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Locally Yours: Nothing tops the flavor of fresh tomatoes

By: Carol Arnold
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I was re-reading my column from last year and I realized I whine a great deal about tomatoes. I whine because I only like them cooked. I whine because so many people grow them. I just whine. The truth of the matter is tomatoes are amazing. Ripe, red, tomatoes cause people to swoon with anticipation. Tomatoes are full of nutrition, and provide the base note for more great food than I ever would have imagined. That’s why tomatoes are the subject of my second in a series summer veggie columns. They are worthy of respect. People stop me in the market and tell me tales of biting into a ripe tomato, either straight off of the vine or with a little salt. People love vine-ripened tomatoes. They don’t love tomatoes that have been raised to be shipped, stored, and sitting around a grocery store. In her “Vegetable Book,” Jane Grigson said the tomato “needs someone to save it from the dragon of commerce.” Well Ms. Grigson, our farmers are doing just that. The market is full of all kinds of tomatoes, and not one has been shipped. They have all been picked within 12 to 24 hours and driven from four to 35 miles to the market. The nutritional impact of tomatoes cannot be ignored. Tomatoes contain high levels of the potent antioxidant lycopene, which gives them their red color. In some studies lycopene has been linked protection against some cancers and heart disease. Lycopene is most abundant near the skin of the tomato and is more easily absorbed when cooked with olive oil. Tomatoes also provide generous amounts of vitamins A and C. When eaten raw, they provide vitamin E. They also contain minerals including potassium, calcium, and folic acid. Along with an apple a day, we might want to consider eating a tomato a day! This week’s recipe is for a Panzanella salad. This one is particularly good. Yes, I pick out the tomatoes. But the salad is really good. I made a batch to take photographs and my friend Charles ate two bowls sitting at the counter and took the rest home for later. An aside to my Farmers’ Market Tour de France fan club. Vive Le Lance. Mary and I have been coming late to the market on the same Saturday for many years. We have to watch the Tour before we head to the market and we both love Lance Armstrong. Podium baby … Live Strong. Reach Carol Arnold at foothillfarmersmarket@gmail.com. __________ Toasted Bread Panzanella 3 tablespoons olive oil 6 cups French bread cut into 1 inch cubes 1 teaspoon salt 2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes 1 large or two small Armenian or Persian cucumbers, sliced 1/4 inch thick 2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly and cut into thirds 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped For the vinaigrette: 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 3 tablespoons Champagne or other white wine vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil, high quality 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper Salt and pepper, to taste Heat oil in a large sauté pan. Add bread and salt. Cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients. In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, red onion, and basil. Add bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for one half hour for the flavors to blend.