It’s hard to believe that the tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) was once believed to be poisonous and unfit for human consumption. Native to the Andes Mountains, tomatoes did not grace the tables of Americans until the early 1800s, yet people in Italy had been enjoying them for nearly three centuries. Today the tomato is considered the second most important vegetable crop -- although it is technically a fruit used as a veggie -- worldwide and is grown in 144 countries, says Dr. J. Benton Jones of Growtomatoes.com, a website devoted to the study of tomatoes. Its appeal, of course, is its juicy flavor and its versatility.
Using Fresh Tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes add color and flavor to a variety of meals, from serving as an ingredient in fresh salsa to the huge slices that top burgers or sandwiches. Fresh garden salads topped with chunks of fresh tomato make a quick lunch or a colorful side dish with dinner. Cut tomatoes into wedges, served with a light dip; or drizzled with dressing and a sprinkle of cheese, and served cold on hot summer nights. Try dicing fresh tomatoes and adding them to pasta or potato salad for a burst of flavor and a splash of color. Don’t forget using tomatoes as attractive serving dishes. Hollow out the insides, fill with tuna or chicken salad, and serve for an eye-catching lunch.
Cooking with Fresh Tomatoes
Combine tomatoes with chopped green peppers and garlic and a pinch of fresh lemon thyme to pump up the flavor of omelets or quiche, or add diced tomatoes to stir-fries or sautéed veggies to add flavor and boost the nutrient value. Try topping homemade pizza with sliced tomatoes instead of meats to create a healthy dish brimming with flavor. Toasted or grilled sandwiches also work well with sliced tomatoes tucked inside. To make the tomatoes the star of the show, hollow out the seeds and pulp, stuff with savory grains, veggies and cheese, and bake them in the oven.
Tomatoes are the basis of pasta sauces, stewed tomatoes and salsas. Fortunately, they cook up quickly and work well with a variety of spices to create your signature combination. Think Italian seasoning, fresh herbs, and taco or Mexican seasoning when cooking tomatoes. Garlic, onions and green peppers also work well cooked with tomatoes in sauces. Begin by peeling the tomatoes by dipping them in boiling water and then plunging them into ice water. This causes the skin to crack and makes slipping the tomato from the skin a breeze. Quarter the tomatoes over a large pot to catch the juice and add the tomatoes. Heat over medium heat until the juice is bubbly. Reduce the heat and allow the tomatoes to simmer until the tomatoes have cooked and the sauce is the desired consistency, typically an hour or more.
Preserving Tomatoes the Easy Way
To preserve tomatoes to use in sauces, soups or stews, freezing them may be the way to go. After washing and drying the tomatoes, put them in a freezer bag and place them in the freezer. When you’re ready for sauce, thawing the tomatoes and slipping off the skins is all that is needed.
Try oven drying to avoid the fuss of canning. Cut pear tomatoes in half, or slice large slicing tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices, and place with the cut side down on a paper towel to drain excess juice. Sprinkle with salt and arrange them, cut side up, on a baking pan. Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit until the tomatoes are dry and leathery. Place cooled, dried tomatoes in freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to one month.
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