*Written by: Heather Malone*
A time-honored tradition of tomatoes:
In honor of that tasty tomato season we’ve witnessed this year, we're celebrating tomatoes today! Indigenous people in South America and Mexico have been growing tomatoes since at least 500BCE and probably much earlier. European explorers brought tomatoes back to Spain and from there they swept into Italy and the rest of Europe with gusto. Today the tomato is one of the most important food crops globally, and those of us lucky enough to taste one fresh off the vine can easily appreciate why.
Tomatoes: fruit, veggie, both?!
Okay let’s address the age old debate and settle it once and for all. Tomatoes are most assuredly a fruit; in fact they are a berry. They contain the ovaries and seeds of the parent plant produced after flowering which makes the botanical definition quite clear. However where science can see the tomato definitively, humans have a rather muddy view. We define fruits and veggies based on how we use them in the kitchen and by that definition the tomato is a vegetable, being predominantly featured in savory dishes. Even the US Supreme Court weighed in, ruling in 1893 that it was a vegetable in response to a tariff dispute centered around the matter. They did note that the basis of their decision was colloquial culinary use and not anything having to do with science. This debate continues to rage across gardens and forums alike, but whatever side you’re on we can all agree the tomato is delicious!
Eat your reds:
You may have heard that tomatoes, like other red produce, are high in lycopene, and you’d be right. Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment found in many plants, which gives them red pigment amongst other things. The jury is still out on whether or not Lycopene is the anti-cancer wonder we hope it is, but it has been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health and that’s good enough for me. Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene and the best part is that nearly every method we have of cooking and processing tomatoes makes lycopene more bioavailable. So enjoy tomatoes any way you like!
Selecting the Perfect Tomato:
It’s easy to find a pretty tomato, but what about one that tastes good? As with most produce tomatoes are better when they’re fresh. Almost every state in the US has an agricultural crop of tomatoes as they are relatively easy to grow in a greenhouse. So buy local and get the best flavor and nutrition available! I like to pick my tomatoes by smell. Seek out a bright red tomato with just a hint of give to it that smells of musky tomato vine and you’ll be rewarded with a burst of flavor unlike anything you’ll find in the grocery store.
Move over avocados, it’s time for…Tomato Toast!
Long before hipsters sang the praises of avocados delicately arranged on toast, clever Italians were topping warm, crusty bread with flavorful tomatoes. Tomato toast is thought to be one inspiration for the origins of pizza. Below please enjoy my take on this classic:
Terrific Tomato Toast with Tahini
- 2 Slices of bread
- 2 Tbsp tahini
- 1 Tbsp mild miso
- 1 Tbsp warm water
- 1 Tsp real maple syrup – Optional
- 1 medium sliced tomato
- Sprigs of fresh basil for garnish
- And if you want, top with sliced avocado.
1) Select thickly sliced chewy bread with a substantial crust. A nice sourdough or marble rye would be ideal.
2) In a bowl whisk together the tahini, miso, water and maple syrup if using until desired consistency is reached. Spread over your toast and top with the tomato.
3) Heat in a toaster oven until you achieve the desired amount of golden crunch to the bread. Carefully remove bread from the toast oven, garnish with the basil and enjoy!