Well, ‘terrified’ is perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration, but for many years after the Spanish conquistador Cortes bought seeds back from Mexico, tomatoes were only grown as a curiosity. People were warned that they were an unhealthy fruit and some even considered them poisonous due to their bright red colour.
The Aztecs, on the other hand, thought the tomato so special that they offered it to their gods of healing. And nowadays, can you imagine a world without tomatoes? No splash of red to colour our salads, no piquant sauce to caress our pasta and no spicy hangover cure nor canned kitchen staple to save many an ‘I don’t know what to cook’ night.
Varieties of tomatoes
There are literally thousands of varieties of tomatoes, ranging from yellow through red to blackish. Spain and Italy would be lost without them and see if you can name a cuisine that doesn’t feature the tomato in some way or another.
The majority of tomatoes sold in supermarkets and greengrocers are hydroponically grown, and while they look good they often don’t have as much flavour as those grown in soils – nor according to some studies as much vitamin C or other nutrients.
If you can, buy tomatoes from a farmers’ market or grow some yourself. Don’t be put off by their nobly bits – you’ve not tasted a tomato until you’ve eaten one grown in soil and virtually off the vine.
Health benefits of tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes are also wonderful because they contain the nutrient lycopene, which is the current buzz in the nutrition world due to its potent anti-cancer properties. Tomatoes are also alkaline and stimulate the liver to filter the body of toxic wastes – yay! In their cooked or canned state some of a tomato’s nutritional value is destroyed – but since they taste so good, I think the enjoyment of them increases whatever nutrients are left ten-fold.
Baked couscous with roasted tomatoes and spinach pesto
This is a really simple, quick and light summer meal. My mum cooked this for me many years ago, so unfortunately I have no idea of the recipe’s origin. Roasted tomatoes are a whole other ballgame – roasting creates a sweet and more complex flavour. If you have time, slow roast them for a few hours as the flavour will intensify even more.
- Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F.
- Cut the tomatoes in half and put in a baking tray. Brush with olive oil, then sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until soft.
- Finely chop the spinach and put all the pesto ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
- When the tomatoes are ready, pour the couscous evenly over the tomatoes, then add the stock, making sure all the couscous is wet.
- Cover with aluminium foil and bake for a further 10-15 minutes.
- Serve topped with the pesto.
* if you eat dairy, you can add ⅓ cup of parmesan to the pesto