It’s tomato time and I am celebrating! Last night I sautéed tiny grape tomatoes in olive oil with garlic, basil, salt and pepper; then spooned it over grilled chicken and served it with steamed zucchini. I love seasonal eating. Although fresh tomatoes are available year-round, quite frankly, I don’t think they are very good until they hit their peak in summer. So, come summer, I celebrate! Tonight: Heirloom tomato salad with cucumbers and feta cheese. Tomatoes have an interesting history. For example, did you know that they are actually a fruit, at least botanically speaking? But, because they are not as sweet as most other fruits, for many years, people cooked them like vegetables and served them up as a salad or a main course, but never as dessert. So, back in 1887, when U.S. tariff laws imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruit, the status of the tomato become legal fodder! Was it a fruit or a vegetable? The matter actually had to be settled by the United States Supreme Court! In 1893, the high court decided to define the tomato as a vegetable because people ate it for dinner, but never for dessert like they would fruit. Still, this decision did not change the inherent botanical truth of the tomato: It’s a fruit! When it comes to good nutrition, tomatoes are tops. In fact, they are famous for their lycopene. You’ve heard about it — the bright red pigment found most abundantly in ripe red tomatoes. It’s a potent antioxidant – a prominent member of the carotenoid family. It gained fame when studies showed that having a higher intake of tomatoes or higher levels of lycopene in the blood correlated with cancer protection. Enjoying tomatoes raw is part of the fun of summer eating, and raw tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of Vitamin A, but cooking them actually makes the lycopene more available for your body to absorb and use. That’s good news for spaghetti, lasagna and pizza lovers! According to the USDA, a fresh tomato delivers 3.7 mg of lycopene while a 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes has 11.8 mg. But don’t let that discourage you from enjoying the bounty of the summer! Read on for many of my favorite fresh tomato ideas, perfect for summer feasting:
- Slice tomatoes and serve with fresh mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil or roasted walnut oil, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs such as oregano or basil. Here’s a classic Caprese Salad and a Grilled Caprese Salad, take your pick!
- Take cherry or grape tomatoes and pop them one by one into your mouth. Be sure to chew before swallowing!
- Chop tomatoes along with cucumbers, radishes and feta cheese. Stir in your favorite vinaigrette. Try this Greek Tomato Salad.
- Prepare this simple Ravioli with Heirloom Tomato Sauce.
- Sauté eggplant slices until tender. Layer with fresh raw tomatoes and slivers of Parmigiano Reggiano. Or try this Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Salad.
- Add chopped tomatoes to just about any vegetable salad or hot or cold pasta dish.
- Try grilling fresh tomatoes in this Grilled Tomato and Romaine Salad.
- Serve them with your favorite cheese. Try these Goat Cheese-Topped Tomatoes.
- Add diced tomatoes to tuna salad, tempeh salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tofu salad and shrimp salad, or stuff any of these salads into carved-out tomato halves.
- Heirloom Tomato BLTs. Need I say more?
- Make a delicious side dish of chopped avocado and tomato. Great with creamy ranch-style dressing! Try this Grape Tomato and Avocado Salad.
- Throw them into soups and stir-fries. Here’s a great recipe for Tortilla Soup with Tomatoes.
- Try this amazing recipe for Watermelon Salad with Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Basil.
- Tomatoes are great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here’s a recipe you could use for all three: Tomato Basil Tart.
- Tomatoes are wonderful with all kinds of seafood. Spoon tomato salsa over fish, or try this recipe for Sautéed Scallops and Tomatoes on Garlic Toast.
- Make salsa! Here are a couple of good ones to try: Basic Fresh Salsa and Spicy Tomato Salsa with Cilantro and Chiles.
- Stir chopped tomatoes into cottage cheese. Add garlic, herbs and olive oil. Yummmmm! Serve as is or over a fresh green salad for a real treat!