- Nutrition -

Tomatoes

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Delight your senses—and nourish your body—with these succulent, vine-ripened treats.

If pale, tasteless supermarket tomatoes have left you disappointed, don’t despair! Late summer brings a harvest of heirloom, vine-ripened tomatoes exploding with sweet, bold flavors. These versatile beauties add texture, color and powerful nutrients to soups, salads, sauces and main dishes.

Food Basics

A member of the nightshade family, tomatoes were originally small berries that grew on a South American shrub. Today, there are more than a thousand varieties grown around the world. From deep red to vivid orange and even dark purple, tomatoes come in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes. While we classify them as vegetables because of their low sugar content, tomatoes are, botanically speaking, fruits. Since tomatoes are quite perishable, most grocery stores carry those that have been picked green, then forced to ripen, losing flavor and nutrients in the process. When purchasing, look for firm, vine-ripened tomatoes that are fragrant and richly colored.

Nutritional Know-How

Bursting with vitamins C and A, tomatoes also are rich in the phytonutrient lycopene. A naturally occurring antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxygen damage, lycopene is a good defense against many types of cancer. Lycopene is concentrated in any cooked form, including tomato paste and ketchup, and, significantly, a study conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that organic brands contained as much as five times more lycopene than nonorganic brands. A 2007 study at the University of California at Davis reported that raw, organic tomatoes also can have more antioxidants than raw, nonorganic tomatoes — a whopping 79 to 97 percent more. So opt for organic when available. Low in sugar and high in fiber, tomatoes are also a good source of potassium, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin K. Studies have shown that tomato juice acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps reduce blood-clotting tendencies.

Eat Up!

Whether slow-simmered in sauce, enjoyed raw on salads, puréed in cold soups, or lightly sautéed with vegetables, pastas, poultry, meats, fish or shellfish, fresh tomatoes are a wonderful addition and complement to countless meals.

  • Slice a variety of fresh heirloom tomatoes and fan them out on a platter. Add fresh basil, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, freshly ground pepper and coarse sea salt, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
  • For a colorful side dish, sauté cherry, grape, pear or plum tomatoes. Lightly pierce the skins of the tomatoes with a pin to help prevent them from bursting. Sauté in olive oil over medium heat. Season with chopped fresh basil, oregano or flat leaf parsley, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.
  • Using a vegetable juicer, make a healthful vegetable juice by combining fresh tomatoes with carrots, beets, spinach, cabbage, bell peppers, celery, onion and garlic.

Kitchen Tricks

  • Store tomatoes at room temperature and away from direct sunlight to retain maximum flavor and hasten the ripening process. Once fully ripened, tomatoes can be refrigerated one to two days to prevent overripening (if possible, store tomatoes in a warmer
  • section of the fridge like the butter compartment). Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to use to regain juicy flavor and texture.
  • To keep juices intact, use a very sharp serrated or special tomato knife when cutting tomatoes.
  • Stainless-steel cookware is a good choice when cooking with tomatoes. Avoid aluminum and cast-iron pots. Tomatoes’ high acid content will interact with the metal of the pot, creating an unpleasant flavor in your foods.
  • Handle carefully. When bruised or dropped, even from a small distance, tomatoes lose significant amounts of nutrients.
WEB EXTRA!

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes 12 servings

  • 5 medium tomatoes, cut in half with seeds removed
  • 1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. lime juice
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbs. finely chopped oregano
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the tomato halves, jalapeño peppers and green onions on baking sheet coated with olive oil cooking spray. Roast the tomatoes for 20 minutes or until they have a browned. Cool the vegetables.

Place roasted vegetables inside blender cup; add lime juice, cilantro, oregano, garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth (about 30 seconds). If you like hot salsa, add extra jalapeño.

WEB EXTRA!

Tomato, Cucumber and Goat's Cheese Salad

Makes four servings

  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes cut into wedges
  • 2 tbs. goat’s cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Toss gently. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

WEB EXTRA!

Stuffed Jersey Tomato With Arugula, Asparagus and Herb Risotto

Makes six servings

Tomatoes

  • 6 large yellow beefsteak tomatoes

Risotto

  • 1/2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. minced shallots
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 5–6 cups no-sodium vegetable stock, heated to a simmer
  • 1/2 cup asparagus, cut on an angle
  • 1/2 cup white asparagus, cut on an angle
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, basil, parley and oregano
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper

Tomato Broth

  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (canned is fine)
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock

Garnish

  • 1 cup baby arugula packed

For the tomatoes: Heat a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil. Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds. Remove from the boiling water and place in ice water. Carefully peel each blanched tomato. Slice 1/2 inch top off of each tomato and reserve for plating. Using a melon baler, carefully scoop the inside of the tomato and remove center and seeds of each tomato; reserve for later use. Line a baking sheet with a baking rack and rest the tomatoes cut-side-down on the rack to drain.

For the risotto: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced shallots and garlic and cook for two to three minutes, until softened. Stir in rice and cook one minute, stirring continuously to coat rice kernels with oil. Add wine and bring to boil, stirring until most of wine is absorbed.

Add 1/2-cup stock, stir well and reduce heat to low, maintaining a slow simmer. When most of liquid is absorbed, stir in another 1/2-cup hot stock at a time. Continue to add 5 cups stock, about 15 to 18 minutes until al dente. Once al dente and still amply moist with liquid, stir in asparagus pieces and cook one additional minute. Remove pan from heat and stir in herbs, cheese, salt and pepper.

For the tomato broth: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, garlic, salt and pepper and sauté until the shallot is softened and beginning to brown, about five minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the tarragon and continue to cook until the tomatoes begin to give off some of their juice, about five minutes. Add the wine and cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about seven minutes. Add the stock, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer about five minutes. Place the sauce in blender and purée until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

To serve: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Carefully put 1/2-cup of risotto in each tomato. Place on baking sheet. Heat tomatoes for two to three minutes. Ladle 1/4 cup of tomato broth onto large shallow bowls. Place one tomato in the center of each serving plate dish. Generously top with baby arugula. Place the tomato lid on angle on the tomato.

WEB EXTRA!

Tomato, Avocado and Pumpkin Seed Salad

Makes four servings

  • 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 avocado, sliced into 18 slices
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, springs with 1/2-inch piece of stems
  • 1 tbs. toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin seed oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

Combine the tomatoes, avocado, onion, cilantro and pumpkin seeds in salad bowl. Drizzle with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss gently.

Chef Cary Neff is the president of the consulting firm Culinary Innovations and the author of the New York Times bestseller Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).

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