Now is the time to enjoy tomatoes, rich in flavour and goodness, grown by our local famers- vine-ripened in sunshine, picked at peak of ripeness and arriving within hours from field to table.
Do you find it difficult to make your selection among the brilliant displays at the market? I know I do! Should I choose hot house, field grown, on the vine, organic, heirloom? Which tomatoes will have that rich sweet taste of summer I’m looking for?
Here’s a little tomato ‘know-how’ to help you make your choice.
Today, farmer Boz Toic is walking along the long rows of tomato plants on his sixty-acre farm in fertile Norfolk County, tasting tomatoes as he goes. He is looking for something extraordinary. From more than 130 varieties of heirloom tomatoes grown on Bosco Farms he will select those with super-delicious flavour and attractive, distinctive colour and shape. Seeds from these tomatoes are the ones he will collect and save to plant and bring the fruit to market next year.
Heirloom tomatoes are self-pollinating and have their origins in seeds that have been cultivated over many generations. Native to South America, tomatoes were cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as A.D.700: Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe in the 16th century. They were initially met with suspicion…reputed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, or perhaps even deadly poisonous since the leaves resembled those of the deadly nightshade.
We eat tomatoes today, raw and processed, in countless ways all year long. (It’s hard to imagine a world without ketchup!) Most commercially grown tomatoes are hybridized. Scientists have modified the gene in tomato seeds to meet customer demands. Large processors sponsor research into varieties to produce optimal volume for juice, paste and sauces. Tomatoes produced in quantities for the fresh market, ripen longer on the vine: the flesh stays firm and the tough skin prevents splitting to withstand shipping across continents. Much flavour has been lost along the way. We may soon forget what a real tomato tastes like!
In the words of Farmer Boz…” You have to learn to appreciate the essential flavours of tomatoes, just like wine.”
I plan to listen to the farmer, become friends with the produce buyer at my market and delight in the best-tasting tomatoes of our local harvest.
See Jane’s two recipes for the best sauces of the season, Heirloom Tomato Sauce and Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce.
How to peel and seed tomatoes
On the stove, prepare a pot of boiling water. Have on hand a large bowl of ice water and a large slotted spoon or tongs. With a sharp paring knife, make a cross cut on the smooth end of each tomato: cut out the core at the stem end. Drop the tomato into boiling water and leave for 10-20 seconds until the skin begins to loosen. (If tomatoes are not really ripe this may take a few minutes longer.) Lift out and plunge into ice water: remove from ice water:drain and peel.
Slice each tomato in half horizontally: squeeze gently and poke out seeds with your fingers. Chop or dice and proceed with your recipe.
Healthy note: Tomatoes are good for us. They’re rich in vitamins A and C, potassium and iron. The red pigment in tomatoes is considered a source of the powerful antioxidant, lycopene, which is enhanced through cooking.
Tomato Tip: Store your fresh tomatoes in a paper bag in a cool place. If you store them in the refrigerator, flavour is lost and the flesh quickly becomes mushy.
Ideas for quick and easy dishes using Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce.
Taste the sauce before serving. You may need to add salt and sometimes a pinch of sugar, depending on the flavour and ripeness of the tomatoes you used in the sauce. Serving quantities, 2-4
- Fresh Herb Sauce: Add a few tablespoons of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, oregano or marjoram, or slivers of fresh basil to the sauce in the last few minutes of cooking.
- All-purpose Sauce: In a saucepan, heat a tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 small onion, finely chopped, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped. Sauté for a minute more then stir in 2 cups (500 ml) Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce and simmer about 10 minutes for flavours to blend.
- Quick & Easy Bolognese Sauce: Add 1 lb (450g) ground beef, or meat balls, sautéed and lightly browned in olive oil to the All-purpose Sauce (above}. Simmer 15-20 minutes, for meat to cook through and flavours to blend.
- Fresh Mushroom Sauce: Add 1/2 lb (250g) sliced fresh mushrooms, sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil to the Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce. Try crimini, portobello or wild mushrooms.
- Creamy Tomato Basil Sauce: Just before serving, stir 1/4 cup (50 ml) 35% cream into Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce. Heat through and finish with slivers of fresh basil.
- Grilled Vegetable Sauce: Cut 1 small peeled eggplant and 2 zucchini into ¼” (6 mm} slices. Brush with olive oil and grill, along with I sweet red pepper. Remove skin and seeds from grilled pepper. Roughly chop grilled vegetables and add to Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce. Heat through for a few minutes for flavours to blend. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to spice things up, if you like.
- Putanesca Sauce: In a small frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp (15ml) extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped, 2 Tbsp (30ml) rinsed, drained and chopped capers and ½ tsp (2 ml) red pepper flakes. Sauté for a minute then stir flavourings into Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes for flavours to blend. Just before serving, stir in ½ cup (125ml) pitted black or green olives and 2 Tbsp (30 ml) chopped flat-leaf parsley.