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The Italians call it pomo d'oro, or golden apple because many of the early varieties were indeed yellow or golden in color; the Italian word for the tomato today is pomodoro. The romantic French, on the other hand, originally referred to tomatoes as pomme d'amoure, literally apple of love, because they considered it to have aphrodisiac properties.
The name "love apple" stuck and was referred to as such by both the French and English well into the 19th century. The Spaniards, though, adopted the name tomate, which they still use today. Tomate is actually a derivative of it's original Aztec name, tomatl; the name was eventually adopted by the French, as was a variation in the English language, hence our current wording as tomato.
Tomatoes are available throughout the year and in every corner of our vast country. Today - even in the dead of winter - there's always a bountiful supply. And with new technologies they certainly look like tomatoes, but they are often mere imposters of the real thing - true summer tomatoes that are ripened on their vines and grown within the region they are consumed.
I wonder, sometimes, what the world must have been like prior to these "technological advances" that enable a person to purchase foods with no regard to season.
During the winter months one did not expect to eat foods such as tomatoes unless they were dried or canned. Fresh tomatoes in the off months simply weren't an option.
Such luxuries were highly desired and anticipated, and - at least for cooking purposes - provide an acceptable alternative to seasonal home-grown.
While the tomato is actually a fruit by botanical standards, it is generally thought of and eaten as a vegetable. In fact, in 1893 the tomato was ruled a vegetable by the United States Supreme Courts, a ruling that was evidently created for trade purposes. The tomato is one of the world's most popular vegetables and has greatly changed some of the most influential cuisines. The U.S. is still the largest producer of tomatoes in the world, and on average we consume 18 pounds fresh and 70 pounds processed tomatoes per person each year. Tomatoes are also the most popular vegetable for backyard gardeners - as the fake spring turns our thoughts to gardening - more than 25 million people in our country plant tomatoes in their gardens each year. The popularity of tomatoes should come as no surprise; they are extremely easy to grow and are one of the most versatile vegetables. Besides the obvious options such as raw in salads, and cooked in soups and sauces, they can also be used in sweet confections, such as tomato ice or sorbet. Actually, in the first half of the twentieth century tomato soup cake was a common treat, not unlike carrot cake.
The real paradox, though, is that while tomatoes have been consumed by the peoples of South and Central America for millennia, and are ubiquitous in cultures around the globe today, they were considered poisonous when first encountered by European explorers. This misconception, no doubt, was most likely caused by their relation to the deadly nightshade plant (a botanical category that includes potatoes and eggplant, which were also at one point considered poisonous). And also some early skeptics are said to have mistakenly consumed the leaves of the plant instead of the fruit. If this is true the tomato's early reputation would have been appropriate because the plant's leaves and stem are toxic.
Tomatoes played a major role in the "Columbus Exchange," a phrase used in historical and anthropological circles which makes reference to the foods exchanged between the new and old worlds during the first European explorations of what would later become the Americas. Thus, it wasn't until the fifteenth century that Mediterranean countries - whose cuisines utilize tomatoes extensively - ever saw their first tomato.
Italy did have pasta but not with tomato sauce. It was generally tossed with spices, nuts, herbs and chicken - methods and seasonings borrowed from the Greeks and Arabs. And the famous Mediterranean soups such as bouillabaisse, soupe de poissons, kakavia and zuppa di pesce also existed, but they were probably white and, more likely than not, thickened with egg and lemon as with the Greek avgolemono. Today, of course, it's almost impossible to imagine these cuisines without the tomato.
Eventually brave souls began to eat and cook with tomatoes and discovered their culinary versatility.
Besides tasting great, tomatoes are also very good for you. One medium tomato (about 1 cup chopped) is more than 90 percent water and contains a mere 35 calories. It also contains 35% of a person's recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and 15 percent recommended vitamin A. In addition, tomatoes are naturally sodium-free, cholesterol-free, and high in fiber (1 medium tomato has approximately the same amount of fiber as a slice of whole wheat bread).
Tomatoes are at their peak during the summer months, the rest of the year canned tomatoes will do for sauce making, and sundried tomatoes are a good alternative for salads. Look for tomatoes that are plump, somewhat uniform in shape, juicy, and seem heavy for their size. They should be free from blemishes and smell distinctly of the fruit. Fresh tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and never refrigerated; the cold temperature makes their flesh pulpy and robs them of flavor.
Try this for a Valentine menu; let us know if the aphrodisiac part is correct.
Plum Tomato Coulis (for Chicken, Seafood, or Pasta) Yield: 1 quart
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
6 large leaves fresh basil
Sauté the fine diced shallots and garlic in olive oil until translucent but not browned. Add diced tomatoes, white wine, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and cook the tomatoes for 20-30 minutes. In batches, transfer the sauce to a blender and purée until smooth. Strain the tomato coulis through a fine sieve, and if needed, finish the sauce with a pat or two of butter
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