have the dessert quality sweetness of other fruits. Instead they have a subtle sweetness that is complemented by a slightly bitter and acidic taste. Cooking tempers the acid and bitter qualities in tomatoes and brings out their warm, rich sweetness.
Although tomatoes are often closely associated with Italian cuisine, they are actually originally native to the western side of South America, in the region occupied by Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the western half of Bolivia. The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are also believed to be part of tomatoes’ native area. The first type of tomato grown is thought to have more resembled the smaller-sized cherry tomato than the larger varieties. The word “tomato” may actually originate from the Nahautl (Aztecan) word “tomatl ” meaning “the swelling fruit.” It wasn’t until the 1500’s that Spanish explorers and colonizers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain and introduced this food to European populations. Although the use of tomatoes spread throughout Europe (including Italy) over the course of the 1500’s, tomatoes did not enjoy full popularity then and were seen by many people as unfit to eat. Part of this “food inappropriateness” was associated with the status of the tomato plant as a nightshade plant and its potential poisonousness in this regard.
The French sometimes refer to the tomato as pomme d’amour, meaning “love apple,” and in Italy, tomato is sometimes referred to as “pomodoro” or “golden apple,” probably referring to tomato varieties that were yellow/orange/tangerine in color.
Tomatoes are a treasure of riches when it comes to their antioxidant benefits. In terms of conventional antioxidants, tomatoes provide an excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene; a very good amount of the mineral manganese; and a good amount of vitamin E. In terms of phytonutrients, tomatoes are basically off the chart, and include: flavonones, hydroxycinnamic acids, carotenoids, and glycosides. Tomatoes are most often associated with lycopene (a carotenoid phytonutrient widely recognized for its antioxidant properties) but are also an excellent source vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum, and vitamin K. They are also a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus. Additionally, they are a good source of chromium, pantothenic acid, protein, choline, zinc, and iron.
PREP TIME: Since tomatoes are sensitive to cold, and it will impede their ripening process, store them at room temperature and out of direct exposure to sunlight. They will keep for up to a week, depending upon how ripe they are when picked. To hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple since the ethylene gas that these fruits emit will help speed up the tomato’s maturation. If the tomatoes begin to become overripe, but you are not yet ready to eat them, place them in the refrigerator (if possible, in the butter compartment which is a warmer area), where they will keep for one or two more days. Removing them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using will help them to regain their maximum flavor and juiciness. Whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce freeze well for future use in cooked dishes. Sun-dried tomatoes should be stored in an airtight container, with or without olive oil, in a cool dry place.
Before serving, wash tomatoes under cool running water and pat dry.
If your recipe requires seeded tomatoes, cut the fruit in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds and the juice. However, think about the recipe and consider whether the tomato could be incorporated with seeds intact. There are simply too many valuable nutrients in the seeds that you would not want to lose unnecessarily.
When cooking tomatoes, avoid aluminum cookware since the high acid content of the tomatoes may interact with the metal in the cookware. As a result, there may be migration of aluminum into the food, which may not only impart an unpleasant taste, but more importantly, may have a potentially unwanted impact on your health.
Whenever possible, try to develop recipes that make use of the whole tomato. Research shows higher lycopene content in whole tomato products. For example, when the skins of tomatoes are included in the making of the tomato paste, the lycopene and beta-carotene content of the paste is significant higher according to research studies.
To make your own basic tomato sauce, simply sauté a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and/or 1 or 2 large chopped onions for a couple of minutes until they are translucent. Add 8 to 10 chopped whole tomatoes and a teaspoon of dried—or several teaspoons of fresh chopped—oregano, basil, and any other herbs you enjoy (such as parsley or rosemary). Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil, and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a fancier version, sauté chopped olives and/or mushrooms along with the garlic and onions.
Late Summer Bruschetta
2-3 large tomatoes
1 crunchy sweet pepper
1 medium sweet onion
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
small handful of fresh basil, chopped
crusty bread (like a baguette)
shredded mozzarella or grated Parmesan
Chop the vegetables into a mid-size dice. Combine with garlic, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and basil. Slice baguette down the middle and lay the 2 sides cut side up. Brush with additional 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle on cheese. Broil bread for several minutes until bread or cheese browns a bit. Top the sections with some of the vegetable mixture.
6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup water
3 Tablespoons flour
Prepare tomatoes. Heat oil and saute onions 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, salt and pepper. Combine water and flour. Stir into tomatoes. Cook and stir until thickened.
MORE TOMATO RECIPES: Stuffed Tomatoes, Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce, Garlic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Baked Parmesan Tomatoes, Tomato Pie, Three Cheese Tomato Tart, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Seashells with Basil, Tomatoes and Garlic , Easy Garden Gazpacho, Roasted Tomatoes with Fontina and Thyme