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Heinz seems proud to boast of 57 varieties of ketchup, but did you realize that there are actually 10,000 varieties of tomatoes? My favorite is the Sungold, a tiny, orange sphere of heaven. Popping them in my mouth like grapes, they burst with summer and a profound sweetness not found in common cherry red tomatoes. While most recipe books and magazines focus on large, beefy tomatoes, which now grow in a myriad of colors and sizes, the cherry tomato always seems to be the less favored relative. The month of August is the perfect time to pay homage to these little jewels.
No matter the size or the type of tomato, there is one unwavering rule -- NEVER put any of them in the refrigerator. Storing a tomato under 55 degrees will zap its flavor. If you have a big batch and they are going to rot, eat them quickly. Make a tomato sauce, salsa or gazpacho. Give them away to your friends or neighbors. Just DO NOT put them in the refrigerator.
To make a cherry tomato even sweeter, try drying them in the oven to imitate the sun-dried version found in the store. Cut in half, (horizontally, not through the stem), put each half side by side on a cookie sheet, and roast in a 200-degree oven for 5-6 hours, or until dried (but not completely shriveled). It takes twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes to make one pound of oven-dried tomatoes, but even having a few on hand to throw into pastas or salads makes it worth the effort.
For a luncheon or light supper, put together an orzo salad with mint, basil, feta, olives, cherry tomatoes, and scallions (add shrimp for a complete meal). Toss with a light red wine vinaigrette or, to dress it up, make a Kalmata olive vinaigrette.
An old favorite among the Silver Palate crowd, the tomato and Brie pasta dish is a winner, exploding with an array of flavors on the tongue, from the soft, melted texture of the cheese to the powerful bite of the raw garlic. The earlier in the day you make the sauce, the deeper and more flavorful the result. Chop lots of garlic (8 cloves is not too many!) and three to four shallots and put them in a big serving bowl. Add a cup of olive oil, cover with saran wrap and set aside. An hour or so before you want to eat, halve dozens of cherry tomatoes and add them to the bowl along with oven dried tomatoes, torn basil leaves and bite-sized pieces of Brie cheese. At dinnertime, cook a batch of your favorite pasta (I like to use cavatappi (corkscrew), farfalle (bowtie), or linguini) and, after draining, toss with the room-temperature sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan at the table.
For a striking presentation, spread a variety of heirloom tomato slices (yellow, orange and purple, not just red) on a platter, sprinkle with cut cherry tomatoes, goat or blue cheese crumbles and leaves of basil (a common theme during the summer months). Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and oil and season with salt and pepper.
Bruschetta is a terrific party food and it’s fun to offer your guests a choice. (When their mouths are full, it won’t even matter if they don’t know the proper Italian pronunciation of this appetizer.) Toast or grill slices of pain de compagne, sour dough or French bread that have been brushed with olive oil. Spread with mashed roasted garlic cloves and oven-roasted tomatoes. Or try one with pesto and fresh mozzarella. Warm in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melts, and add a cherry tomato on top before serving.
The best way to eat a cherry tomato is, of course, “straight up”, freshly picked from the vine and warmed by the sun. If one isn’t enough, which it certainly isn’t for me, try one of the other 10,000 varieties!
Though typically thought of as a vegetable, the tomato is botanically a member of the fruit family. However, in 1893, as vegetables and fruits were subject to different import duties, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the tomato’s classification. Because the tomato was commonly eaten as a vegetable, the Court unanimously decided to give it that designation. (This was undoubtedly one of the juiciest decisions in the Court’s history.)
Tomatoes, which are consumed in higher quantities than any other vegetable or fruit in the United States, are high in vitamin C and also provide beta-carotene. Studies have shown an association between consuming a diet rich in tomato-based foods and a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease, possibly due to the presence of large amounts of an antioxidant called lycopene (watermelon is another good source of lycopene).
An average tomato has 35 calories, 2g of protein and 8 carbohydrates, no cholesterol, less than a gram of fat and 12 mg of calcium. A fresh tomato is 93% water and 100% summer, so enjoy this seasonal treat while you can!