Tomatoes: Rich pickings

From sauces to soups, breads to tarts, Mark Hix celebrates the endlessly versatile tomato
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Where would we be without tomatoes? At home all you have to do is treat them like fruit – which is what they are, after all. They don't like the cold, so don't keep them in the fridge. Eat them with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little Maldon sea salt.

Where would we be without tomatoes? At home all you have to do is treat them like fruit – which is what they are, after all. They don't like the cold, so don't keep them in the fridge. Eat them with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little Maldon sea salt.

But the tomato is so fundamental to European cooking, it's hard to imagine how chefs would manage without it. Pizzas would be paler and blander, pasta would be duller and the stocks and sauces we slave over in the basements of busy kitchens wouldn't have that rosy shine. And what would we squirt on our chips?

Like salt and oil, we take it for granted. The tinned tomato, which many of us use as often as we chop up fresh ones, was a breakthrough in convenience food. How would we make tomato purée ourselves, and even if we did, would it taste as good? As 30g of tomato purée is the equivalent of 300g of whole cooked tomatoes, I sometimes wonder where all these tomatoes come from.

There are now so many varieties of fresh ones: cherry red, cherry plum, cherry vine, yellow plum, striped, golden, green and the tree tomato tamarillo. Meanwhile the poor old sun-dried has gone the way of the kiwi fruit and fallen out of vogue. A shame, really, because it was just an innocent, traditional Italian way of preserving the season's harvest.

Tomatoes are a great source of vitamins A and C, and when eaten raw, vitamin E. Recent research suggests that people who eat more tomatoes, especially processed or cooked, are better protected against the growth of cancerous tumours and heart disease. This is due to the powerful anti-oxidant lycopene, which gives them the red colour and is absorbed into the bloodstream more readily when cooked with oils such as corn or olive.

So eat more tomatoes, and buy The Big Red Book of Tomatoes by Lindsey Bareham. It tells you everything you want to know about the fruit, and is jam-packed with an interesting selection of recipes, sweet and savoury.

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