Monthly Archives: February 2009

Superfoods – Tomatoes

Tomatoes in the Raw
Tomatoes in the Raw

I had a workshop to attend over in Melbourne on the first weekend of February.  I lived in Melbourne from 1991-1996, so there were lots of things I wanted to do and see and spend extra time for while we were travelling over there.  We went for a week, but I could have easily filled up 2-3 weeks!  Oh well, I am grateful for the time we had there.  One of the things that is relevant here is the time spent with my friends that are like family; specifically the Italian couple who just celebrated their 78th (hers) and 84th (his) birthdays recently. I love to absorb their wonderful wisdom, mainly around food.  They strongly believe that what we eat and how we eat is a major contributor to their good health all these years.  They have lived in Australia since their early 20’s when they migrated to a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria.  They look fantastic for their age, and I believe that reflects the inside.  Neither one of them take any medication.  A lot of people their age are prescribed so many tablets for different conditions, they get confused what they are all for.  The vegetable and herb garden in their backyard is thriving along with their fruit trees.  The fresh produce makes up most of their meals, and they buy bread, milk, meat, fish, poultry etc. from their trusted shops over the years.  Their lives have always inspired me and tomatoes are a regular part of their diet.

They grow their own tomatoes, a few different varieties and the taste is amazing.  Fresh right off the vine either by themselves, or in a salad is great straight away.  Then incorporating them into different recipes, hot or cold.  Not just pasta or pizza, but even Greek salad or a Lebanese recipe such as tabouli!

We have all seen the various red varieties, but I didn’t realise there are over a thousand different varieties of tomatoes!  We had the traditional red ones, but I was introduced to yellow tomatoes for the first time.

Yellow tomatoes are low-acid tomatoes that still retain their unique tomato flavour and texture. The yellow tomato is a deep, bright yellow colour.  They look just like the traditional red tomatoes, only yellow.  Yellow tomatoes go well in salads and are especially tasty and beautiful in an all-tomato salad or platter that combines both red and yellow varieties.

Actually tomatoes are a fruit–oh yes, it’s a fruit–but in the United States, Australia and other countries, it is treated more like a vegetable.  Tomatoes originated in South America.  It was once called the Peruvian apple; the French called it the love apple, and the Italians named it the golden apple as the first tomatoes were yellow.  The early Spanish explorers sent seeds to Italy and they fell in love with the tomatoes, and the rest is history!

Another reason to eat pizza! Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate, breast, lung and other cancers, and has heart-protective effects. Research shows that the absorption of lycopene is greatest when tomatoes are cooked with olive oil. In one study, a combination of tomato and broccoli was more effective at slowing tumor growth than tomatoes or broccoli alone. How to eat more: simmer chopped tomatoes and broccoli in olive oil, top with kalamata olives and grated Parmesan cheese, or drizzle halved Roma tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper and fresh basil torn and not cut with a knife.

A really good tomato is sweet, tender, juicy, and except for the yellow varieties, a deep rich red colour. When you get one of those hard tomatoes that tastes like cardboard, you’ve got one of the hybrids that started coming onto the market in the 1950’s, when the businessmen and scientists got together and produced a tomato that could be shipped from one coast to the other without bruising. Unfortunately, at the same time they also bred out all the flavour. We get so used to the taste of store bought tomatoes, that it isn’t until we have a fresh one from someone’s home grown vine that we realise how flavourful they are.
A great tomato is worth looking for. And the way you handle it at home is almost as important as what you choose in the first place. The most important rules to remember about tomatoes are:
Never refrigerate!
Never Refrigerate!

Refrigerating kills the flavour, the nutrients, the texture. It just kills the tomato – period.  I must admit, I was guilty of refrigerating them myself.  Sure it makes them last longer, but now I keep them out on the kitchen bench, and I buy them more often so that they are fresher more often.  They are a part of our diet, daily.

Unless you live in a really cold climate, the best tomatoes you can buy will be at your local fruit and vegetable shop, when tomatoes are in season in your area. That’s true for most produce, but it’s doubly true for tomatoes.  Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a Queensland tomato in Queensland, or a Victorian tomato in Victoria.  For the other side of the globe, nothing wrong with a Florida tomato in Florida, or a California tomato in California. The problem isn’t the source–it’s that the tomatoes are picked green, gassed with ethylene to make them turn more or less red, then refrigerated and shipped. Even if the tomatoes are picked ripe, they’re refrigerated before they’re shipped, and that’s the final insult.

Like other tomatoes, local cherry tomatoes, picked ripe, are going to be the best. Look for small ones.  When choosing cherry tomatoes, look for a good red color–avoid those that look orange. Also check to see if the stems are still on. If the stems are missing, chances are those tomatoes have been sitting around too long.

Tomatoes are considered “vine ripe” by the industry if they have developed a little “colour break”-that is, a small yellowish or reddish patch of colour on the skin or a starburst of yellow at the blossom end. If the tomato has a colour break or the starburst, you’ll be able to ripen it at home.  Don’t ripen tomatoes on the windowsill. Never put them in the sun to ripen. Just put them out on the counter, stem end up, in a relatively cool place – not right next to the stove or the dishwasher.  Never, ever refrigerate – not even after the tomato is ripe. If you’ve got too many ripe tomatoes, make a salad or a raw tomato sauce for pasta. Or make a cooked sauce, freeze it, and you’ll have something nice for the winter.

When I was a child, I remember my grandparents having fresh tomatoes growing in their backyard.  The taste and smell of a fresh warm tomato picked right off the vine is something that stays with you forever.  Those memories came flooding back with my trip to Melbourne and spending time with my friends and their fresh tomatoes.