Hey tomato, you are summer’s pin-up, spilling out of pots on the stoop, clambering up supports in backyard gardens and filling crates at the market. A recurring favorite for topping pizza, adorning sandwiches and just plain picking from the vine and devouring, the modest fruit hasn’t always been held in such high esteem.
Native to Central and South America, Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma’s gardens. He collected seeds as part of his plunder. In that day and age, this member of the deadly nightshade family was considered poisonous. Skeptical of the bright color, Europeans grew tomatoes for decoration, mere curiosities to be observed.
What a difference a few centuries makes. Dubious beginnings set aside, tomatoes are versatile, nutrient dense personalities; packed with vitamins A, C, potassium and healthy doses of the antioxidant, lycopene.
Tomatoes come in a plethora of types, shapes and colors. Regularly gracing our grocer’s aisles are Roma, cherry and grape tomatoes. Farm stands and organic markets have introduced us to heirloom varieties such as Brandywine with its superb flavor and prolific production; the dusky purple, Black Cherry brimming with sweet flavor or Beam’s Yellow Pear for an endless supply to toss with salad greens or into bowls of gazpacho.
Oven-roasting tomatoes brings out their natural caramelization. Plunking them on a hot grill infuses them with a deep, rich sweet-smoky flavor. The end result is tomato-y goodness that can be mashed and spread on hearty, toasted bread, mix with plates of pasta, fresh basil and shavings of pecorino, placed on an antipasti platter or turned into picante salsa.
To char tomatoes:
- Start grill; wood pellets, charcoal or gas. Side note: if you are using charcoal or gas, soak wood chips in water and place on grill to achieve the smoke-imbued flavor.
- Sort, wash and halve tomato of choice. Try using a mixture to play with the flavors.
- Place cut tomatoes on a grill pan with holes which has been lightly coated with oil.
- Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with sea salt and garlic granules.
- Place pan on hot grill and cook until tomatoes begin to shrivel, burst and char approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
- Carefully remove pan from grill and enjoy.