Malibu Way of Life

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It’s a hulkin’ big berry

By Jody Stump

Of all the fruits of summer, the one I love best is a “veggie” to most Americans. Millions of my countrymen insist that a dollop of ketchup on fries constitutes a double serving of the USDA daily allotment for vegetables. One former president considered ketchup on cottage cheese a full meal, and another forefather had the foresight to bring not only ketchup but French fries home from a stint abroad.*

Science says “no”-the tomato is not a vegetable. It’s really just a very big berry, one native to Incan Peru. There, the chilly wind keeps the berries hard and bitter, but somehow the seeds migrated north into sunshine, receiving enough rain to turn much of the thick pulp to juice. In a warm climate, a sun-ripened tomato cultivar becomes a plump, fleshy ball of sweetly acid goodness, one that flavors the world’s cuisine everywhere from pasta to salsa and Szechuan beef.

The first recorded culinary use of a tomato is as popular today as it was in 1521. Cortes wrote that Montezuma fed him curious foodstuffs such as a chicken casserole topped with a piquant sauce of “xitomatl,” peppers and salt. He liked it well enough to take a few plants home-and the rest is history…

…Well, almost. Had it not been for the happy fact that tomatoes seed easily and pack well in almost any form, they would have remained a seasonal summer treat, but tomatoes are good stewed, dried, roasted, canned and jammed. Enjoy them fresh now-the heirlooms are wonderful at our local Farmers’ Markets-and put some up for the winter.

Science won’t let you count them as a vegetable, but they are good for you. Tomatoes are an important source of the antioxidant lycopene, the chemical that turns tomatoes red, which is a potent cancer-fighter, not to mention an excellent source of vitamins A and C.

* President Nixon once mentioned to the press that cottage cheese and ketchup was his favorite meal, one he often prepared himself.

Jefferson was the prescient president who introduced ketchup and fries to America, but the plant looked like a botanical twin to deadly nightshade, and a suspicious public shunned the fruit until, in 1822, a brave Colonel Johnson announced he would eat a bushel of tomatoes on the Boston Commons. Thousands showed up, eager to watch him die, only to be disappointed when he pronounced the fruit, “delicious!”

BRUSCHETTA

The earliest tomato recipe dates to 1544 in Italy where “golden apples” were mixed with oil, salt and pepper, and then slathered on bread. It sounds like bruschetta, one of the easiest preparations for sweet, juicy summer fruit. Pronounced broo-sketta, not broosh-etta, this is always

popular.

Serves 8 – 12

4 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 cup shredded basil leaves

1 garlic clove, pressed

1 Tbsp fruity olive oi

1 tsp sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper

Grilled bruschetta (see below)

1. Mix ingredients together and season to taste. Let it rest one hour.

2. To serve, crunch the top of the toasted bruschetta so the juice can soak in. Drizzle about a tablespoon of juice on top and scoop on a healthy layer of the tomato.

Grilled bruschetta

1 loaf of fresh ciabatta (Italian slipper bread)

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1. Slice the bread about 3/4 inch thick.

2. Heat a grill to medium-hot and toast the slices 1 – 2 minutes.

3. Flip it and brush oil on top. Rub a split garlic clove on top (to taste). Spoon on topping and always serve warm.

SUMMER JAM

This is great as an omelet filling or scooped on a burger, but if your tomato crop is huge, try the variation and make a chutney you can eat all winter with beef or pork. That way, you’ll remember the salad days of summer.

3 pounds of ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 cups sugar (to taste)

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/ 2 tsp mustard seeds, to taste

1 Tbsp sea salt

2 tsp allspice

2 tsp ginger

1/ 2 tsp cloves

1 inch fresh ginger, minced

1 cup cider vinegar

1. Bring all ingredients except vinegar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

2. Add vinegar and cook another 30 minutes until it thickens and plops from a spoon. Cool and refrigerate.

Variation: Tomato Chutney.

Add:

2 cups currants

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 green apples, peeled and chopped