Tomatoes: Buying, Storing and Using
Lycopersicon lycopersicum is an amazingly versatile fruit with an almost endless variety. Mostly used as a vegetable, the tomato comes from a large family of crop plants that includes potatoes, peppers and the eggplant.
First cultivated by the Incas in western South America, the tomato spread northward from there to Central America. The Spanish conquistadors first encountered the tomato as used by the Aztecs, and they brought seeds with them back to Europe.
There the tomato caused a small sensation. It was called the "apple of love" by the French, and the pomodoro, or "golden apple" in Italy where a yellow variety was grown.
The British believed the tomato to be poisonous, and it was grown only as a garden curiosity. This belief was carried to the colonies in America, and the tomato was only recognized in that country to be safe in the early 1800s.
The tomato has since spread to cuisines worldwide.
The tomato hybridizes easily and comes in many forms. The three most common types are beefsteak (for slicing), cherry (for salads), and plum (for sauces and tomato paste). There are also numerous heirloom varieties available that range from golden yellow to white to purple.
A hot climate produces the tastiest tomatoes. The best come to the market starting in the late summer and last through early autumn. Although commercially grown tomatoes are slowly improving in flavor, it is commonly acknowledged that the best tasting tomato is homegrown.
Buying, Storing and Preparing Tomatoes
Buy tomatoes that are deep red and give just a little when you squeeze them. Avoid pink tomatoes at all costs; they won't ripen very well and have little flavor. Refrigerated tomatoes won't ripen. Just set them in the window sill and use them as you need them. If they start to get too ripe, you can pop them in the fridge and they will last longer.
Many recipes call for tomatoes that are peeled, seeded and chopped. If you are using fresh tomatoes, not canned, this can be an important step to keep unappetizing skins and seeds out of a sauce or stew.
Cut a small X on the bottom of the tomatoes. Plunge them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Then plunge them in cold water for another 30 seconds. The skin will slip right off. Now cut the tomatoes horizontally through the middle and squeeze out the seeds. Chop and proceed with the recipe.
Tomato Uses Around the World
Tomatoes are a common item in many cuisines around the world, but no country uses them as a culinary foundation more than the Italians. The San Marzano plum tomato is grown on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius and is considered by many to be the best sauce tomato in the world.
Tomatoes are excellent for slicing and in salads. They pair exceptionally well with basil and oregano. Fried green tomatoes is a famous dish from the American South. Tomatoes are the base of Italian marinara sauce and Mexican salsa. They can be turned into tomato jam or tomato pickles and are a prime candidate for gardeners who can their harvest.
(Mexican fried tortillas in sauce)
(Hungarian simmered peppers and tomatoes)
(Spanish chilled tomato-cucumber soup)
(Greek baked white beans in tomato sauce)
(Mexican fresh tomato condiment)
(Greek green beans in tomato sauce)
(Senegalese fried fish balls in tomato sauce)
(Greek tomato fritters)
(Spanish chicken with tomatoes and peppers)
(Italian pasta with tomatoes, olives and capers)
(Spanish meat, vegetable and rice dish)
(American pasta with meatballs)
(Mexican ranch-style eggs)
(Italian white beans with tomato and sage)
(Mexican rice with tomatoes)
(Italian beef cutlets simmered in tomato sauce)
(Venezuelan scrambled eggs)
(Greek shrimp baked with tomatoes and feta)
(Central American fresh tomato, pepper and onion salsa)
(Ghanaian chicken and groundnut stew)
(French braised eggplant, tomatoes and basil)
(Palestinian eggplant baked with tomatoes and chickpeas)
(American Cajun-Creole smothered shrimp)
(Indian curried eggplant and tomatoes)
(Italian tomato-meat sauce)