Welcome to issue no. 13 of Foodstuff

July 8, 1998

In this issue:

TOMATOES

You say toMAYtoe, I say taMAHto. (Or maybe you say tomate or even pomodoro?)

One of the best things about summer is biting into a sweet, vine- ripened tomato. It is believed that tomatoes were introduced from South America to Europe in the 1500s. The Aztecs, according to a contemporary account, mixed tomatoes with chilies and ground squash seeds, a combination that sounds a lot like the world's first recipe for salsa.

Spanish conquistadors carried seeds across the Atlantic, where tomatoes soon flourished in Mediterranean gardens and kitchens. Southern Europeans didn't waste any time taking culinary advantage of the tomato -- the first cookbook to contain tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692 -- but suspicion that tomatoes were poisonous remained into the 19th century in both England and the United States.

Debate has centered over whether the tomato is a vegetable or a fruit. In 1887, the question went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Nix v. Hedden. The real issue was money and protection for American growers: if tomatoes were vegetables, they could be taxed when imported under the Tariff Act of 1883. The Court's botanical knowledge was sound -- tomatoes are specialized reproductive structures that contain seeds, in other words, fruits -- but it chose utility over botanical technicalities and ruled on the side of American farmers. Botanically speaking tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, like cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas. But in the common language of the people, all these are vegetables, which are grown in backyard gardens and are usually served with dinner and not, like fruits, as dessert.

In 1981, the director of USDA's Division of Food and Nutrition Service officially declared that ketchup was a vegetable as part of the Reagan Administration's effort to justify cuts in the school- lunch program.

A quick and easy way to enjoy tomatoes is to make them the central theme in a salad you might call, BOUNTY FROM MY GARDEN SALAD.

Mix about 6 ripe tomatoes (quartered) with a handful of chopped fresh basil and chopped fresh parsley. Add chopped fresh mint to your taste. Pile this high on a bed Romaine lettuce.

FYI

What are tomatillos? Are they tomatoes?

Used primarily in Mexican sauces, tomatillos resemble small green tomatoes except that they have a thin parchment-like covering. Although they can ripen to yellow, they are generally used while still green and firm. The taste is slightly acidic with a lemony flavor. The flesh is solid and seedy. The tomatillo plant is a relative of the tomato, eggplant and pepper, but it is not a tomato.


TOMATOES by Travis Finch

I grew up in the Midwest, Minnesota and Wisconsin in particular. My mother is, unconsciously, a foodie. I marveled at the bookcase filled entirely with cookbooks that she spent hours thumbing through, and her scurrying around the kitchen with what had most recently piqued her interest in those countless books. I came home after a hard afternoon of play to genuine cuisine from around the world prepared by my mother, while the other kids went home to prepackaged, boil-in-bag dinners at best.

One of the remembrances that call up a certain transcendental joy in me is the tomatoes in the garden. I would sneak into the garden in the late afternoon as the sun just began to threaten to leave and approach the round cages surrounding each plant. The acrid scent of the tomato plants would rush up my nostrils and roll around in my head. My mouth would begin to water as I wrapped my hand around a brilliant red tomato that would virtually falloff the vine into my hand. I recall thinking to myself that it wanted me to eat it. The thin skin burst easily and the juices, nearly hot from the sun, would dribble down my chin and onto my shirt. This would betray my trespass into the garden, but at that moment I didn't care. All that mattered was the warm, round acidity, the sensuously grainy texture. My first sensation of Nirvana. My father preferred them salted, but I always thought it amplified the flavor too much, threw it out of balance with the other sensations. To this day I prefer my fruits and vegetables naked.

'GREEK' TOMATO SALAD

1 large yellow tomato, small dice
1 large red tomato, small dice
1 small red onion, small dice
¼ C. fresh oregano leaves
2 Tbl. olive tapanade*
2 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
¼ C. feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients together. Serve alone or stuff into hollowed out cucumber rounds. You can buy a jar of olive tapanade in most food shops, or you can make your own.

Here are three great recipes for Olive Tapanade:

1 C. Kalamata olives
3 anchovy filets
1 Tbl. garlic, chopped
2 Tbl. cognac
¼ C. olive oil, pure
1 Tbl. orange zest

1 C. Kalamata olives
2 Tbl. cognac
1 Tbl. garlic, chopped
1 Tbl. capers
¼ C. olive oil

1 C. black olives
1 Tbl. anchovy paste
1 Tbl. shallot, chopped
1 Tbl. capers
¼ C. olive oil

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped, but not to a mush.

GAZPACHO

5 large tomatoes, cored
1 small onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1 Tbl. garlic, chopped
1 Tbl. red wine vinegar
1 Tbl. lemon juice
1 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil

For Garnish:

red onion, diced very small red bell pepper and yellow bell pepper, diced very small cucumber half moons

Combine all ingredients in food processor and puree. Strain through coarse strainer to remove tomato seeds and skins. Season with salt to taste. Serve chilled in wide shallow bowl with the diced onion/pepper garnish and cucumbers.

For an unusual 'Asian' twist substitute rice wine vinegar for red wine vinegar and blended (not pure) sesame oil for olive oil. If you have pure sesame oil, blend one part pure sesame oil with two parts canola oil. Add one tablespoon fresh minced ginger prior to pureeing. Season with Togarashi Ichimi, a Japanese seven-spice blend available in most Asian specialty stores. Be careful with it, it is a bit hot.

TOMATO & BASIL BRUSCHETTA

6 cloves garlic (crushed)
salt (to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped fine
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
four thick slices of Italian, French, or sourdough bread

In a medium size bowl, mash the garlic and salt together with the back of spoon or a pestle. Stir in the olive oil, tomatoes, basil and onion. Cut the bread into slices 1/2 inch thick. Toast them in the broiler or on top of a grill. Spoon the olive oil and tomato mixture over the bread and serve.


SALMON

Strike up the barbecue, it's time to enjoy California King Salmon.

May through September marks the eagerly awaited arrival of the fresh California King Salmon season. Considered the premier salmon species by professional chefs and consumers, fresh California Kings are known for their delicious flavor, delectable texture and bright appetizing color. Unlike farm-raised salmon, California Kings live in the Pacific Ocean where chilly waters produce fish with lean firm texture and superior rich flavor. California fisherman harvest the salmon individually by hook-and-line method, to ensure a premium quality catch every time.

California Kings are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown in clinical studies to significantly reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis. California Kings are also brimming with protein. In fact, a 3-ounce portion yields an incredible 17 grams of protein for just 153 calories.

A simple barbecue idea for California King Salmon would be to brush salmon steaks with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, chili sauce and brown sugar, then grill over hot coals. Simple accompaniments such as green salad, corn on the cob, pasta salad and cool watermelon slices complete this delicious meal.

Here are two more ways to enjoy salmon, from my book DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE, (published in 1996).

GRILLED SALMON STEAKS WITH DILL

1/4 cup butter, melted
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dill weed
4 medium salmon steaks
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the melted butter with onion, garlic, and dill; set aside. Place the steaks on a lightly greased grill and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the steaks and baste with the dill mixture, being careful not to overcook the salmon.

SALMON IN LETTUCE

I'm usually not fond of cooking in the microwave, but I make an exception for this recipe.

4 medium salmon steaks
2 teaspoons salt
4 large lettuce leaves
2 medium onions, sliced thin
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey

Sprinkle the salmon fillets with the salt. Wrap each fillet in a lettuce leaf. Place the onions in the bottom of a microwave-safe casserole. Place the lettuce wrapped salmon on top of the onions. Pour the balsamic vinegar and honey over fillets. Cover and microwave on high (100%) for about 15 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through.


BOOKS

IN THE KENNEDY STYLE: THE MOST MEMORABLE OCCASIONS OF THE JFK WHITE HOUSE by Letitia Baldrige and Rene Verdon (retail price: $29.95)

This book recreates the most memorable evenings of the legendary era when the Kennedys lived in the White House. Letita Baldrige was Jackie Kennedy's social secretary and Rene Verdon was the renowned White House chef. This is a wonderful book and a must for everyone interested in the Kennedy years. It's complete with guest lists, menus, recipes, table settings, anecdotes from those who attended, and more. It's a marvelous book, which pairs Baldrige's fun, gossipy recollections of each star-studded social occasion with Verdon's sophisticated pre-nouvelle cuisine menus (including recipes simple enough for today's home cook). It also has photographs of glittering guests and Jackie's beautiful gowns.

I doubt any of us could throw a dinner party in the style of Jackie, but THE PLEASURE OF YOUR COMPANY: HOW TO GIVE A DINNER PARTY WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND by Molly O'Neill (retail Price: $26.95) can certainly improve our skills. Martha Stewart it's not, but it is great fun to read and to cook from. It's unusual, quirky, and I loved it.

Since this is a dinner party book, most of the dishes serve from four to 12. Because the difficulty index runs from no-brainers to showoff ambitiousness, this is a cookbook that most people should enjoy. Taste combinations range from comfort to exotic. I loved the variety of styles offered in this book: buffets, sit-downs, one-pot meals and tapas selections.

I've added some great crème brulee recipes to the message board, and also the beginnings of my "media photo album" with photos from my Howie Mandel taping and KTLA appearance. The Howie show will air in August and I'll have more details in the August newsletter.


© 1998, 2003 Debbie Puente
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