In Quebec, the months of August and September truly represent the time of the year when tomatoes are at their tastiest and most abundant. Our gardens and farmers markets abound with juicy, fresh tomatoes; round, elongated, cherry shaped, on the vine, red, yellow, purple, etc. The first tomatoes were actually small and yellow, which would explain the Italian word that was given to them when they arrived in Europe « pomodoro », which translates to golden apple. In Quebec there are more than 150 varieties of tomatoes and around the world more than 10,000, we you could actually eat a different one every day.
The tomato is very low in calories. In fact, per 100g serving, this little golden apple contains only roughly 21 calories. It is a good source of vitamin C, contains folic acid, vitamin A, potassium and is rich in lycopene.
Lycopene, is the substance which gives tomatoes their beautiful red color. It is an antioxidant which helps reduce the risks of heart disease and certain cancers, in particular cancers of the prostate and digestive tract. To draw all of its benefits, it is preferable to consume the tomato cooked in a bit of oil. Cooking and oil helps the body efficiently absorb the lycopene. We get three times more lycopene in cooked tomatoes than in fresh. Studies have shown that 6 mg of lycopene per day would be beneficial for health; a medium sized tomato provides half that amount!
It is very important to properly choose your tomatoes. A perfectly ripened tomato should be firm to the touch, not bruised or moldy, in fact its peel should be shiny and bright red, and it should be heavy for its size and release a good smell.
Their size, texture and color vary according to the variety. In general all tomatoes can be consumed both raw and cooked. When they are fleshy and juicy, they are best used raw. The less they contain water and the more suited they are for cooking. When consumed raw, we can simply drizzle some olive oil and vinegar on them, add them to a fresh garden salad, turn them into gazpacho or slice them to garnish a sandwich. If we prefer eating them cooked, the possibilities are endless! They can be stuffed, grilled, roasted, dried, added to a soup, a stew, an omelet, on a pizza or even turned into jam. A little advice, if you suffer from heartburn make sure to peel your tomatoes before eating them, the peel is the most acidic part of the tomato!
When they are not completely ripe, tomatoes should be kept at room temperature and away from direct sunlight (this softens them). Thus, they will keep for about a week. Refrigeration is recommended when you want to slow their ripening process. Just take them out at least 30 minutes before eating to enhance the flavor.
You can also freeze them, however once thawed they lose some of their juices and should be only used for cooking. You should try them in my version of a classic recipe called Sugo fresco.
Sugo fresco (Sauce made with fresh tomatoes)
You can quickly prepare this sauce on a busy weekday evening with whichever tomatoes you may have on hand! Personally, I love preparing this sauce with tasty cherry or San Marzano tomatoes.
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
2 cloves Garlic, finely sliced
1 Onion, chopped
1 ¼ pounds Tomatoes diced or sliced in half (cherry tomatoes)
6 Fresh basil leaves, sliced
Salt, to taste
1. Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic and onion, sauté for a few minutes or until translucent.
2. Add the tomatoes and salt, and then simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the basil, adjust the seasoning as needed and serve.
Puttanesca alternative: simply add a dozen black olives, capers and anchovy filets towards the end of cooking.