Tomatoes: Making the Most of the Summer Crop

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Varieties of tomatoes and Tomato recipes

Summer officially begins in June and as the days grow warm, it's a sure bet that vine-ripened tomatoes will soon be available. Although home-grown tomatoes are the dream of every professional chef and most home cooks, few of us have the time, energy or space to devote to a tomato garden. Congratulations are in order to those who do, but the rest of us are content to be left out of the weed-pulling-tomato-worm-picking crew. We can't wait to visit farmer's markets or roadside stands to choose our favorites, fresh from someone else's garden.

Summer's harvest brings familiar varieties like beefsteak and cherry tomatoes, and also an increasing number of heirloom varieties and hybrids. These tomatoes come in red, of course, but also in white, yellow and green, and even a red that's almost purple. Full-flavored heirlooms may be sweet and juicy or tart and spicy. Savvy shoppers select varieties that meet their culinary needs, whether it's tomatoes for a sauce, or a 'slicer' intended to be eaten out-of-hand.

Although vine-ripened is everyone's first choice, most of the huge tomato market is supplied by other farming methods. Conventional tomatoes are grown in soil under FDA guidelines, and they are typically what's displayed at grocery stores. Both hydroponic tomatoes (grown in water) and organic tomatoes (free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers) are also available. While many of these tomatoes are of good quality, the flavor may be disappointing to palates accustomed to home-grown. Tomatoes that are to be shipped are picked green, and the taste may not be quite what's expected.

When tomato season draws to a close, many chefs prefer to use processed tomatoes rather than poor quality fresh ones. A wide variety of whole, sliced and stewed tomatoes is available, plus any number of sauces and pastes. Many recipes can be adapted to use canned ingredients or even dried tomatoes.

Fresh or canned, tomatoes are popular. They are served both raw and cooked, liked by almost everyone, and are nutritionally beneficial. Tomatoes are low in fat and calories and have no cholesterol. They are high in vitamins A and C and in potassium. And many health researchers feel that lycopene, found in tomatoes, may lower the risk of prostate cancer in men who consume several servings per week. Some people enjoy juicing fresh tomatoes.

Two of the recipes that follow make fine use of fresh tomatoes. The salsa recipe, which specifies canned tomatoes, is a good year round recipe.

Artichoke Pizza

This is a great summer pizza. It's easy and makes good use of tomatoes, onions and basil, all plentiful this time of year.

Ingredients:

  • 1 12 to 14-inch pre-baked pizza crust
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts packed in water, well-drained
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced into rings (optional)
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded or thinly sliced
  • 10 basil leaves, cut into dime-size pieces

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F or follow the directions for your pizza pan or stone.
  2. Use a pastry brush to coat the pizza crust lightly with oil.
  3. Cut the drained artichoke hearts into thirds or quarters and scatter the pieces over the crust.
  4. Add the tomato and onion. Salt and pepper the pizza generously.
  5. Bake the pizza 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese.
  7. Bake an additional 5 to 8 minutes until the cheese has melted.
  8. Remove the pizza from the oven. Sprinkle with basil and serve immediately.

Guacamole

This guacamole, served with tortilla chips and a margarita, makes a wonderful 3-course meal.

Ingredients:

  • 4 large ripe avocados
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 large firm tomato, diced
  • 1 canned or jarred jalapeño pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons jalapeño pepper juice

Preparation:

  1. Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, remove the pits and discard.
  2. Hold an avocado half in one hand and scoop out the pulp with a spoon. (This step eliminates the need to peel the avocados.)
  3. Place the pulp in a medium size, non-metallic serving bowl.
  4. Sprinkle with the lemon juice.
  5. Mash the fruit into chunks with a fork as you mix in the lemon juice.
  6. Stir in the onion, tomato, jalapeno pepper and pepper juice.
  7. Salt and pepper generously.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour to blend the flavors.

Sidney's Salsa

Cilantro is a key ingredient in this recipe. Although the salsa does taste good without it, the cilantro adds a special flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • 2 cans (15 or 16 oz.) plain stewed tomatoes
  • 1 large fresh jalapeño, minced
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon fajita seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (leaves only)

Preparation:

  1. Place all the ingredients except the cilantro in a blender or food processor.
  2. Process until the mixture reaches the consistency desired.
  3. It may be left slightly chunky, or processed until very smooth.
  4. Stir in the cilantro.
  5. Pour into a glass container and cover with plastic wrap.
  6. Let the salsa rest for at least an hour to blend the flavors.
  7. Serve at room temperature.

Sidney Carlisle lives on a ranch in Meridian, Texas.

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