This week, a focus on tomatoes.
Tomatoes are really easy to add to many different dishes and come in many different sizes from small cherry tomatoes up to the hefty beefsteak tomato. Tomatoes can be red, green, orange, yellow or brown in colour, and there are over a thousand different varieties.
Tomatoes are native to Central and South America and are thought to have been introduced to Europe after the Spanish “discovered” America. At first, tomatoes were not very popular as they were thought to be poisonous, since it is a member of the nightshade family, and tomatoes were more often grown in ornamental gardens for several centuries.
Tomatoes are low-calorie and are an excellent source of vitamin C, carotenes, biotin and vitamin K. They are also a source of dietary fibre. One of the carotenes in tomatoes is a compound called lycopene, which is thought to be protective against cancer. It is interesting to note that the lycopene content of tomatoes is higher after cooking and processing, so you get higher lycopene content from passata, purée and sauce than you do from the raw product.
Tomatoes are a very versatile ingredient as they can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be frozen, canned and dried. If you have an excess of fresh tomatoes, they can be frozen to be used at a later date in a sauce.
My kids like to eat baby plum tomatoes as a quick and easy snack. I often slice regular sized tomatoes to serve with a meal as they go equally well with a breakfast omelette as they do with a fish supper. Tomato slices can also be added to sandwiches.
One of the quickest soups I make is tomato soup using tinned tomatoes and tomato juice.
I start by sautéeing 2 onions and a couple of cloves garlic. Then add 2 tins chopped tomatoes and some salt and pepper. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, then add a 1L carton of tomato juice and a tablespoon of dried basil. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Blend the soup. It can be garnished with some fresh basil leaves.
If it’s a cold soup you’re after, try blending a tin of chopped tomatoes with an onion, half a cucumber, a red pepper, a clove of garlic and a carton of tomato juice. This can be chilled to make a very nutritious gazpacho.
Tomato salad is very quick to prepare and can make use of whatever types of tomatoes you happen to have. If I have guests, I like to use a selection of baby mixed colour tomatoes, but for a weeknight supper I will just use regular red tomatoes. If using small tomatoes, they just need to be cut in half. Larger tomatoes should be thinly sliced. Half a red onion can be sliced and added to the salad and a quick dressing made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, a crushed garlic clove and some fresh basil.