Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Love apple: the complicated tomato

I don't mean to suggest by my last post that tomatoes are not a vegetable. Although, of course, many will argue that they are a fruit, and some purists even argue there is no such thing as a vegetable, I generally use commonly accepted notions rather than botanical definitions. Whatever the tomato is, it is delicious and nutritious.

Of course, it is not without dangers. Perhaps because of its resemblance to deadly nightshade, colonial Americans thought it was poisonous and used it only as decoration. While that was disproven (for the fruit; all other parts of the plant are toxic), it now turns out that because of their acidity, canned tomatoes are particularly adept at leaching bisphenol-A from the lining of the cans. BPA has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Conventionally grown, they also pose a danger to farmworkers: fields are sprayed with  more than 100 different herbicides and pesticides - and fieldworkers have been found in conditions of slavery in Florida.

If one can navigate these dangerous waters, the tomato is indispensible for certain types of cuisine, e.g. mine - tending towards the one-pot meal where things can be dumped in and simmered or baked. I came across a woman the other day who didn't know what people would use a lot of canned tomatoes for in cooking. She only used them for chili or spaghetti sauce, which they ate maybe once a month.

In addition to chili, here's what I use them for:

  • jambalaya
  • bruschetta
  • lasagna and other pastas
  • zucchini parmesan
  • lamb and chickpea stew (with or without lamb)
  • soup bases - lentil or peanut or hamburger or Manhattan clam chowder
  • shirred eggs
  • cabbage rolls
  •  ...and yes, pizza sauce
 Fresh, could they need any more enticement than the company of fellow vegetables?

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