Tomatoes come in all sizes and shapes the Beefsteak variety, Oxheart, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Grape or Campari, to name a few. And of course, there are hundreds of ways that tomatoes can be eaten, but mostly the tomato can be consumed raw, or cooked (as in sauces), or as a beverage. Wow! Talk about your all around food.
Some researchers believe that the word tomato may have come from the ancient Aztecan word for tomatl meaning the swelling fruit -- and in botanical terms, the tomato is considered a fruit. After the Spanish explorers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain, the seeds had spread throughout Europe and as far as southeast Asia -- the rest, as they say, is history. A big "thank you" to those fearless explorers for introducing that part of the world to the tomato -- otherwise we would never have enjoyed such a romantic love affair with the classic Italian pasta sauces or the rich Bouillabaisse of France.
There is so much more to the tomato than just its culinary uses -- we are also the recipients of its health benefits. Did you know that just one medium-sized tomato has about as much fiber as a slice of whole-wheat bread and only about 35 calories (without all the carbs)?
The Research National Center for Food Safety & Technology in Illinois have discovered that the tomato and tomato-based products provide the biggest source of the antioxidant ingredient called lycopene, which is a phytochemical nutrient that has been considered as a combative agent against certain cancers. Unlike other fruit and vegetables, tomatoes tend to have a higher potency of lycopene after it is cooked. Tomatoes are also a great source of nutrients, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium.
In my household, we value the many uses of tomatoes, and in particular, we love making our own fresh tomato sauce, especially for pasta dishes. While we have nothing against canned tomato sauces, we think making your own is better for you in the long run, as well as a fun thing to do at home.
The simplest tomato sauces are made of chopped tomato flesh (without the skin and seeds), cooked in a little olive oil, and seasoned with salt. Because the tomato is rich, and high in water content, the flesh breaks down easily and it actually thickens as it cooks. If you want to spice up the flavor a bit try adding some seasonings, like paprika, cayenne chili, garlic and/or peppers, depending on your preference. To keep the sauce from drying out, add a little liquid stock or wine as it cooks or simply add water. Extended simmering melds the flavors and elevates the richness of the spices or any seasonings you may add to the sauce.
If you plan on making a large quantity of tomato sauce, be sure to cool it prior to storing it in the refrigerator. I strongly suggest using a sterilized glass bottle or jar with an air-tight lid. Also, keep your fresh tomatoes stored at room temperature, and away from direct sunlight. They should keep for up to a week depending on their ripeness after being purchased.
While we're on the subject of tomatoes, here is our simple recipe for Fresh Tomato Pasta Sauce-- it's rich, zesty, and great on any pasta dish -- you'll love it!