Fresh tomatoes go from better to best


It's been years since I've grown my own tomatoes, focusing instead on flowers and herbs. But Ted thought he'd like home-grown tomatoes, and you know how it is when you're courting.

Borrowing my dad's tomato-growing secrets, I planted Better Boys that quickly shot up past my head and are now dangling fruit from the lilac bush overhead. Then, as you well know, our cool, rainy summer produced tons of green fruit that just refused to turn red. Until two weeks ago.

Now we're wallowing in freshly picked, melt-in-your mouth beauties that turn everyday meals into gourmet affairs.

Last night, I made dinner in 10 minutes by filling half of each plate with thick slabs of just-picked tomato. Seasoned only with slivers of fresh basil, they were the perfect "salad" compliment for quick-cooking cheese and garlic tortellini. A little olive oil and coarsely ground black pepper was all it took to blend the flavors. Crusty Italian bread and smooth-as-silk Spanish wine completed the meal. And it was to live for!

The best thing about tomatoes, at least the local summer gems of our indulgence, is that they're so tempting, so satisfying, and so good for you. At just 25 calories for a whole tomato, they're essentially fat- and sodium-free. Each tomato provides about two grams of fiber, and one-third of your vitamin C for the day. Even better, they contain lycopene, a member of the carotene family, that may help decrease men's prostate cancer risks.

And the news gets better. Tomatoes bring out the best in other foods.

Because of their vitamin C content, they increase the iron you can absorb from other plant-based foods eaten at the same meal. Since iron-deficiency anemia is a problem for many women, this is important.

Tomatoes are somewhat acidic, and that's a fat-decreasing bonus. Beef and pork are being bred to be less fatty now, but that makes them a little more dry and tough. Simmering cuts like round steak in tomatoes, along with some onion and/or green pepper, makes them tasty and tender.

Mostly, fresh summer tomatoes taste really wonderful. Lots of people complain to me that they'd eat more vegetables if they just knew how to prepare them. Here's my best advice. Grow a tomato vine. Pick the ripe fruit. Eat it right there in the garden while it's still warm with sunshine.

Barring that, buy some from a local produce stand or a grocery store that carries locally grown tomatoes. Take them home, slice and eat.

While tomatoes are abundant, you might want to serve them in dishes that showcase their unique flavors. Try these ideas.

Fresh tomato

garbanzo fettuccine

.' For each serving, you'll need:

two small or one large fresh tomato, chopped

fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 canned artichoke heart, cut in quarters

6 fresh basil leaves, slivered or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and oregano or 1 teaspoon each dried

4 fresh parsley clusters

1/4 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 cup tomato sauce

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon toasted pine nuts

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 ounces fettuccine noodles

1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans (chick peas)

In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil, then saute tomatoes, basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper, until tomatoes just begin to wilt. Add artichoke and garbanzos, and simmer just until heated through (about one minute).

In another pan, mix tomato sauce with cooked fettuccine and half the cheese. Place on dinner plate.

Top with vegetable mixture. Dust with remaining cheese, then top with pine nuts.

Nutrition per serving: calories-600; protein-29 grams; carbohydrate-79 grams; fat- 23 grams; cholesterol-20 grams.

Fresh tomato crostini

Makes about one cup of spread

If you're looking for a great-tasting appetizer, try the Tuscan approach. Slice a fresh baguette into 1/4 -inch thick rounds. Toast lightly, then spread with this mixture: 4 very ripe tomatoes, seeded and finely diced; 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly shredded; 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Nutrition information for one tablespoon spread: Calories-15; protein-0 gram; carbohydrate-1 gram; fat-1 gram; cholesterol-0 milligram.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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