Getting your pick of tomato recipes

BOOKMARK

Dishes include pie and easy gazpacho

August 18, 2004|By Linda Schubert | Linda Schubert,SUN STAFF

Tomato lovers, rejoice, for it's the most wonderful time of the year. Gone are the mealy, bland tomatoes of winter, replaced by an abundance of fresh-from-the-vine varieties.

Ronni Lundy's In Praise of Tomatoes (Lark Books, 2004, $19.95) is a celebration of the crop, with about four dozen recipes by chef John Stehling of Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, N.C. They range from an easy, refreshing gazpacho to several stuffed-tomato dishes and desserts such as green-tomato pie.

The book also includes a history of the tomato and its evolution from a misunderstood plant to one of the most popular food ingredients in cooking.

It even explains the origins of the fruit vs. vegetable question.

Not surprisingly (to some), the argument can be traced to, well, taxes. Botanically, the tomato is a fruit. But in 1883, American farmers concerned about the increasing competition from Caribbean growers pushed for a 10 percent tariff on all imported vegetables.

One importer, after paying the tariff on his tomato shipment, filed suit, saying it was unfair to tax what is actually a fruit.

The case ended up in the Supreme Court, where the judges ruled that the tomato is a vegetable in function, if not botanically, setting up years of subsequent debate.

Barbara Ciletti, a longtime garden writer from Colorado, contributes a chapter on growing tomatoes in all kinds of environments - from balcony gardens to large plots. She also includes a wonderful chart with about 50 tomato varieties listed and garden tips, maturation lengths and best uses.

And for those ready to tackle canning, there's a chapter covering the basics, with simple-to-follow instructions for putting up sauces so tomato lovers can be satiated through the winter.

There's even a whimsical chapter at the end featuring nothing but tomato-related art, such as a tomato table made of wood and a toy motorcycle made of tomato cans.

One of the more unusual - and surprising - recipes is the Spicy Red Tomato Cake, which is reminiscent of carrot cake, but has a fuller flavor and a little bit of a kick. Topped with a light cream-cheese frosting, it's a wonderful treat for guests at the end of a meal.

The Spinach-and-Artichoke-Stuffed Tomatoes are a great way to dress up a table. Choose several varieties of tomatoes in different colors for stuffing to create a gorgeous presentation.

Preparation is a snap, but the filling needs to refrigerate overnight, so planning is necessary. But they are a perfect dish for a dinner party, needing only 20 minutes in the oven before being served.

Spinach-and-Artichoke- Stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 8

1/3 pound fresh spinach

1 cup sour cream

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 cup canned artichokes, drained and chopped

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 pound Swiss cheese, grated

8 large, firm tomatoes

salt

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Steam spinach until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove and press to drain water. Chop into small pieces.

Mix together spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise, artichokes, garlic salt and Swiss cheese until thoroughly blended. Cover and refrigerate over night.

To prepare tomatoes for stuffing, slice off the top quarter of each tomato. Gently scoop out pulp and seeds, leaving a solid wall of tomato flesh around the perimeter.

Sprinkle lightly with salt and invert on a rack for 30 minutes.

While tomatoes are draining, preheat oven to 425 degrees and remove spinach-artichoke filling from refrigerator to bring to room temperature.

Lightly oil a baking sheet large enough to accommodate all the tomatoes without crowding. Use 2 if needed.

When tomatoes are drained, arrange on the baking sheet. Use a spoon to fill the tomatoes to the top with spinach-artichoke filling. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until filling is bubbly and bread crumbs are lightly browned. Remove and serve warm.

Per serving: 360 calories; 12 grams protein; 29 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 14 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 45 milligrams cholesterol; 360 milligrams sodium

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