Well, the food Gestapo has at least one thing right: Do not buy tomatoes outside of summer. Winter’s puck-like pink cardboard orbs are tomatoes in name alone. They are abominable.
Someone once wrote, “It is the duty of a wine to be red.” It is the duty of a tomato to be juicy. One of the only foods worth losing is half a tomato’s juice running down your chin, because the other half is by that time running down your throat.
“My favorite tomato,” says Charlie Brown, former Denver City Council member and avid home gardener, “is the first one off the vine.” Brown has “close to 80 tomato plants” in his patch and says that this year’s growing season “has been above-average,” due mostly “to the early heat.”
“Tomatoes to me,” he adds, “say ‘hello’ to summer.”
The tomato is native to the Andes, although it was most widely cultivated in Mesoamerica (present day Mexico and Central America). Its name derives from the Nahuatl language, as xitomatl.
While the Italians certainly have done a number with the tomato, it didn’t reach Europe until well after Columbus. Although we now eat the tomato only second to the potato, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that it was widespread in kitchens and dining rooms in both Europe and the United States.
Although botanically a fruit, we consider the tomato a vegetable, and it was determined to be so in an 1893 case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court based its decision on linguistic convention, not science, because most Americans treated tomatoes as vegetables, serving them “at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”
Suggestions in order to enjoy your tomatoes, fruits of the vine, to their fullest:
- “Never, ever put a tomato in the refrigerator,” says Brown. “If it’s vine-ripened, it has a ripe aroma, even if uncut. The refrigerator inactivates those aromas; big mistake.”
- Ripen or store tomatoes outside the refrigerator and out of direct sunlight. Wash them just before using, not after bringing them home from the market.
- You may ripen them, if they’re not fully ripe and soft, in a brown paper bag, in order to trap ripening gases and prevent dehydration.
- To peel the skin: With the point of a paring knife, make a small X at the base end. Drop into softly boiling water for 30 seconds; remove to a bowl of cold or iced water for another 30 seconds. The peel will slip off from the X, using your fingers or the paring knife’s edge.
- When vine-ripened, a tomato will slice using a sharp chef’s or slicing knife, although a serrated knife may help.
- The seeds are said to be bitter and will be if firmly masticated or processed, although in most preparations of vine-ripened tomatoes today, do not end so. Also, the highest concentration of vitamin C is in the jelly, often needlessly tossed away.
Today’s recipe comes from Ultreia Restaurant, in the Great Hall at Denver’s Union Station downtown. Ultreia showcases foods and preparations from Portugal and Spain. Pan con tomate is famed in Barcelona and the surrounding district of Catalan. The restaurant serves it by itself (as the recipe here) or with accompaniments such as jamón or as the beginnings for a grilled cheese sandwich.
Pan con Tomate
From Ultreia Restaurant Executive Chef Adam Branz
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
- 2 slices ciabatta
- 1 clove garlic halved
- 2 teaspoons Nuñez de Prado extra virgin olive oil (or other high quality Spanish extra virgin olive oil)
- 1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt
- 1/4 cup tomato puree (see preparation below)
Fry or sauté the ciabatta slices in olive oil until evenly brown. Rub the slices with raw garlic. Evenly divide and top with the tomato purée (or serve on the side, as in the accompanying photograph). Drizzle the Spanish olive oil onto the purée and scatter with the Maldon salt.
Remove the core from heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes (skins and seeds to remain). Pulse in a food processor until smooth. A pound of raw tomatoes yields approximately 1 cup of purée.
Reach Bill St John at firstname.lastname@example.org