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Tomatoes have a long and checkered history. Native to the lower Andes, the conquistadors brought the seeds to Europe where botanists rightly pegged them as a member of the deadly nightshade family, but wrongly branded them as poisonous. For several centuries they were called "love apples" and grown only as ornamental plants. Only the Italians saw the light, weaving tomatoes into their dishes so much so that they are an underpinning of Mediterranean cuisine. Eventually the rest of Europe caught on.

Until the mid-19th century, popular wisdom in America was to only eat tomatoes after they had been cooked for three hours. Today, Americans eat more tomatoes than any other vegetable except potatoes and lettuce. They are a home gardener's darling and take center stage in most summer salads.

For recipe ideas and a celebration of tomatoes, read Joyce Goldstein's Tomatoes — A Love Story.

Pile On the Red Sauce

Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A. Most of the vitamin C is in the jelly-like material that clings to the seeds. Plus, tomatoes are full of lycopene, a potent antioxidant. Tomato sauces, soups and juices can contain five times more lycopene than raw tomatoes because cooking makes it easier for your body to absorb. Cook tomatoes with a little fat, like olive oil, to boost absorption.

What to Look For

Follow your nose. Tomatoes that smell good will taste good. Other than fragrance, look for rich-colored tomatoes that are firm but not rock-hard. Avoid tomatoes with any blemishes, wrinkles or cuts.

Keep underripe tomatoes in a sunny spot in the kitchen—after a few days they'll soften and improve in flavor. Otherwise, store tomatoes in a cool place but preferably not the refrigerator, as the cold saps their flavor. It's best to use ripe tomatoes within a few days.

Peeling Tomatoes

A quick and painless way to remove the skin is to cut a small 'x' in the base of the tomato then plunge it into boiling water for 10 to 20 seconds. When the 'x' starts to loosen, remove the tomato with a slotted spoon and drop it into a bowl of ice water to cool. The skin will peel off easily afterwards.

Matches Made in Heaven

Tomatoes taste great with cheese, namely Parmesan, mozzarella and feta. Basil, chives, tarragon, parsley and thyme are herbs of choice. Other flavorful partners include anchovies, olives, eggs and arugula. So versatile, tomatoes are absolutely delicious raw, but also do nicely broiled, baked, grilled, sautÚd or stewed.

Celebrate tomatoes with these FoodFit recipes:

Alice Water's Rainbow Tomato Pizza
Sizzle of Corn and Tomatoes
Spicy Gazpacho
Tomato Basil Sauce
Tomato Vinaigrette
Zucchini and Tomato Tart


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