Can you imagine what it would be like not to have tomatoes with which to eat and cook?
Oh, by the way, is the tomato a fruit? Because tomato has seeds, it is technically and botanically a fruit along with cucumbers, squash and pumpkin.
Tomato is the official vegetable of New Jersey and Arkansas is not taking any chances, it is the official fruit and vegetable of the state. Next time you shop in the grocery store, don’t expect to find your favorite tomato next to apples and oranges, though.
It is truly one of God’s great gifts to cuisine, but it wasn’t always like that. Tomatoes originated in Peru 3,000 years before the European conqueror Cortez found them being used by the Mayans and Aztec. The tomato arrived in Europe around the mid-1500s.
For many years, almost two centuries, tomatoes were considered poisonous, containing mysterious power and used in magic potions and cures. Then one day the world of food changed when an Italian cook used tomato sauce to flavor meat, and it became a common practice that was brought to America by Italian immigrants.
Just think of all the wonderful dishes touched by tomatoes. The taste is better than a fruit, not too sweet, and so good for you.
I love fresh, but let’s talk about canned first. With new processing techniques, we can enjoy tomatoes from different areas of America and Europe year-round. Tomatoes are harvested, washed and quickly boiled, then canned within two days of being picked to preserve the best flavor. It keeps the freshness locked in.
Chopped tomatoes are peeled, chopped and deseeded in their own juice. They are great for quick recipes with a reduced water content creating a pasta sauce that goes well with fish dishes, adding freshness and a slight acidity for balance.
Whole peeled tomatoes are harvested whole, briefly boiled, peeled, and canned in their own juice. They should be cooked quickly to keep their flavor unchanged.
Tomatoes can be used in all classic Italian meat and fish dishes, pasta, pizza, ragu, soups, and stews. Tomato paste, pureed tomatoes heated briefly to a high temperature then sieved, go well in briefly cooked sauces, adding an intense flavor with a sweet note. Tomato paste is made from reduced tomatoes that have been minced and sieved, then heated in an evaporator until it reaches a certain density. It will add color and more tomatoes taste to dishes.
Now my favorite tomatoes: FRESH, FRESH, FRESH! I just love cooking with fresh ingredients, but make sure you use the right tomato. Roma tomatoes are meaty and used in cooking and sauces. I personally think plum tomatoes are good for sauces, but my all-time favorite tomatoes are heirloom and cherry. I use heirlooms for everything: cooking, salads and sandwiches. Did you know the big ugly tomatoes are an heirloom?
Now, let’s make a great tomato soup. I will tell you my secret, but don’t share it.
Tomato Soup or Chicken Taco soup
2 large Heirloom tomatoes, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
(Secret ingredient) 4 cups V8 juice (Shhhhhh!)
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste (if you want make chicken taco soup add ½ bag taco seasoning), two cups taco chips mix well, then add 8 ounces of diced chicken breast and cook until chicken is firm; heat to 165 degrees.
Cook all ingredients except cheese and sour cream over medium heat until vegetables are tender. If you have an immersion blender, blend until smooth. If not, you can cut all vegetable very small before cooking if you do not have am immersion blender. Check the cost of precut vegetables at the store; they are reasonably priced and good for sauces, soups and dressings. Top soup with sour cream and cheese.
Costa Magoulas is dean of the Mori Hosseini College of Hospitality and Culinary Management at Daytona State College. Contact him at (386) 506-3578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.