Clockwise: Vine ripened tomato, grape tomatoes, sundried tomatoes

Tomatoes, another basic I can't do without. They are versatile, easy to use, come in so many different forms, colours and varieties, the possibilities are endless!

Although tomatoes are generally considered to be a vegetable, and are treated as such, they are technically a fruit! For more interesting facts, I am attaching a link that discusses the history of the tomato.

The varieties of tomatoes available today are numerous, but I will stick to discussing the ones I like to have in the kitchen and use the most. Tomatoes are a good source of Vitamin C, and are very high in water. They contain a variety of other vitamins and minerals, as shown in the nitritional breakdown in the following link:

Fresh Tomatoes:

  • Sliced onto a sandwhich, diced into a fresh salsa, cut into wedges for a salad, nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper is needed to enhance the flavour of a fresh tomato. Of course, pairing them with fresh basil will elevate your taste experience even more.
  • Cut in half, drizzled with olive oil and roasted or grilled until slightly caramelised will bring out the natural sweetness of the tomato.
  • Peeled, seeded and diced, mixed with fresh basil, chopped garlic and a drizzle of olive oil and you have a quick fresh tomato sauce for pasta. Use cilantro instead of basil, and you have a quick salsa to serve with tortilla chips, or grilled fish.
  • Sliced on top of a quiche before baking, or onto a homemade pizza.
  • Thinly sliced, sprinkled lightly with salt, placed on a parchment paper lined tray and left in a slow oven to dry will give you a slightly sweet, crisp tomato garnish for salads.
  • Cut the top off, scoop out the inside, and stuff the tomato case with couscous, herbs and cooked, diced vegetables, and bake.
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes can be threaded onto a skewer and put on the BBQ for a couple of minutes to heat until the skin starts to split.
  • Roast grape tomatoes whole, allow to cool slightly and mix with diced avocado, salt, pepper and lime juice for a warm salsa, great served with grilled fish.
  • If you have access to a smoker, cut some plum tomatoes in half and smoke for about 45 minutes at a temperature of 225F (until the skin splits and wrinkles). Added to a pasta sauce, or turned into a tomato soup, doubles the depth of flavour! 
  • When I make spaghetti and meatballs, I bake the meatballs with halved grape tomatoes, then add the tomatoes and juice from both them and the meatballs to the tomato sauce before mixing it with the spaghetti, meatballs placed on top.

Sundried Tomatoes:
  • You can choose to buy the sundried tomatoes in oil, or not. If you buy them without oil, they need to be  softened in warm water before using. This water can then be used up in sauces, soups or stocks as it will contain a lot of flavour from the tomatoes.
  • If you use the tomatoes in oil, the oil is often infused with herbs, spices, garlic or capers. I often use the oil itself to cook the meat or vegetables for pasta sauces, or add a tablespoon to a basic vinaigrette for flavour. I always leave the tomatoes in a strainer to drain excess oil off before using in a dish.
  • Thinly sliced, sundried tomatoes are a tasty addition to pizza toppings, frittatas or homemade foccacia, or on top of a salad.
  • Finely diced they add a depth of flavour to pasta sauces, fillings for stuffed pastas, in canapes
  • Placed in a food processor with garlic, basil, pinenuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese and you have a sundried tomato pesto.
  • Combine chopped sundried tomatoes, basil and goat cheese and stuff chicken breasts. Sear the breasts in a hot pan, then finish cooking in the oven.
  • Finely chop sundried tomatoes and stir into polenta with crumbled blue cheese as soon as it is finished cooking. Serve immediately as soft polenta, or spread into a greased ovenproof dish and heat in the oven for a firmer, slightly crispy polenta.

Canned Tomatoes:

  • Canned tomatoes can be purchased whole, diced or pureed. I prefer to use whole tomatoes, chopping them if needed.
  • Pureed tomatoes are the consistency of thin tomato paste, but work well in soups and sauces.
  • Whole canned tomatoes can also be roasted, by squeezing out excess juice, adding salt, pepper and olive oil and roasting in a 400F oven until they start to lightly char. I add these to my meat sauce when making meat lasagne.
  • I buy 100 ounce cans of whole tomatoes and use them to make a huge batch of basic tomato sauce, with onions, leeks, celery, carrots, garlic, basil and oregano. I puree it and freeze it in 2 cup batches, which works out well for making things like lasagne, meat sauce, baked beans or a quick pasta dish in a pinch.
  • Diced and added to chili, stews, soups.

Tomato Paste:

  • Tomato paste is basically pureed and strained tomatoes that have been cooked for a long time to thicken it by reducing the moisture content. This also concentrates the sugar in the tomatoes.
  • Tomato paste can be added to sauces, soups and stews to intensify the tomato flavour, and add a touch of sweetness.
  • It can be used as a base for homemade BBQ sauce, adding apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, cumin, paprika, garlic salt and pepper (black, cayenne, or hot chili peppers such as ancho or chipotle)

Tomatoes taste best at room temperature, but keep longer if stored in the fridge.
If your tomato sauce tastes too acidic, add a bit of sugar.
To peel a fresh tomato, score an X in the base of the tomato, place in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds, then immediately run under cold water. The skin will start to peel back and can be easily removed.
To remove the seeds, cut the tomato in half, across the middle (or 'equator'), and you can scoop the seeds out.
Leftover tomato paste can be kept in the freezer. Freeze it in ice cube trays, then store in a sealed container. They will defrost quickly and can be added directly from the freezer to your sauces, stews or soups during cooking.

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