It’s difficult to believe but tomatoes have not always been popular! Historically tomatoes were considered to be a fruit (not a vegetable) not to be eaten as the plant leaves are poisonous. How our tastes have changed over the years!
Tomatoes are one of the healthiest foods on the planet! Introduced to Europe from South America by the Spanish in the 1600’s, they now form the basis of many European dishes, and rightly so: apart from the superb taste, texture and amazing variety of shapes and colours, tomatoes are major sources of lycopene, vitamin A and potassium, which all prevent heart disease. Whilst delicious raw in salads, tomatoes are one of the few foods which are actually healthier when cooked, as the lycopene content increases after cooking (probably because its mainly stored in the skins of tomatoes and released by cooking). So when you enjoy the tomato base in pizzas or in the multiple tomato sauces in pasta dishes such as lasagna or bolognaise, you are protecting your heart at the same time.
A word of warning! Commercial tomatoes are often sprayed with ethylene gas to increase the red pigment (which also reduces flavour) so buy organically from a local supplier whenever possible for the most natural tomatoes.
However today tomatoes are an essential to our recipe repertoire. There are so many varieties on offer: beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, salad tomatoes, in all varieties of sizes, shapes and colours.
- Beefsteak tomatoes: large and generally very meaty in texture. Ideally used in hearty salads and very tasty!
- Cherry tomatoes: best flavours from those still on the vine (yellow, red or orange) Very sweet in flavour. Use in salads or slow-roasted.
- Plum tomatoes: well-recognized for their shape and have fewer seeds. More useful for inclusion in sauces and slow cooking.
- Round tomatoes: good for a robust salad. Ideal for recipes such as stuffed tomatoes as holds shape when oven-baked.
Of course there are many other forms of tomato ingredients, including tomato paste, tinned tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, tomato pesto, and even tomato ketchup – which is the highest source of lycopene in the United States! All of which are great to use in everyday kitchen recipes.
Try the following recipes to encourage your ‘love of tomatoes’ particularly at this time of year when so many fresh varieties are available.
- 4 beefsteak tomatoes (with deep ridges), sliced to medium thickness
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
- I medium orange, sliced into quarters and pith removed
- Zest of whole orange
- 3 yellow cherry tomatoes, finely sliced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 gem lettuce leaves, shredded
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
- Few sprigs fresh oregano
- Toast mustard seeds in a small frying pan until all have popped.
- Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
- Place sliced beefsteak tomatoes on large serving plate and top with the salsa.
- Serve as a sharing plate with small chunks of sour dough or as a side salad.
- 1 large wholemeal flatbread
- A selection of round tomatoes (2 green, 2 yellow, 2 orange), washed and sliced
- 1 tbsp red tomato pesto
- 2 balls (good quality) buffalo mozzarella, drained and sliced
- I small red onion, peeled and finely sliced
- Parmesan shavings
- Handful of fresh basil or oregano leaves
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- Sea salt
- Preheat oven (180 degrees electric or Gas 4), place wholemeal flatbread on baking tray or parchment paper. Heat for 1 minute until slightly soft.
- Working quickly – spread the base with tomato pesto and top with tomato slices, mozzarella cheese, red onion and herb leaves.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan shavings and herbs, and season to taste.
- Place on a baking tray or baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and the base is slightly crisp and serve immediately.
- 10-12 cherry tomatoes on-the-vine
- Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, drizzle with extra virgin oil and season to taste.
- Roast slowly in a pre-heated medium oven (180 degrees electric or gas 4) for 4-5 minutes.
- Serve immediately