Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomatoes - A round of applause for the outfielders please!

Blushing red and tasting marvelous. No matter how you say it, slice it, or spell it, the tomatoe is enjoying a show-stopping Broadway starring role this month as the season’s “vegetable of choice”. So adaptable, delicious and nutritious, who could turn away from its enchanting garden performance as the saucy, juicy, and succulent leading lady. Check your programme and you’ll quickly see, served freshly sliced (sliced with a sharp bread knife from stem to stem, of course) or acting as the base player for a hearty bruschetta , there really is no other nominee that comes close to this annual winner in the tasty edibles category.

Originating in South America in pre-Columbian times, Mexican cooks quickly ladled up this vegetable-mryiad of sensational talents and auditioned its riches in many of their dishes, from salsa to quesidillas. On the rest of the world circuit though, the tomato blushed timidly backstage, lingering with stage fright behind the big curtain, only known as a lowly ornamental plant and distasteful to eat. By the 1800’s, the tomatoe began appearing in more supportive roles in soups and sauces. Full glory status shone on the tomatoe in the 1900’s when, internationally it gained its rightful place, playing the leading role in a cornucopia of popular Mediterranean, Asian and North American dishes.

As a healthy, robust stage hand , the tomatoe continues to light up the show being high in Vitamin A and C, Folacin, Calcium, Potassium and best of all, Lypocene. Scientists now believe Lypocene inhibits prostrate, breast, uterine and lung cancers, as well as heart disease. It is also believed to be a key antioxidant guarding against Age-Related Macular Degeneration, a condition that may cause blindness. [Visit Tomatofest.com for more details]

Best of all ladies and gentlemen, in true Hollywood fashion, there’s a tomatoe named after the handsome, soft-spoken and lanky Dirty Harry and Bridges of Madison County star actor and director, Clint Eastwood. Yep, “Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red” tomatoe plant apparently produces robust, “not for sissies”, bold, tomatoey flavours, that invite “snacking in the garden, cooking, canning and seed-saving”. A portion of the tomatoe’s seed sales go toward his children’s educational charity. Now I wonder, since a trip to California isn’t in the cards for me, would I be “forgiven” for asking Mr. Million-Dollar Baby himself to deliver some of his Rowdy Red seeds to me personally?

Bon Appetit until next week. Try these easy tomatoe recipes the next time you’re entertaining!

No-Brainer Bruschetta
Place French loaf slices on a cookie sheet. Slather 1 tbsp of *Pesto on each slice. Top with 2-3 chopped tomatoes, 3-4 green onions. Broil until tomatoes are soft. Top with ½ cup crumbled Feta or Parmesan cheese and ¼ c chopped black olives. Broil again until cheese bubbles but don’t burn the bread!
*Try the Pesto recipe I posted earlier in August.

Simple-hearted Tomatoe and Asiago Salad
3-4 ripe firm Round or Beefsteak tomatoes sliced into ¼ “ rounds
8 thin slices of Asiago cheese (Use a vegetable peeler to slice)
3 sun-dried tomatoes cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ med-sized Vidalia or mild onion sliced into thin rounds
1/3 cup each fresh chopped basil leaves, parsley and oregano (reserving one whole basil leaf and one sprig of parsley to garnish)

¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar

Drizzle 1-2 tbsp olive in the bottom of a rimmed glass or ceramic dish (not metal). Stir in balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle 1/3 of garlic on top. Layer one layer of tomatoe rounds and Layer one round of onions on top. Drizzle with 1-2 tbsp oil. Sprinkle with garlic. Repeat this pattern until no tomatoes, onions and garlic are left. Top with chopped basil, parsley and oregano and sun dried tomatoes. Drizzle with a more oil. Top with sliced cheese in a pinwheel design and place 2-3 whole basil leaves and a sprig of parsley to garnish the center. Cover with wrap. Refrigerate if making ahead but allow flavours to blend at room temperature for one hour before serving. Serves 6.

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