Learn about the 4 types of lettuce and other greens that you can use to make a tossed salad.
Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable in the US. Categorized as a fruit but eaten as a vegetable, tomatoes are appreciated for their combination of sweetness and acidity. Once feared as poisonous, then considered a possible aphrodisiac, the "love apple" now adds its vivid color and delicious flesh to numerous dishes. Like the potato, this fruit is a member of the nightshade family and is native to South America.
After finally gaining acceptance as a food in Europe and the United States, tomatoes became an important part of many cuisines, especially those of the Mediterranean region. In Italy, pomodoro (golden apples) are used to make sauce for pasta, pizza and many other dishes. Sliced tomatoes are served with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, and the trio is sprinkled with olive oil. Other dishes that depend on tomatoes for their character include minestrone, gazpacho, ratatouille, Greek salad and tomato soup. Of course, tomatoes are also a staple of New World cuisine, from the American South's fried green tomatoes to Texas's chili con carne, from Latin America's salsa to bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
San Marzano Tomatoes
Today's health-conscious cooks know that, far from being poisonous, the tomato is high in vitamin C and cancer-fighting antioxidants. The tomato comes in a wide range of sizes, from tiny currant tomatoes no bigger than blueberries to fat beefsteaks up to 5 inches in diameter. The colors are varied, too, from white to purple-black to reddish black, with green-striped zebra tomatoes somewhere in between.
Dedicated gardeners have traced and reintroduced a number of heirloom tomatoes, that is, old-fashioned varieties that don''t work as well for modern commercial processing. (They may not keep as long, have thinner skins that won't stand up to jostling, or may just have a taste that, delicious though it may be, is less of a crowd-pleaser.) Look for heirloom tomatoes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, with evocative names like Elephant Heart, Lemon Boy, Mr. Stripy, and Golden Jubilee.
Sun-dried tomatoes and tomato sauce, puree, paste, and diced tomatoes are commonly used to flavor a wide variety of dishes. Tomato sauce can be used straight from the can in sauces and casseroles. Tomato puree is a more concentrated version of the sauce, while tomato paste is the thickest and most intense mixture of all. Tomato puree, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes are often used to flavor soups and sauces. More about Canned Tomatoes
Although tomatoes are available year-round, they top the list of produce that is best when eaten at the height of its natural season. You can find hothouse or imported tomatoes during the off-season, but in general it is a good idea to wait until local vines are producing, usually June through September, to serve tomatoes sliced. If you must choose fresh tomatoes out of season, plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are the best bet, as they have more flavor and a better texture than hothouse slicing tomatoes. Otherwise, use canned (or packaged) imported plum tomatoes, usually called Italian tomatoes. They will have a much better flavor than poor quality fresh ones.
There are hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes. But when we talk about types of tomatoes we are generally looking at size and shape.
Round tomatoes, which are commonly referred to as slicing or beefsteak tomatoes, are the most commonly sold in stores. Beefsteak tomatoes are capable of producing a slice that covers a sandwich. The fruit can easily weigh 2 or more pounds and usually ripens late in the season. Round tomatoes make up the majority of tomato sales in the US.
Cluster tomatoes come in all different sizes and colors. A common description used in stores are vine-ripened tomatoes; they are available still on the vine. Other varieties are cherry and grape tomatoes; named for their size and shape. Cluster tomatoes are picked at varied stages of ripeness, depending on the specific variety. They are mainly used in salads but can be added to other dishes.
Heirloom tomatoes are the varieties that have been passed down through the generations from hundreds of farmers and gardeners around the world. They have been growing in popularity in recent years. Their variety of shapes, sizes, tastes, and unique colors make them particularly attractive to gourmet cooks. The short-shelf life of these tomatoes, which are harvested when nearly fully ripe, generally does not allow them to be sold too far from the field.
Roma tomatoes are sometimes called "plum tomatoes." They are less juicy than most other types of tomatoes. Romas tomatoes are the most popular type used for making sauce due to their thick flesh and lower proportion of seeds.
San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato but they are longer and thinner, and have a point at one end. They are less juicy and less sweet than a plum tomato but they are meatier; all qualities that make San Marzano tomatoes great for sauce. They get their name from the small town in which they are grown in Campania, Italy near Naples, where it is said that the climate and volcanic soil create their unique qualities. San Marzano tomatoes are grown world-wide from San
Marzano seeds but they are not the same as those grown in the volcanic soil in Campania.
Store ripe tomatoes at room temperature for up to 3 days. If they are slightly unripe, put them in a sunny place for several days and they will ripen further. Although whole fresh tomatoes should not be refrigerated, cut tomatoes should be wrapped in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerated. Put leftover canned tomatoes, sauces, puree and paste in a glass container, cover, and refrigerate for several days.
Wash and dry tomatoes to be sliced. Cut out the stem end and leave the tomatoes whole or cut them into crosswise or lengthwise slices or into wedges, or chop, according to the recipe. Pull off the stems of cherry tomatoes. Some recipes call for peeled and/or seeded tomatoes, usually when the tomatoes are to be chopped for a sauce. The easiest way to peel a tomato is to cut an X across the top and bottom of the tomato skin and then drop the tomato in boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove the tomato with tongs and drop it into a bowl of ice water. The tomato skin should now be easy to pull off with your fingers. To remove the seeds, simply squeeze them out over a bowl.
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