CSA Veggie of the Week: Tomato

Photo: Corey Burger/CC BY-SA 2.0

Ok, I admit it. Tomatoes used to fall pretty low on my produce list. Their squishiness and juiciness has always prevented true love. And though we’re still not meant to be, we now have a wonderful friendship. How could I not give such a beautiful, layered fruit the chance?

I’m not the only one with qualms about this plant. The Mexican conquistadors who first discovered it were wary themselves. The tomato “belongs to the Solanaceae family, which includes the petunia, tobacco, and potato,” writes Evelyne Bloch-Dano in Vegetables: A Biography. “Other members of that inhospitable family are poisonous plants such as deadly nightshade, stinkweed, henbane, or wood nightshade. It made sense to distrust the tomato.” Despite its ancestry, the tomato is today one of the most widely consumed vegetables. Americans, on average, each demolish 22 pounds of tomatoes a year, with more than half coming in ketchup or sauce form.

Once you get over the whole it-could-be-poison thing, you can easily fall for the tomato’s wonderful flavor, its beautiful color, its versatility. One use for the red globe that gets my tastebuds tingling is pureed into a creamy soup, and the one featured in 500 Soups by Susannah Blake, simply put, rocks. Here is it, excerpted with permission from Sellers Publishing ($16.95).

Photo: Courtesy of Sellers Publishing

Cream of Tomato Soup
Such a classic and so incredibly easy to make—you can whip up a pan of this delicious soup in no time. Serve it as an elegant appetizer or as a simple lunch with crusty bread.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Two 14-oz. cans chopped tomatoes
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 handfuls fresh basil, plus extra leaves to garnish
1/2 cup heavy cream
About 1/4 tsp superfine sugar
Salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, and cook gently for 4 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomatoes and stock, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Pour the soup into a food processor or blender, add the basil and blend until smooth. (I tend to pull out my immersion blender here so the hot ingredients never have to leave the pot.)

4. Return the soup to the pan, stir in about two-thirds of the cream, and warm through without boiling. Stir in sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve drizzled with the remaining cream, and garnish with a few fresh basil leaves.

Here’s a similar take from Sassy Radish and another from CHOW that includes bay leaves. For a complete meal, throw in some cooked white rice or serve with grilled cheese.

I recently tried a cold tomato soup from Cooks Illustrated, which was pretty good but leaned more toward gazpacho and less toward a creamy taste sensation. (Can you tell I don’t love gazpacho?) And for another variation, I stumbled across a Roasted Tomato Soup from Smitten Kitchen. With cheddar cheese oozing over the top, how could this not be delicious?

As for other tomato options, I’d be remiss to not mention a sauce here. In my house, we tend not to follow a strict recipe, creating sauce from tomatoes plus whatever other vegetables fill our crisper. Here’s what we do: Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil, then add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and 2-3 anchovy fillets, cooking until fragrant. Then we throws in tomatoes, zucchini, grated carrot, any kind of ground meat, and Parmesan rinds, and let it all simmer for a couple hours. If you’re more of a recipe-follower (like I usually am), here’s a straightforward one from Mark Bittman when he wrote The Minimalist column for The New York Times.

And here are three other ideas for your tomato bounty (in a pinch, there’s always eating them raw with some sliced mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar):

Crunchy Fried Green Tomatoes with Fresh Tomato Salsa, Gourmet
Black Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad, Giada De Laurentiis/FoodNetwork
Fresh Tomato Bruschetta, A Cozy Kitchen

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