Celebrating the Health Benefits of the Tomato With an Essential Recipe
Tomatoes are low in calories and packed with nutrients and with the fruit in season we're celebrating the delicious red orb with a simple and delicious sauce recipe. Photo: Photo: FCA foto digital/Getty Images
“The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one’s mouth that brings with it every pleasure … a tomato, an adventure” — Muriel Barbery, French novelist and philosopher
You say tomato, and I say tomahto. Or pomme d’amour, as the French might say, because of the supposed aphrodisiac qualities of the fruit’s seeds. Or pomo d’oro, as the Italians might say, referencing a specific tomato that is golden yellow at its peak of ripeness. But don’t call the whole thing off. At this time of year, the love apples are on the vine, the golden apples ready to be plucked and relished.
Our bodies, too, love these glossy red – or yellow, or orange or even purple – orbs, as it’s an almost perfect fruit. Raw, an average-sized tomato clocks in at about 32 calories and is a source of potassium, phosphorus and vitamins A and C, as well as calcium. It’s also loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, such as folic acid, choline, alpha-lipoic acid and beta carotene. Pop a couple of cherry tomatoes, and they’re like little vitamin bombs for your body with their concentrated amounts of beta carotene.
But the real superpowers show up when we add a little fire. Turn up the heat and, unlike most other fruits or veggies, these babies pump up the availability of key nutrients, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. It all adds up to one helluva cancer-, heart disease- and inflammation-fighter, with a zesty side dish of diabetes fighter and eye-health booster all wrapped up into one tidy love apple.
What’s not to love? When we think of tomatoes, many of us think of the Mediterranean. And how can we not help it? From Greek village salads, all rough cut and chunky under golden-green splashes of extra virgin olive oil to rich oregano- and garlic-spiked Italian sauces, where the pomo d’oro mingles with a few of its favourite partners, pizza and pasta.
But its origin story is a world away. Born and bred in the Americas, it has been documented as far back as the Aztecs, who ate the fruit as part of their diet. The Spanish arrived, discovered the plant that they then named tomate and took the seeds back to Spain to begin cultivation. It gained popularity there, as well as in France, but it took a bit of convincing before the rest of Europe would dig in. Part of the nightshade family (potatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are all its cousins), the fruit were once thought by the British to be poisonous – red signalled danger in their minds – and, rather, was used in English gardens as an ornamental plant.
A little trivia for our resident green thumbs: horticulturists and gardeners alike worked with the plant to develop it as the juicy fruit we know today. It took an American botanist, Alexander Livingston, to really bring the tomato back home to the Americas and into the mainstream as a commercial crop in the 1870s. His breed, which he named Paragon, is considered the mother of modern tomato plants; it still grows today and is sought after for its sweet flavour. It’s also an heirloom variety, meaning it has little changed from generation to generation. Its offspring plants are now among the most popular of all fruits the world over and, most likely, its DNA is in the tomato plants in your garden.
But our mind wanders back to the Mediterranean. The olive groves, the vineyards, the smell and taste of a tomato, fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun. A bottle of sparkling Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava chilling. We may not be thinking of travelling there just yet but we can dream. Let the tomato transport you with a few ways to bring the health and flavours of the Mediterranean diet home. Buon appetito!
Sugo al Pomodoro (Basic Tomato Sauce)
From spaghetti to pizza, many beloved Italian dishes call for a basic tomato sauce. Try this essential recipe, courtesy of Eataly, the all-things Italian food emporium that’s now in Canada, and you will always be prepared to wow your guests (or yourself!).
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
2 cloves garlic
1 pinch peperoncino
1 can (496 ml) whole peeled Mutti Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand
3 or 4 sprigs basil
1. In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Using the heel of your hand, crush the garlic cloves; add to the oil and cook until golden brown. Add peperoncino, and crushed tomatoes to the saucepan; season with salt to taste. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or until it begins to thicken.
2. Remove from heat; add basil and let sauce cool. Remove basil once sauce has cooled completely. It should be a rich red colour. If it is brick red, it is too thick and needs to be thinned
3. Incorporate sauce into your favourite dish, and enjoy. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.