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Summer must be here-the tomatoes are ripening on the vine. Those of us who have missed the flavour of lush, rich red, field-grown local tomatoes are in our glory. Perhaps you grow your own but if not, like me you'll soon be heading for the farmers' markets and roadside stands with one thing in mind: tomatoes. Real tomatoes. Tomatoes to slice into salads and sandwiches, to chop for fresh salsa, to cut into wedges and add to vegetable stir-fries…. Or to coat with cornmeal and sauté until golden, to halve and fill with a tasty stuffing before baking, or just to eat out of hand, like any other fruit. (Yes, botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit.) When local tomatoes are ripe, it's something to celebrate.

Having ripe, tasty tomatoes means it's easier to eat healthy. Research suggests that eating tomatoes, which are rich in an antioxidant called lycopene, may lower the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. While lycopene can be absorbed more easily from processed tomatoes (sauce, paste, juice, ketchup), it's the taste of good, local fruit that makes the medicine go down easy-cooked or fresh.

Apart from including tomatoes in sandwiches and salads, you can add chopped ripe tomatoes to your biscuit mix, pasta dishes, meat loaves, casseroles and pizza toppings. Or you can simply slice them, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a handful of chopped fresh basil or another fresh herb, and enjoy them with or without sliced onions and cucumbers.

Tomatoes can be seeded, but if the highest vitamin content is in the jelly surrounding the seeds, as some say, it's probably not your best option. Coring is recommended, however, especially if you're chopping the tomatoes for a casserole or another cooked dish.

To peel tomatoes easily, first blanch them: place two or three tomatoes at a time in a non-metallic bowl, cover with water that's just boiled and let stand for a minute. Then transfer the tomatoes to another bowl filled with ice water, and leave until cool. The skins should slip off easily with the aid of a paring knife.

If you're lucky enough to have an abundant supply of fresh tomatoes at season's end, freeze them for future use in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles and any other preparation where firmness doesn't matter. Just wash them, remove the stem end and core, and place them in plastic bags; seal, and store in the freezer for up to two months.

Jodi DeLong will tell you all about growing "love apples" or "wolf peaches" (and how tomatoes got these nicknames) on page 48 of this issue, while I offer the following menu to take you from soup to dessert, each delicious in its own right.

TIPS
  1. Never put under-ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator. Cold not only stops the ripening process, but kills the flavour. 
  2. Fully ripe tomatoes can be refrigerated, but should be brought back to room temperature before serving. 
  3. Two large or three medium-size tomatoes are about the equivalent of 1 pound (500 g). This amount makes 21/2 cups (625 mL) of chopped, or 3 cups (750 mL) of sliced tomatoes.
Recipes featured in this article:

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