Ingredient SpotLight

Tomatoes are turning bright red (or orange or yellow or purple or ...) in gardens everywhere. And that means it's time to pay tribute to them and, of course, enjoy them in some of the simplest and most delicious ways. My favorite way to enjoy the ones from my backyard is simply to pick them and slice into them over the kitchen sink! There's nothing quite as lovely as the flavor of a sun-ripened tomato as you bite into it. Of course, some people might prefer to actually see a recipe or two, so I'm including a couple of my favorite recipes as well.

There are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes ... and they come in all shapes and sizes. That's great, because we use them in all manner of ways! From salads -- where grape and cherry tomatoes shine -- to sandwiches -- where beefsteak and other large tomatoes are winners -- to stews -- where plum tomatoes and other varieties with strong flavor and few seeds and juice work best -- tomatoes are a chef's best friend. However, there are just a few things you should know to help take fullest advantage of their flavor and nutritional qualities:

  • Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator! Cold temperatures lessen the natural flavor found in tomatoes and can turn their pulp mealy.
  • Cooked tomatoes allow your body to absorb more lycopene -- a powerful antioxidant -- than fresh tomatoes. Add a little fat to them, like olive oil in a tomato sauce, and absorption rates get even higher.
  • Adding salt to either fresh or cooked tomatoes makes them give up their juice. If adding salt, either do it early and drain your tomatoes before adding other ingredients or add it just before serving ... unless you don't mind a watery result. This is especially important to remember if you are making a salsa or fresh relish.

Tomatoes are a great addition to a healthy diet. One cup of chopped tomatoes only contains about 35 calories and yet has three grams of fiber. They are also a cholesterol-free source of potassium and, of course, have high levels of lycopene ... which may decrease incidents of prostate cancer in men. All that in a package that tastes great too!

Speaking of tasting great, it only seems appropriate to share a couple of recipes with you. The first is a simple fresh relish and the second incorporates tomatoes into an American classic, grilled cheese sandwiches. I hope you try both recipes and enjoy them as much as my family does. Now ... I have some tomatoes to go pick and enjoy!

Fresh Tomato Relish

This simple relish is perfect over toasted bread, grilled chicken or even scrambled eggs.
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and toss with the remaining ingredients. For a less watery relish, simply drain the chopped tomatoes in a colander for about 10 minutes before tossing with the other ingredients.

  • Yields: about 2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 5-15 minutes

Ultimate Tomato-Grilled Cheese

Tomatoes pair beautifully with cheese. Instead of a cup of soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, I opt for a sandwich featuring cheese and tomatoes -- if they're ripe from the garden.
  • 4 slices potato bread
  • 2 T. grainy mustard
  • 1 large ripe tomato, sliced
  • 6 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 T. margarine

Spread each slice of bread with half a tablespoon of mustard and layer sliced tomato and shredded cheese between two slices of bread to form two sandwiches. Spread the margarine on the outsides of the bread and cook in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat for 3 minutes per side or until golden, brown and delicious!

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes