Tag Archives: tomatoes

Tomatoes and Basil

As you may know from summer’s past, I love farm-fresh tomatoes. What I love even more is the simple yet nutritious and delicious combination of tomatoes and basil. Lucky for me I have both from my CSA this week, which makes me so happy! This afternoon as I was looking in my fridge and pantry for an afternoon snack, I thought “Why not make a little tomato and basil salad?” In less than three minutes I had this beautiful salad, which paired with some cheese made for a filling and balanced snack!

tomatoes and basil

How good does that look?!

Ingredients:
  • Handful cherry tomatoes
  • 2-3 basil leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
Directions:
  1. Rinse tomatoes and basil in cold water and pat dry. Slice tomatoes in half and add to a small bowl. Tear basil leaves and add to tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar on top of tomatoes and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy the fresh flavors of the summer!

Looking for another tomato recipe? Try the Tomato Jam I made last fall.

Do you like tomatoes? What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?

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West Branch

One of the things I love about New York City is the plethora of restaurants. There’s always someplace new to try and so many different areas of the city to explore to find whatever you’re in the mood for. During the week, Andy and I like to go out at least once for dinner and generally we like to stay in our neighborhood (as opposed to the weekends when we’re more likely to venture downtown), so we’re always looking for someplace new to try.

A couple of weeks ago we went to West Branch, a local bistro owned by chef Tom Valenti. While some of the items on the menu fall under the “comfort food” category (read: burgers, fries, fish and chips), there is also a seasonal element that of course I love.

I started my meal with a Panzanella Salad, an Italian salad that is generally made with day old, crusty bread, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese.

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

West Branch’s version had tomatoes, arugula, red onion, and whole wheat croutons. Overall it was delicious — the tomatoes were so fresh, juicy, and flavorful. My only complaint was that they dressed it with way too much oil (you can see a layer in the bottom of the bowl). They actually gave me a spoon for the salad, but I used my fork instead to let some of the oil drip off.

For my main course, I had a terrific grilled sea bass served over a sweet corn succotash, with a side of corn panna cotta.

grilled sea bass with corn succotash and corn panna cotta

grilled sea bass with corn succotash and corn panna cotta

I generally don’t like panna cotta becuase of the custard-like texture, so I was debating whether to get this dish. Boy am I glad I did! The fish was beautifully grilled and the perfect portion size — looks about the size of a deck of cards, just what I recommend. The corn succotash was mouth-watering — I couldn’t get enough of it! I even enjoyed a few bites of the corn panna cotta, which had actual pieces of corn inside.

Overall, I’d say my meal was fabulous. By choosing an appetizer that was full of vegetables, I didn’t have to worry that my main course sides were heavier on the starch (corn is considered a starchy vegetable), and I had a good amount of protein as well. Can’t wait to see what they have come winter!

You Say Tomato, I Say Delicous!

IMG_0657Most of my recipes lately have included tomatoes, including yesterdays soup. It’s no surprise, given that the prime season for tomatoes is July through September. This is when tomatoes are at their prime and you can find all sorts of varieties, not just the traditional red ones. There are yellow, orange, purple, and green tomatoes too, and all of them are so full of flavor this time of year — as sweet as the fruit they are (yes, that’s right, tomatoes are actually fruit, not vegetables)!

Surely you’ve heard at some point or another that tomatoes are healthy, but what makes them so beneficial?

  • They are an excellent source of vitamins C, A, and K. Vitamins C and A have antioxidant properties, which means they help fight off disease. And vitamin K plays a big role in bone health.
  • They’re a good source of fiber and potassium. Fiber helps keep you full and lower high cholesterol, and potassium helps lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • They’re known for containing lycopene. Lycopene in tomatoes has been a hot topic for a while. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage. Therefore, it helps to prevent certain cancers, including prostate cancer, and heart disease. A couple of notes about lycopene:
    • To get the benefits of lycopene, it is best to eat cooked tomatoes. During cooking, especially with olive oil, the nutrients become more concentrated and more available to your body.
    • Lycopene supplements won’t have the same benefits of lycopene from tomatoes, because there are other compounds in tomatoes that combined with lycopene give them their health benefits.

When buying fresh tomatoes, look for a deep color, smooth skin, and no soft spots. It’s important to store tomatoes at room temperature — NOT in the refrigerator! Refrigerating tomatoes impedes their ripening and decreases their flavor. Not only does cooking tomatoes increase the benefits of lycopene, it also adds to the sweetness of the tomatoes (this is especially true when tomatoes are not in season).

When buying canned tomato products and sauces, look at the ingredients. Many canned and jarred products have added salt and sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup and sugar. Your best bet is to buy unsalted canned tomatoes or tomato paste and some fresh tomatoes to combine and make your own sauce at home with fresh herbs and spices.

What’s your favorite tomato dish?

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Soup

For the past few days I’ve been suffering from a terrible cold, to the point that I can’t smell or taste anything — awful for a foodie like me! And if you remember my post “Eat With Your Senses,” you’ll remember that your sense of smell is closely tied to your sense of taste, which lets you enjoy your food.

Well, I decided that I needed some soup to cure me. Not having the energy to shop for soup ingredients, I decided to take my inspiration from what was in the apartment, which is what led to this “Everything But The Kitchen Sink Soup.” Basically it includes everything I could find: heirloom tomatoes, bok choy, cabbage, green peppers, and garlic from last week’s CSA delivery; onions, baby carrots, celery, chicken broth, and spices from our fridge and pantry. This soup is simple and easy to prepare because it requires no measuring and little thought – perfect for those days when you’re feeling a little foggy! Here are the basic directions:

  1. Heat some olive oil in a large stockpot.
  2. Throw in sliced onion, whole garlic cloves (peeled), coarsely chopped tomatoes with their natural juice, coarsely chopped cabbage and bok choy, and sliced carrots, peppers, and celery.
  3. Add about 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (more if you want to make more soup) and white wine, if you have a bottle open, until you have enough liquid. Bring to a boil.
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend soup to your desired consistency (I recommend leaving some chunky vegetables in the broth).
  5. Let soup simmer, stirring occasionally.

I always like how soup tastes after it’s been resting for a while, so if you can wait a bit let it cool and then reheat it before slurping it up! And for additional protein you can add beans (to keep the soup vegetarian) or chicken.

Here’s what the soup looked like in the process of cooking and when served:

IMG_0655IMG_0656

Not only is this soup delicious, but it’s also inherently nutritious, made up of mostly fresh vegetables. Stay tuned for the nutritional benefits of the vegetables incorporated in the soup.

Seasonal Skewers

Hopefully yesterday’s post, Nutritioulicious Cocktail Parties, got you in the mood to do some cooking or throw a party yourself! As I mentioned, it’s important to have a variety of hors d’oeuvres to serve in order to give your guests nutritional balance. And to make these nutritional bites delicious, it’s great to use seasonal ingredients when possible. Luckily, summer is a great season to throw a party! There is so much fresh, flavorful produce around, and it can really inspire you to make unique pairings, like these Watermelon-Feta-Tomato Skwers with Aged Balsamic.

IMG_0588b

I’ll never forget the first time I had watermelon, tomatoes, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar combined. It was at a NY City restaurant week lunch about 5 years ago, and it caught my eye right away because I love watermelon. The flavor combination was incredible. I decided to recreate this experience with bite sized hors d’oeuvres for the party using our CSA cherry tomatoes and basil.

These skewers are very simple to make, as you can see below. I have not included amounts for the ingredients because it all depends on how many people you are having over. You can get a general sense of size from the picture above.

Ingredients:

  • Watermelon, diced
  • Feta cheese, cut into cubes
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Basil, torn into small pieces
  • Aged balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Using sturdy toothpicks or half a kebab, skewer watermelon, feta, tomato halves, and basil.
  2. Once all the skewers are made and plated, drizzle aged balsamic on top and serve.

Once again, this is a light and refreshing addition to the menu, that provides your guests with balanced nutrition: protein and healthy fat from the feta, and vitamins and minerals from the watermelon, tomatoes, and basil.

What’s your favorite seasonal hors d’oeuvres or appetizer?

City Farming

I am a huge fan of seasonal ingredients, and summer is by far my favorite time of year for fresh produce.  To me, there is nothing better than biting into a juicy, ripe nectarine and enjoying fresh berries at breakfast first thing in the morning.  When I lived in Murray Hill (for 7 years!), I used to go down to the Union Square Farmers Market multiple times a week to pick up my fruit and veggies.  It was definitely one of my favorite activities, especially on the weekends when there was the greatest selection.

When I moved in with my husband Andrew, I was sad to not have the Farmers Market so close by.  There is one near us, but it certainly does not have as much variety as the one downtown.  Lucky for us we were introduced to a gentleman who was starting a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – bringing produce to the City fresh from his farm in Pennsylvania.  It didn’t take long for us to decide to join this group, and starting in June we began receiving weekly deliveries of the freshest farm ingredients: zucchini, garlic scapes, Swiss chard, heirloom sweet peppers, corn, black raspberries, apricots, and more.

Today I visited my sister in Union Square, my old farmers market stomping ground.  Knowing that I had just received fresh corn and green beans (among other things), I decided to see what else I could stock up on to make something delicious for a picnic we’re taking with friends tomorrow.  Normally I would go straight for tomatoes and basil – a great combo with corn – but unfortunately tomatoes aren’t really in season just yet.  Basil, however, was in full bloom at one of the stands, and it looked and smelled divine.  The aromas of fresh basil are one of the best summer smells of all time.  So I decided to make my corn salad, but with my green beans instead of tomatoes.  Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • bunch of green beans, rinsed and trimmed
  • 3-4 ears of corn, husked
  • 1-2 small red onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, torn

Directions:

  1. In a medium pot, boil water. Add the green beans and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. When done, rinse under cold water. Add green beans to a medium bowl.
  2. Add the corn to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water until corn is cool enough to touch. Cut the kernels off the cob, making sure to cut close to the cob, and add kernels to the bowl.
  3. Add the chopped red onions to the bowl with the green beans and corn.
  4. In a small bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Season to taste.
  5. Toss the dressing with the corn and green bean mixture and top with torn basil before serving.

Hopefully our friends will enjoy the salad as much as I do.  If I were you, I’d get to a farmers market ASAP to reap the benefits of the summer harvest.  It is certainly nutritious and delicious, or as I like to say, Nutritioulicious!