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Mediterranean Monday: For the Joy of Tomatoes

We use them when we have to. When there is nothing else to eat. Tasting them and really enjoying them rarely enter the picture. And when paired with extra virgin olive oil, they transform into something that is pure Italian –  yes, ladies and gentleman, may I introduce you to the tomato.

Italians love to travel. For the month of August, the entire country picks up – en mass – and goes. Many of course, stay in Italy heading to the beach or the mountains, but a large part travel overseas to see what wonders, pleasures and flavours await them. While traveling, they don’t miss their neighbourhoods, their landscapes or even their comfy beds. But after 10 days in North America, 7 days in France or just 3 days in China, these same people will dream of the Italian tomato as if it were a vision in the desert.

Back at home, the tomato remains unobserved and unappreciated. And it shouldn’t be. It should be observed, even meditated on and exalted.

Here’s why: the tomato is one of the foods that contains the most amount of glutamic acid, the substance that gives flavour to everything, followed closely by Parmigiano and eggplant (hmmm that explains a lot!). When they are green, they are rich in Vitamin C and D and then… and then there is lycopene. Lycopene, especially when cooked, acts as a prostate protector – it isn’t completely understood why or how, but controlled studies on populations that consume vastly different quantities of cooked tomatoes show very relevant differences in prostate tumors. Even if we don’t know why it works… as long as it does, right?

The number of tomato cultivars is too enormous to even begin to list. What should be remembered though is that some tomatoes are better suited to sauces while others are better suited to eating fresh in salads and still others for baking.

Within Italy, there are several areas that grow tomatoes with Protected Geographical Status. These include:

Naturally, whichever way they are prepared, the tomato’s trusty companion is always extra virgin olive oil. Fresh EVOO contains an abundance of polyphenols that acts as an antioxidant, slowing down the cellular aging process. Remember though to choose an appropriate oil. It has no sense to dress a fresh tomato, that is full of vitamins and lycopene with an old, rancid oil. The oil must be up to the task – fresh, a bit spicy and depending on the cultivar, maybe even a little bitter. In Italy alone, there are over 600 olive cultivars and an uncountable number of different oils – we are spoiled for choice.

An easy way to enjoy tomatoes from the garden this year? Take a piece of day-old or slightly toasted bread and a red ripe tomato. Grate the tomato on the edge of the bread to lift and open the skin, then rub the tomato on the bread till all the pulp is used. Douse the tomato bread in a good healthy amount of EVOO.

Live long and enjoy…

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