The first thoughts of tomatoes are of delicious red orbs, which are part of our Valley kitchen lore. By the 1950s we were familiar with the red genetically engineered picture-perfect globes that were designed to fit exactly into home canning jars; these, sadly, have less taste when raw and less vibrancy in cooking. Therefore, over the last decade many have turned back to the heirloom varieties, which are hardy, more resistant to bugs, weather fluctuations and have a wonderful flavor. They are best eaten plain with only a small sprinkle of salt. The heirlooms are varied in size, color and have a misshapen characteristic – a mostly gnarled appearance. The color varieties produced locally and found at the Market, include greens, striped, yellow to deep orange, pink/reds and the purple-to-black colors. During this tomato season, stop and chat with the vendors, and find out about the characteristics of the different varieties, the names, and each vendor’s favorite ways to savor them. If you sample you will find many different flavors, some with a hint of sweetness, others are a bit tart, some more intense than others, all of which are excellent sliced and eaten plain, paired with some fresh basil or added to a cucumber and onion salad. Perhaps, the best and most classic way to love fresh tomatoes is as part of a sandwich; either as a plain tomato and mayonnaise sandwich on homemade white bread or the famous American BLT, (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato), on white bread. As a dietitian, I usually recommend whole wheat and whole grain breads, but somehow with the tomato sandwich, white bread seems to be the perfect match in culinary heaven, along with the mayo.
There are more than 7000 varieties of tomatoes known world-wide. Botanically the tomato is a ‘fruit’; however in 1883, the United States Supreme Court, made a decision that it be considered a ‘vegetable’ because of how it is perceived in the culinary cooking tradition. Tomatoes are a native of the Americas, but have traveled to all corners of the globe and adjusted to different temperature zones, soils and have been embraced in many culinary styles. They are a kitchen delight, serve raw or cooked; recipes abound in all the food cultures of the world.
Nutritionally, tomatoes are low in calories, providing Vitamin A and C along with a gram of fiber; the most noted nutritional contribution is lycopene. Lycopene is found in reddish vegetables and fruits, including red tomatoes and watermelon. Tomatoes provide the majority of lycopene in our diet, and are a potent weapon against cancer, most notably for males as prostate cancer prevention, (research is pending). Lycopene, an antioxidant and is more concentrated in cooked tomatoes products, so cooking-down fresh tomatoes in pizza or spaghetti sauce gives an extra boost to cancer prevention.
When cooking with tomatoes, it is best to remove the ‘gel’ cavity where the seeds are located; this gel/seed mixture has moisture and the seeds are bitter – neither benefits a recipe. There are two ways to remove these, the first is to cut the tomato in half through the ‘equator’, then take your finger and remove the gel/seed cavity (and discard), the second is to quarter the tomato and taking a knife carve out the gel/seed area; both of these methods leave the meat of the tomato that provides for a dryer less bitter tomato to use. Speaking of seeds in a tomato, one needs to consider there are female and male tomatoes AND there is a way to tell the difference! Holding the tomato, look at the former bloom end (opposite the stem end), if there is a small ‘dot’ scar, the tomato is a male, which will have fewer seeds and less in mixture in the gel cavity. The female will have a larger, more ‘horizontal’ scar, indicating more seeds in the gel cavity and more moisture. At this juncture, there are two actions, for the farmer, if this was a particularly good crop and worthy to have next season, these are the seeds to save to maintain the heirloom variety continuance. For the farmer’s kitchen, open the tomato and discard the gel/seed cavity to reduce the moisture and the bitterness and proceed with the cooked tomato recipe.
An old, but simple recipe, this is a Southern and Country dish for sure. It can use up the smaller tomatoes, those that may be soft, or the ‘leftovers’ from canning; it includes all leftover bread, from loaf bread to biscuits, plain muffins or cornbread. For the more adventuresome, add sautéed garlic, celery, fresh peppers or consider sprinkling with pepper flakes. It serves 6.
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 pounds of fresh tomatoes (two 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained can be substituted if fresh are not available),
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1/4 cup Canola Oil (or blend with olive oil)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 slices bread, toasted & cut into 1/4-inch cubes, leftover biscuits (or other leftovers, even crackers).
1. As a child, I remember helping with this dish. 1(a)We toasted the bread or biscuits; then we ‘buttered’ the toast, and then cut it into cubes. 1(b) Alternately, cut the bread or biscuits into cubes and sauté in butter until brown and crisp.
2. Sauté the finely diced onion for a few minutes.
3. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes with liquid. When this has softened, sprinkle with the flour, mix. Add either white or brown sugar (to taste) along with the salt and pepper. At this point, if you desire, add chopped fresh herbs of choice.
4. Pour into a buttered (sprayed) dish.
5. Bake in a moderate oven, 350°F, until bubbly.
Baked Salmon Fillets with Goat Cheese Topping and a Tomato Sauce
Have you ever seen a recipe and as you read it, you say to yourself, ‘I have that ingredient and that one too; I have everything. I am going to make it now!’ So, you start the recipe, are in the throes of mixing and tossing, then realize you are missing some key ingredients; when that happens, you keep on going and end up with a wonderful dish you can call your own. The following Salmon/Goat Cheese recipe is one such recipe for me. It is an oven and broiler recipe. This recipe has red wine and anise-flavored liquor, (use either Pernod or Ricard). Read through before starting, there are several steps.
4- 6 ounce boneless Salmon fillets or Halibut steaks
4-5 Tablespoon Canola Oil (divided)
1/2 cup onion (or scallions/green onions) chopped
1 Tablespoon garlic, finely chopped or pressed through garlic press
1/2 cup dry red wine
4 Tablespoons capers
1 Tablespoon rosemary, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons fresh oregano (chopped or 3/4 teaspoon dried)
Several sprinkles of hot red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon or to your taste)
2-3 medium tomatoes seeded and chopped (1 cup canned diced tomatoes)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
6 (or so) ounces fresh, plain goat cheese, crumbled (this will be a topping for the fish)
2-3 Tablespoons anise-flavored liquor ( Pernod or Ricard)
4 Tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs of choice for garnish and finishing.
1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of the canola oil in a sauce pan. Add onion and garlic, sauté lightly. Add wine, capers, rosemary, oregano, pepper flakes, chopped tomatoes; bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Set aside.
2. Pour 1 Tablespoon canola oil in a baking dish large enough for the fish fillets. Place fish skin side down. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
3. Pour the tomato sauce around the seasoned fish. Brush the tops with the remaining canola oil.
4. Spread or crumble the fresh goat cheese over the fish. Bake @ 475°F 5-8 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.
5. Sprinkle with the anise-flavored liquor. Switch to the broiler and broil for 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook. Let rest a few minutes before serving. This is glorious to see and smell!
6. Dust with the fresh herbs of choice and serve over plain rice or plain noodles.
~ Penelope Ferguson
Nutrition of the Shenandoah