TOMATOES

TOMATOES

Rice, Strawberries, and now tomatoes…I feel like I’m losing my creativity here, just cranking out these obvious candidates.  But tomatoes are delicious!  And they’re everywhere and we really take them for granted.

It has always fascinated me to think that this crop was “discovered” by the Spanish conquistadors.  Tomatoes are a New World plant and never made their way to Europe until Columbus and his thugs came a trampling all over the Americas.  There are heaps of other crops in this same category:  potatoes, peppers, corn, squash, chocolate, tobacco…  It’s hard to imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Indian cuisine with no hot peppers or the Irish without potatoes.

A few things about tomatoes.  If you are buying them in a grocery store, I recommend putting them on a windowsill at home to let them ripen more.  The bastards in the store are just not reaching their full potential.  This is another crop that is frequently picked early in the field so that it’ll stay firm during transport…some growers gas their tomatoes with ethylene to turn them red prematurely.

Vitamin C!  Plenty of that going on in a tomato.  You’ve also got A and a bunch of minerals including potassium and manganese…all good stuff.  Tomatoes taste healthy, know what I mean?  They are bright and acidic and energizingly sweet all at the same time.  I also love their healthy smell, well it’s really the plant’s smell.  Check out a tomato vine sometime and rub one of its leaves between your fingers and inhale that crazy intoxication.

Let’s talk about HEIRLOOM TOMATOES for a second.  You’ve heard me mention them and cook with them on Organic A to Z before…and if you ever visit my house in the summer you’ll see piles of them in bowls all over the place.  They’re beautifully ornamental and crazy tasty!  BUT WHAT IS AN HEIRLOOM TOMATO (or any other crop for that matter?).  Basically it is an old variety of tomato that existed before 1940.  It can also be a seed that a family (or family farm) passed on for generations.  In short, heirlooms are special, old varieties of tomatoes that predate the industrialization of farming.

Industrial agriculture created a bunch of new varieties and hybrids that were commercially attractive for various reasons:  the fruit would grow faster, they produce larger and more uniform yields, the plants could withstand cold and insect attacks, etc.  So heirlooms are funkier, old school tomatoes.  There are many, many different varieties out there and many, many different colors and flavors.  From dark purple to pale yellow, giant and sun burnt yellow to small striped and green ones.  FUN–that’s what they are…and tasty.

And so I bust out a great gazpacho.  Gazpacho is the true taste of summer to me.  I love eating this cold, tomato heavy soup.  I don’t really have a recipe for it either, I just wing it.  I recently showed the Tomato video to some friends in Spain and they screamed at me for not using enough olive oil SO PLEASE POUR HEAVY!  Emulsify the soup with olive oil and make an Andalusian Salmorejo!  The roasted tomato confit I do on the show is a classic in my kitchen.  One thing that really blows my mind about this dish is the intense UMAMI flavor it brings out.  Yeah umami, the fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter) is all the rage right now and it can be kinda hard to pinpoint.  The flavor is found in a lot of different foods, from aged hard cheese to shitake mushrooms, ketchup, miso soup, seafood and beef.  If you want to figure out what the fifth taste is like, make this dish!  I think it’s the tomatoes and the soy sauce that starts the umami kick…and the char from the broiler, that smoky dark Earthiness nails it.

Whether you’ve got tiny cherries, medium sized Romas, giant apple-shaped babes or funky, husky heirlooms you are in for a treat.  A farm fresh tomato is a mighty tasty thing.  Eat them raw or cooked, you cannot lose.  Celebrate this iconic, new world crop and enjoy.