Tomato Cooking and Pairing Tips - How to Choose, Prepare, Cook Tomatoes
The tomato, Solanum lycopersicum originated in the South American Andes and was a popular food in Mexico prior to the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus. The popularity of tomatoes and spread throughout the world after the Spanish colonized the Americas.
What did the Italians eat before the introduction of tomato and pasta? Well may we ask?
The tomato is widely grown throughout the world in greenhouses in cooler climates. Tomatoes are very popular in home gardens and are also grown in pots. Tomatoes are very healthy and are rich in vitamins and minerals.
The tomato is eaten in many diverse ways, including raw in salads, as an ingredient in many dishes, and is used to make a huge range of sauces, salsa, dips and drinks. While technically a fruit in botanical terms it is regarded as a vegetable for cooking purposes.
While tomatoes are easy to prepare and use in cooking, this article includes a number of tips, tricks and hints for preparing and cooking tomatoes, which makes life much easier.
While tomatoes are easy to prepare and use in cooking there are a number of tips, tricks and hints for tomatoes, which makes life much easier:
► Round tomatoes are the best type for making sauces or for slicing. Roma tomatoes are excellent for many Italian dishes. Globe, cherry, and grape tomatoes are great for eating raw and for adding to salads and pizzas. However, you can use most varieties for most dishes.
► Reducing acidity - If your tomatoes make the dish you are cooking too acidic, you can use sprinkles of salt or sugar, both of which also enhance the flavor. Adding finely grated carrot to a pasta sauce boosts the nutrition and helps to control acidity. Adding a pinch of baking soda also helps alleviate acidity to homemade sauces.
► If the supermarket tomatoes are dull, unripe and tasteless, then tinned tomatoes are a good option.
► Herbs that pair well with tomatoes include
- bay leaf,
- celery seed,
- sesame seed,
► Tip for slicing many cherry tomatoes in half at once - Hold the cherry tomatoes between two plastic lids or thin plates. Then use a sharp knife to slice between the plates.
► Peeling Tomatoes - Tomatoes can be hard and very fiddly to peel. Here are some of the best tips for peeling tomatoes:
Using a sharp knife make a small 'X', at the base of each tomato. Don't cut too deeply - you only want to just penetrate the skin. Prepare a pot of water and heat to just below boiling point. You can boil the water and then take off the heat to cool down for about 5 minutes. Prepare a second pot with ice cold water (have some ice cubes floating in it. Plunge the scored tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds and then transfer to the cold water. A good way to do this, is to use thongs or a large slotted spoon. Once the tomatoes have cooled, you will find that the skins can be easily peeled off with you hands. Some tomato varieties are easier to peel than other. Remember which ones are easy to peel and chose those varieties in recipes calling for peeled tomatoes. For stubborn specimens, simply repeat the hot-cold thing again.
Another way to quickly peel tomatoes and to given them a smoky taste is by holding them with tongs and passing through the flames of a gas burner or other flame.
► How to avoid burning tomato-based basting and barbecue sauces. Many tomato sauces as well as honey glazes, teriyaki sauces, and many commercial sauces contain sugar, that burns easily. To avoid charring and burning, while still getting that rich, caramelized sauce and finish you desire - simply wait until the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking before adding the sauce.
► Removing seeds from tomatoes - Cut the fruit in half horizontally, not vertically and gently squeeze out the seeds. You may have to slice them further to get rid of all the seeds. .
► Avoid using aluminum cookware for tomatoes - The high acid content of the tomatoes may cause migration of aluminum into the food. This may taint the food and may be a health risk.
► Try to find recipes that use the whole tomato - skins and seeds. Some research suggests that the skin may contain significant amounts of lycopene and beta-carotene, which are the compounds that provide the unique health benefits of tomatoes.
► To remove the core - use a sharp paring knife to make several angled cuts under the core and through the stem. The core can then be removed.
► One easy way to slice a tomato is to first remove the core. Then lay the tomato on its side. Cut a very thin slice off both ends and discard. Then slice the tomato to the required thickness. For sliced tomatoes that are part of the presentation for a salad, burger or salad, slice the tomato from top to bottom, not through the center.
► Yield summary:
- 1 medium tomato yields about 3/4 cup chopped.
- 1 large tomato yields 1 cup chopped.
- 1 lb (500 g) of tomatoes yields about 2 cups of tomato purée or 2-1/2 cups of chopped tomato.
► To prevent damage after you buy or pick tomatoes, store them no more than two deep, to avoid bruising and excess moisture.
► Tomatoes taste best, not cold straight from the refrigerator but at room temperature. So allowing them to get warmed to room temperature before eating or using in cooking.
► Don't overcook tomatoes, which require very little cooking. Remember this and add the tomatoes very late in the cooking process fro a dish. Tomatoes cooked for longer than 20-30 minutes will have lost much of their flavor.
► Cherry tomatoes can be skewered on rosemary spears and brushed with olive oil to make a lovely side dish for barbecues.
► Make Tomato Essence with intensified flavors - Using a food processor, puree 10 pounds (5kg) of very ripe red tomatoes, after peeling. Transfer the the puree to a large pot and heat over moderate temperature, stirring frequently until the mixture is reduced to half its volume. Then strain the mixture through cheesecloth inserted in a sieve or strainer. Clean the pot and then pour the strained liquid back into it. hear again to concentrate and intensify the essence. The yield should be about 4 cups. Cool and refrigerate. It can be used for for about one week, or frozen.
► Summary of Common Tomato Terms
- Tomato sauce - seasoned and thickened tomato puree to which seasonings have been added.
- Marinara is a tomato sauce seasoned with garlic, onions, oregano and other herbs
- Tomato paste - highly concentrated tomato sauce of puree.
- Ketchup: a thickened tomato sauce, flavored with sugar, vinegar, salt and other seasonings.
- Puree - Extract from ripe tomatoes that is not concentrated or reduced.
© 2014 Dr. John Anderson
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