There was a time when the people thought the tomato was poisonous. Thank goodness we now know the tomato isn’t a threat. That is of course, unless you live in the Spanish town of Bunyol. Every August the residents celebrate a marathon of flinging, slinging and lobbing tomatoes at each other!
I’ve never known the tomato to be so threatening, but I do remember wanting to throw them when as a child, I helped in the annual ritual of making tomato sauce. The mountains of overripe tomatoes that needed to be processed into sauce seemed never ending.
Tomato canning is the biggest and most important culinary sacrament for an Italian. Yet, it wasn’t until the 16th century when tomatoes found their way into Italian cuisine from Central America. It quickly became a super-star and it was called “pomodore”, meaning the golden apple.
King of the summer vegetables, I don’t know of any home gardener who doesn’t have at least one tomato plant to nurture. In my garden, small, ripe cherry tomatoes are picked, passed around, eaten and appreciated as much as lemonade on a hot summers day, while the larger tomatoes are gathered and prepared in a wide variety of ways.
Tomatoes can be sliced, diced, pureed, stuffed, incorporated into sauces, soups, stews and risottos. A basic ingredient in salsa, gazpacho, ratatouille, pizza and caponata, the tomato can be prepared with or without dressing, added to salads, used as appetizers or incorporated into sandwiches.
They blend deliciously with basil, garlic, red onion, tarragon, oregano and thyme and are often seen with cucumbers, olives, peppers and eggplant. Tomatoes are a prominent ingredient in the cuisine of a number of countries including Italy, Greece, Mexico and Spain.
On a recent food trip to Barcelona, Spain I discovered tomato bread. It’s available at almost all restaurants and it seldom varies in the way they make it (with the exception of the occasional addition of garlic!). Take warm, torn bread – the bread must be torn because the rough surface is important when you’re rubbing the tomato all over it. Now, slice a small tomato in half and rub all over the torn bread allowing the juices and pulp to macerate all over the warmness. Now salt liberally and drizzle with just a kiss of extra virgin olive oil – yuuummm!
Tomato puree and crushed tomatoes are used to flavour a number of dishes from barbecue sauces to traditional soups. Tomatoes are perfect as an accompaniment to sardines and tuna fish or to beef, chicken, veal and eggs, in addition to being a classic ingredient in various Italian sauces and dishes.
Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes and vary in colour from pale lemon to rich yellow and from pale pink to the deepest red. Some are shaped like miniature pears, others are as small as cherries, and those of the beefsteak variety grow as big as a grapefruit.
Sun-kissed tomatoes that are allowed to ripen on the vine to the fullest maturity are the sweetest and juiciest of all. Maybe that’s why we get so frustrated by the pale, tasteless winter varieties we find throughout the off-season.
One of my favourite summer rituals is to make a tomato sandwich. Sometimes with bacon, red onion, cucumber and lettuce, but quite frankly, this is the time of year when no matter what you put with the tomato, it will always taste amazing.
Here is a great summertime tomato recipe you’re going to want to make! Watch the cooking demonstration with Farmers Feed Cities on the Morning Show on CHCH TV, Tuesday, August 13 at 7:30 am.
Watch the cooking demonstration with Farmers Feed Cities on the Morning Show on CHCH TV, Tuesday, August 13 at 7:30 am.
8 prebaked, 4-inch mini tart shells
2 farm fresh eggs
1 cup (250 mL) cream
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) Gouda cheese, grated
1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh thyme sprigs
2 cups (500 mL) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Ontario salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Whisk together eggs and cream and season well. Place tarts shells on a baking sheet. Divide 1 cup of grated cheese among the 8 tart shells. Sprinkle thyme leaves over the cheese. Add the cherry tomato halves. Pour the cream mixture among the 8 tarts and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown and puffy. Makes 8 delicious tomato and thyme tarts.