Aug 02, 2021

LET’S DISH! Let’s Talk About Tomatoes 

By MaryAnn Miano

The tomato, seen growing all over our Garden State, comes in many varieties, shapes and sizes.  Their bounty comes to fruition at the end of August and early September, and there are many wonderful dishes that can be prepared with the bright red fruit of the summer.

Tomatoes had their origin in the northern area of the Andes in South America in Peru, Ecuador, Chile and beside the mountains and along the coast. No one knows for certain how their seeds found their way into North America. Some suspect the Spanish explorer, Henry Cortes, took seeds of the tomato back to Spain and introduced the tomato to Florida and then New Orleans, with the seeds making their way up the East Coast.  

At the time, people were afraid of the tomato and thought it to be poisonous due to its nightshade status. As a matter of fact, all parts of the plant, with the exception of the actual tomato, are indeed poisonous! Despite the trepidation toward eating tomatoes, the delectable taste of the fruit helped convince the public to use it in various dishes.  

Our Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, grew tomatoes in his Monticello gardens. Here, the tomato was promoted by the Jefferson family, used in their cooking and causing others’ curiosity to persuade them to experiment. The tomato’s popularity was sealed when Joseph Campbell of Campbell’s soup fame created condensed tomato soup in 1897.  

Growing them is easy, even for those who do not have a garden! Grow cascades of tiny tomatoes in hanging pots from a sunny window, grow small varieties indoors under fluorescent lights, or grow bigger varieties anywhere outdoors with lots of sunlight and a spot big enough to stand the container in. You can grow tomatoes in all these locations, providing you have enough light. Tomato plants require at least six hours or more of direct sunlight daily. Buy a good potting mixture, place the plants in containers with good drainage, and add a little fertilizer to the potting mix, then watch the yellow flowers turn into bright red tomatoes.

The following recipe is a good way to use the tomatoes from an abundant harvest into an interesting and tasty dish. Don’t forget a good tomato salad on the side!

TOMATO & BROCCOLI BAKE

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh or frozen chopped broccoli

4 ounces cavatelli or elbow macaroni (1 ½ cups)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 cup snipped parsley

1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon granules

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

¼ teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)

Directions:

1. Thaw broccoli, if frozen. In a large kettle or Dutch oven, cook pasta, uncovered, in boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender; drain. Set aside.

2. In a 3-quart saucepan, cook onion and garlic in hot margarine or butter. Add fresh broccoli (add frozen broccoli later), tomatoes, parsley, bouillon granules, salt, oregano and basil. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover; simmer 3 minutes. Stir in pasta and ½ cup of the cheese. (Add thawed broccoli.) Transfer to 8x8x2-inch baking dish.

3. Bake, covered, in 375° oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes more.  

BONUS RECIPE

TOMATOES FLORENTINE

Ingredients:

12 plum tomatoes

1 cup Italian style breadcrumbs

2 oz. Swiss cheese, grated

1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

4 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

Cut tops off tomatoes, scoop out insides. Combine remaining ingredients, spoon into tomatoes. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes.