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What’s Fresh in August?

Here today, gone tomato

Fresh tomato recipes to make while the picking is good.

Story By Bailey Gilliam

The humble tomato can be traced back thousands of years to Mexico but was not introduced as a food in Europe until nearly the 17th century. Because it was from the nightshade family of poisonous plants, many people assumed that tomatoes were poisonous and didn’t dare add them to their culinary lineup. In the United States tomatoes weren’t believed to be safe to eat until the 1800s. 

Despite the confusion with the edibility of tomatoes, there have been many innovative ways of cooking with this delicious plant. Despite botanically being a fruit, it’s generally eaten and prepared like a vegetable. Over the last few centuries different breeds of the plant have been produced for consumption. Usually red when mature, tomatoes also come in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, green and purple. What’s more, many subspecies of tomatoes exist with different shapes and flavors, making tomatoes a versatile ingredient for your kitchen.

Health benefits 

Tomatoes are quite healthy, being 95 percent water and 5 percent carbohydrates and fiber. In other words, tomatoes are perfect for your low-carb diet. They are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K and folate. The main plant compounds in tomatoes have incredible health benefits. Lycopene can increase absorption by four times, beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, naringenin has been shown to decrease inflammation and protect against various diseases, and chlorogenic acid may lower blood pressure. Consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products has been linked to improved skin health and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

Grow your own

Tomatoes are tender warm-season crops that love the sun and cannot bear the frost. In the Lowcountry, you can plant your tomatoes on August 18 and still have a crop to harvest by winter. Tomatoes take 60-100 days to harvest, depending on the variety. For the easiest time, choose a short and stocky plant with a dark green color and sturdy limbs. 

Tomato plants need about 8-10 hours of direct sunlight and 1.2 gallons of water per square foot. Pro tip: water in the morning so plants have sufficient moisture to make it throughout the hot day. As the plant grows, trim the leaves from the bottom 12 inches of the stem. Leave tomatoes on the vine as long as possible. 

Harvest the tomatoes when they are firm and very red, regardless of the size. Harvest tomatoes of other colors when they turn their named color.

Where to buy

Farmers Market of Bluffton: Purchase locally grown tomatoes from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursdays in Old Town Bluffton. 

Certified roadside markets: Barefoot Farms, Dempsey Farms, Pasture Shed Farm and Lowcountry Produce are some of the freshest sources for produce around. 

Supermarkets: Our favorite spots for tomatoes are Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger and Harris Teeter in that order. 

Fun facts

  • Initially tomatoes were thought to be poisonous and were grown in the 19th century as an ornamental plant called “The Apple of Paradise” in Germany and “The Apple of Love” in France. The mistaken idea that tomatoes were poisonous probably arose due to the plant being a member of the Nightshade family, which contains truly poisonous plants. 
  • Ease a headache by drinking tomato juice blended with fresh basil. 
  • Reynoldsburg, Ohio, calls itself the “Birthplace of the Tomato,” claiming the first commercial variety of tomato was bred there in the 19th century.
  • Tomatoes are a popular “nonlethal” throwing weapon in mass protests, and there was a common tradition of throwing rotten tomatoes at bad performers on a stage during the 19th century; today this is usually referenced as a metaphor. Embracing this protest connotation, the Dutch Socialist party adopted the tomato as their logo.
  • “Rotten Tomatoes” is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The name “Rotten Tomatoes” derives from the practice of audiences throwing rotten tomatoes when disapproving of a poor stage performance.

Balsamic bruschetta 

Bruschetta is a classic Italian appetizer that is easy to make at home. Toasted bread is topped with tomatoes, parmesan cheese, garlic and fresh basil. Use high-quality balsamic vinegar for best results.

Ingredients 

1 loaf French bread, cut into 1/4-inch slices 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 Roma tomatoes, diced 

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil 

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, freshly grated 

2 cloves garlic, minced 

1 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Directions [1] Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush bread slices on both sides lightly with 1 tablespoon oil and place on a large baking sheet. Toast bread until golden, 5 to 10 minutes, turning halfway through. [2] Meanwhile, toss together tomatoes, basil, Parmesan cheese, and garlic in a bowl. Mix in balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. [3] Spoon tomato mixture onto toasted bread slices and serve immediately.


Cherry tomato pasta

This cherry tomato pasta pairs sweet tomatoes blistered in a hot pan with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. An easy dinner idea. You’ll be amazed at the amount of flavor these classic summer ingredients infuse in 20 minutes. Use it to impress guests or as a fast and easy dinner that’s over-the-top tasty.

Ingredients 

8 ounces short pasta

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 

2 pints whole cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt 

Fresh ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves 

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided 

1/4 cup pasta water 

1 handful fresh small basil leaves, chopped if large 

Directions [1] Make the pasta: bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta until it is just al dente. Start tasting a few minutes before the package recommends: you want it to be tender but still a little firm on the inside; usually around 7 to 8 minutes. Before draining, reserve some pasta water with a liquid measuring cup (at least 1/4 cup). Drain the pasta. [2] Blister the tomatoes: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a very large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the tomatoes, making sure there is space around each tomato (they are not touching) and the pan is not crowded. If you’re using a medium pan, cook the tomatoes in 2 batches.* Cook for 1 minute without touching the pan, then 2 to 3 more minutes until blistered, shaking the pan several times to rotate the tomatoes. Turn off the heat and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, gently shaking several times to coat. Add 2 pinches of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Remove the tomatoes from the pan to a bowl. [3] Finish the dish: Mince the garlic. Once the pasta is done, in the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with ¼ cup of pasta water, scraping the pan with a spoon to release all of the flavors of the tomato juices. Turn off the heat. [4] Add the pasta to the pan and toss to coat. Add the blistered tomatoes, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese and basil. Season with 2 pinches of kosher salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve with the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.


Classic tomato sauce 

Right now tomatoes are at their ripest, so make a batch of fresh tomato sauce. At the market look for the cracked, slightly bruised tomatoes sold at a discount. The flesh of the tomato should be dense, sweet and blood red. This makes a very fresh and bright-tasting sauce in a manageable small batch. Take advantage of tasty tomatoes and fill a few zip-top bags for the freezer.

Ingredients

5 pounds tomatoes 

3/4 teaspoon salt 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 garlic clove, halved 

1 basil sprig

1 bay leaf 

Directions [1] Cut tomatoes in half horizontally. Squeeze out the seeds and discard, if you wish. Press the cut side of tomato against the large holes of a box grater and grate tomato flesh into a bowl. Discard skins. You should have about 4 cups. [2] Put tomato pulp in a low wide saucepan over high heat. Add salt, olive oil, tomato paste, garlic, basil and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a brisk simmer. [3] Reduce the sauce by almost half, stirring occasionally, to produce about 2 1/2 cups medium-thick sauce, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt. It will keep up to five days in the refrigerator or may be frozen.