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Tomatoes: The Age Old Debate

August 16, 2013

Some of 7,500 tomato varieties at CHEFScatalog.comPeople tend to fall into one camp or the other. And once you’ve chosen a camp, it’s rare that someone will defect to the other side. In fact, most residents of either camp usually cannot imagine what is “wrong” with those in the opposite camp.

I’m talking about the age-old “Sugar vs. Salt on Tomatoes” debate. This debate can sometimes get ugly. Uglier than the “Great Taste vs. Less Filling” debate of a certain light beer. Uglier, even, than the historic “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” and “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” arguments.

In fact, I have heard tales of “Sugarees” filling salt shakers with sugar to get back at their foes, the “Salters,” who had replaced the sugar in sugar bowls with salt—both failed attempts to proselytize opponents. In the midst of the fracas are those who refuse to take a side—the “Naturists”—who insist tomatoes are best without adornment and wonder, “Can’t we all get along?”

Coming clean

Tomatoes with Sugar at CHEFScatalog.comI would classify myself as a “Naturist-with-tendencies-toward-Sugaree.” My grandmother was a “Sugaree.” She brought me up as one of them. In fact, she would even take leaf lettuce, pour a little sugar in it, and roll it up as a special afternoon treat. And, I admit, I do still enjoy leaf lettuce that way. I think Grandma over-compensated for my Grandpa, who covered his fruit pies with salty gravy—but I digress.

I am not militantly averse to salt on tomatoes, but it does make me wrinkle my nose to even consider it. I’d rather have an unadorned tomato, than one with salt.

However, in my later years, I’ve come to realize that the whole debate is just a red herring meant to distract unwary tomato imbibers as the home gardener from next door sneakily places another bag of tomatoes under the kitchen table before slinking away to anonymity. Frankly, I’m surprised there isn’t a similar debate amongst zucchini eaters, given the almost combative nature of those trying to distribute zucchinis to the masses. "Here! Take a zucchini! Take twenty!" Gardeners never seem to realize they can plant fewer tomato (or zucchini) plants and not have to resort to Spy vs. Spy tactics to get rid of them.

Tomatoes are in season

All that to say that, yes, it is tomato season again! Hallelujah!

Tomatoes, those glorious (most often) red orbs that delight our taste buds in so many ways, originated in Mexico and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are many varieties—roughly 7,500 (!)—and nearly all of them taste great with sugar! (Oops, sorry, editorializing there a bit.)

While it is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes (as well as by the U.S. Supreme Court, believe it or not, see Nix v. Hedden), which has caused some confusion.

But, I say cast aside confusion and just revel in the tomato. Embrace the unknown (Tuh-MAY-toh? Tuh-MAH-toh?) and indulge in these recipes.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Mediterranean Kamut Salad

Tomatoes Stuffed with Mediterranean Kamut Salad Recipe at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon oregano

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons (approximately) olive oil

2 cups cooked kamut*

2 shallots, finely minced

1/3 cup crumbled feta

1/4 cup chopped Kalmata olives

1 tablespoon chopped capers

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

6 medium ripe tomatoes, stem on if possible

Cooking instructions

In a large bowl combine the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano and season well with salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify vinaigrette.

In a large bowl, place the kamut and the next six ingredients; drizzle with some of the vinaigrette, stir gently to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Using a serrated knife, trim a small slice off the bottom of the tomato, allowing them to sit squarely on the plate. Slice the tops off the tomatoes and reserve. Using a tablespoon, scoop out the center of the tomato, removing the seeds and pulp to make space for the filling. Season the inside with salt and pepper and fill with kamut salad, mounding it slightly, and placing the reserved top at an angle on the filling. Serve cold or room temperature.

*To cook kamut: Soak overnight to reduce cooking time. Drain. Place 3 cups water for every cup of kamut in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Season with salt. Add kamut, cover, and simmer 30-45 minutes, until tender. Drain. Lightly coat with olive oil and season with salt. Use as desired.

Recipe provided by Chef Shellie Kark, Kitchencue, © 2010 Kol Ha'kavod, LLC. The information here is not to be used or reprinted without permission.

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad Recipe at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

2 or 3 ripe tomatoes (mix and match varieties for color)

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese ball

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, whole or chopped (or to taste)

1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Cooking instructions

Slice tomatoes and mozzarella into equal number of pieces. Arrange the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil on a serving plate in a single layer. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil; salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with pesto if desired. Serve immediately.

Italian Gazpacho

Italian Gazpacho Recipe at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

5 very ripe beefsteak tomatoes, quartered (plus 1 cut into 1/4 inch dice, set aside)

2 large English cucumbers, peeled, quartered (plus 1 cut into 1/4 inch dice, set aside)

2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, quartered (plus 1 cut into 1/4 inch dice, set aside)

2 small jalapenos, seeded and stemmed

1 small red onion, peeled, quartered (plus 1 cut into 1/4 inch dice, set aside)

2 slices day old white bread

3 bread slices cut into 1/2-inch croutons

3 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup (120 ml) water

1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar

1/2 cup (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle

1 cup (240 ml) ice cubes

salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Cooking instructions

Toast croutons in extra virgin olive oil in a pan till deep golden brown.

Peel the cucumber and stem and seed the peppers.

Tear bread into pieces.

Place half of the vegetables, bread, water, vinegar, oil, and ice into the Vitamix container and secure lid. Select Variable 1. Turn machine on and slowly increase to Variable 5. Blend for 15-20 seconds, using the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades. Repeat with other half of ingredients. Be sure and season each batch with salt and freshly ground pepper while still in the processor.

Pour soup into a pitcher, cover, and refrigerate until very cold. Place garnishes in small terra cotta bowls and refrigerate as well.

When ready to enjoy, stir well with a spoon. Serve in shallow bowls with the garnish bowls on the side and drizzle each serving with a little more Spanish extra virgin olive oil.

Tomato Ketchup by Ball Canning

Homemade Ketchup at CHEFScatalog.comIngredients

3 tablespoons celery seeds

4 teaspoons whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces

1-1/2 teaspoons whole allspice

3 cups cider vinegar

24 pounds tomatoes, cored and quartered (about 72 medium)

3 cups chopped onions (about 4 medium)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup Ball Salt for Pickling & Preserving

7 (16 oz) pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Cooking instructions

Tie celery seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and allspice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.

Combine vinegar and spice bag in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand for 25 minutes. Discard spice bag.

Combine tomatoes, onions, and cayenne in a clean large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes. Add infused vinegar and boil gently until vegetables are soft and mixture begins to thicken, about 30 minutes.

Transfer mixture, working in batches, to a sieve placed over a glass or stainless steel bowl and press with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid. This can also be done using a food mill. Discard solids.

Return liquid to saucepan. Add sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until volume is reduced by half and mixture is almost the consistency of commercial ketchup, about 45 minutes.

Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.

Ladle hot ketchup into hot jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.

Process jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed. Makes about 7 (16 oz) pints.

Learn more about tomatoes, and many other foods, by visiting our In Season pages.

Your turn: If you dare to divulge, are you a “Sugaree” or a “Salter”?

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Tags: Tomatoes, Recipes