Tomatoes are as savory as any vegetable and as sweet as any fruit — the latter being the food family to which tomatoes belong. Unlike other fruits and vegetables, though, tomatoes inspire a cult-like devotion from food lovers around the world. The people of Ohio love the tomato so much, they made tomato juice the official state beverage. An annual food festival in Spain draws thousands of participants in a 100-ton tomato fight. The versatile tomato has conquered the cuisines of Spain and Italy, and it is America's most popular garden vegetable.
Right now, our gardens are filled with delights, thanks to tomatoes of all sorts — heirloom, cherry, Big Boys and more. It's hard to believe that as long as we've waited for tomatoes, we now have so many on our hands we're willing to share the bounty with others.
In my house, if we aren't enjoying tomatoes on our sandwiches or in our salads or salsa or just eating them as is — straight from the garden and into our mouths — I'm blanching and freezing them for the off-season.
Can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to eating tomatoes? I guess if that's all you eat, maybe so. But including tomatoes in your diet will do wonders for your health. Here's some information about the healthful benefits of tomatoes.
» Tomatoes contain all four major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene. These carotenoids may have individual benefits, but also have synergy as a group, meaning they interact with each other to provide health benefits.
» Tomatoes contain incredible amounts of lycopene, thought to have the highest antioxidant activity of all the carotenoids.
» A diet rich in tomato-based products may help reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a study from the University of Montreal. The researchers found that lycopene (provided mainly by tomatoes) was linked to a 31% reduction in pancreatic cancer risk between men with the highest and lowest intakes of this carotenoid.
» Tomatoes contain all three high-powered antioxidants: beta-carotene (which has vitamin A activity in the body), vitamin E and vitamin C.
» Tomatoes are rich in potassium, a mineral most of us don't get enough of. A cup of tomato juice contains 534 milligrams of potassium, and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce has 454 milligrams.
» When tomatoes are eaten along with healthier fats, such as avocados or olive oil, the body's absorption of the carotenoid phytochemicals in tomatoes can increase by two to 15 times, according to a study from Ohio State University.
» Tomatoes are a big part of the famously healthy Mediterranean diet — more on that in an upcoming column. Many Mediterranean dishes and recipes call for tomatoes or tomato paste or sauce. Some recent studies, including one from the University of Athens Medical School, have found that people who most closely follow the Mediterranean diet have lower death rates from heart disease and cancer. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, who followed more than 39,000 women for seven years, found that consumption of oil- and tomato-based products — particularly tomato and pizza sauce — was associated with cardiovascular benefits.
» When breastfeeding moms eat tomato products, it increases the concentration of lycopenein in their breast milk. In this case, cooked tomatoes are best. The researchers also found that eating tomato products like tomato sauce increased concentrations of lycopene in breast milk more than eating fresh tomatoes did.
» Finally, don't peel your tomatoes. The peels contribute a high concentration of the carotenoids found in tomatoes. The amount of carotenoids absorbed by human intestinal cells was much greater with tomato paste enriched with tomato peels compared to tomato paste without peels, according to a study from France. Tomato skins also hold most of the flavonols as well.
For years I've been making tomato pies with wonderful reviews from friends, but never have I added ricotta cheese until I found this recipe online and decided to give it a try. I'll never make another tomato pie without it. The ricotta makes tomato pies creamier than using cheddar cheese alone. The original recipe calls for sliced tomatoes. I like to dice mine, as it makes cutting the pie much easier when you're ready to serve. Also, I added bacon. Can't go wrong with bacon and tomatoes!
Creamy Tomato Pie
For a completely vegetarian meal, omit bacon.
1 (9-inch) pie shell
4 medium tomatoes, chopped (see note)
1 cup chopped white or sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 slices bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
Parbake and cool a 9-inch pie shell. Cut five tomato slices for garnish, set aside. Chop the remaining tomatoes, removing the seeds if very seedy. You don't have to remove all the seeds, just enough to avoid too much extra juice.
Place half the chopped tomatoes in bottom of baked pie shell. Layer with half of cup onion and half of salt, pepper, basil and bacon.
Mix mayonnaise and cheeses in small bowl, then spread half the mixture over the tomato-onion layer. Repeat with remaining tomatoes, onion, salt, pepper, basil and bacon, and top with remaining mayonnaise mixture. Place reserved tomato slices on top, and sprinkle with additional cheddar and parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 30 minutes, cut into slices and serve.
Note: Place cut tomatoes in a colander to drain off some of the juices while you bake the pie shell and gather other ingredients.
Out of the refrigerator or on the counter? It's a question many people have when it comes to the right way to store tomatoes. Here's some information to clear things up, courtesy of allrecipes.com.
» For starters, never store whole, uncut tomatoes in the refrigerator. A delicious summer, vine-ripened tomato will end up tasting like a store-bought winter tomato. The flesh will become mushy and the flavor tasteless. So store them stem side down in an open container lined with a paper towel at room temperature and eat as soon as possible.
» If you cut it but don't eat the entire thing, then store it in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth, but once again, eat it as soon as possible.
Best wishes go out to Matilda Midnight chef Christa Hare, who will be in New Orleans this weekend to compete in the 2019 Great American Seafood Cook-Off. She's among 16 chefs from 15 states and Guam who will present their best dish using domestic seafood. A panel of nationally renowned judges will score based on presentation, creativity, composition, craftsmanship and flavor. For more information on the competition, visit www.louisianaseafood.com/great-american-seafood-cook.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.