There’s little doubt that tomatoes that are in season taste significantly better than at any other time of the year. Arguably this is true of any fruit or vegetables, but I think the difference in flavour is far more obvious when it comes to tomatoes.
Winter grown tomatoes are a sad affair – pale in colour, watery in flavour, they’re like a summer tomato’s distant cousin. A tomato in name only. The resemblance is there, but all of the important aspects of what are tomato should be are missing.
Summer tomatoes are a thing of beauty. Vibrant in colour, powerfully flavoured, you can feel the heat from the sun emanating from them. They’re an essential part of a good summer salad, or just sliced simply, sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.
It pays to be fussy about your tomato suppliers. You may know not to keep your tomatoes in the fridge, because according to the University of Florida:
“..when tomatoes are harboured in temps typically found in refrigerators, their flavour weakens, and some of that flavour doesn’t come back..”
But when it comes to buying tomatoes, most supermarket stocked tomatoes are chilled at the distribution hub, then at the supermarket itself. So the damage has already been done, and the flavour diluted before they hit your plate. Head to your local farmers market or green grocers and ask if their tomatoes have been refrigerated. Or better still, grow them yourself (even if space is limited, they grow well in a pot). You’ll taste the difference.
So how good are tomatoes for you?
- They’re the major dietary source of lycopene. Lycopene is regarded as a prostate cancer preventative, particularly when tomatoes are cooked. The highest amount of lycopene is in the skin, and the redder the tomatoes, the higher the lycopene. Absorption rates increase when tomatoes are eaten with fat hence the importance of pairing with olive oil!
- They’re high in antioxidants, especially beta-carotinoids. Studies have linked the antioxidants in tomatoes with improved bone density in menopausal women, and with reducing the risk of degenerative eye disease, amongst many other health benefits.
- They’re a good source of vitamin C (for collagen growth), potassium (for blood pressure control), vitamin K1 (for blood coagulation and bone health), and folate (for normal tissue growth and cell function)
- They’re high in fibre, helping to reduce blood glucose levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
How do I use them?
Are you serious?! If real you were here right now I’d slap you. No, I wouldn’t really. It’s just that tomatoes are used in so many obvious ways, it’s hard to believe you’d need any new ideas!
But, in case you have a glut, here’s a few thoughts:
- Make a Caprese Salad with slices of fresh tomatoes, mozarella, and basil. Arrange in layers on a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Alternatively, use cherry tomatoes, cut the mozarella into chunks and toss in a bowl.
- Make this pizza sauce
- Make a quick pasta sauce with uncooked tomatoes. Cut two punnets of cherry tomatoes in half. Place in a bowl with a clove of finely chopped garlic, a finely chopped chilli and a handful of fresh basil leaves. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Cook pasta of your choice until al dente. Drain and toss with tomato sauce. Serve while still warm.
- Make this Greek Salad
- Make bruscetta by toasting slices of ciabatta brushed with olive oil on a griddle pan or barbecue until slightly charred. Top with chopped fresh tomatoes, torn basil leaves. Season and drizzle with olive oil to serve.
- Make this minestrone
- Make a quick salsa as a side to chicken, fish or steak by combining finely diced tomatoes, red onion and avocado with fresh lime juice, chopped chilli and coriander. Or serve with tortilla chips and use as a dip.
- Have tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over fresh thyme and drizzle with olive oil. Cook in a medium oven (180ºC) until tomatoes are soft and slightly collapsed.
Or make this chilled summer soup
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1kg ripe tomatoes
1/2 cucumber, peeled
1/2 red capsicum, seeds removed
100g stale bread, crusts removed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar if you have it)
5-6 drops Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper
- In a blender or food processor, puree tomatoes, cucumber, red capsicum and bread until smooth
- Add garlic and olive oil and pulse until very smooth. Strain if necessary.
- Transfer to a large bowl and stir through vinegar, cumin and Tabasco Sauce and season to taste. Thin with water if texture is too thick.
- Chill until very cold.
- Serve drizzled with extra olive oil, and fresh crusty bread.