Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

Seasonal eats: 10 reasons to stock up on fresh local tomatoes

Saturday, September 7th, 2013


(Photo by V. Ward)

This is the best time of year for tomato-lovers. The fruit is available in abundance at farmers markets and in CSA baskets, and there’s a wealth of types to choose from: beefsteak and plum, cherry and grape, not to mention the explosion of heirloom varieties — green, yellow, burgundy, black, striped and ridged, oval and oblong, heart- or pear-shaped.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family as do potatoes, eggplant, and sweet and hot peppers. Treated as a vegetable for cooking purposes, they’re actually a fruit that originated in Mexico and spread to other parts of the world after Spain colonized the Americas.

Whether you eat them immediately, or can them for later use (try for tips on preserving and preparing), there are lots of good reasons to stock up on delicious, super-healthy local tomatoes.

  1. Flavour, flavour, flavour.  Nothing compares with the taste of freshly picked tomatoes, as anyone who’s eaten store-bought varieties can attest. Most supermarket tomatoes are picked green and ripen in storage with the help of a hydrocarbon gas called ethylene. The fruit lasts longer but tends to be flavourless, with a mealy texture.
  2. Tomatoes are an extremely versatile ingredient, widely used in Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian and other cuisines. Add them raw to sandwiches, salads and salsas; make tomato butters, preserves and chutneys; cook them with herbs to make pasta sauce and tomato paste; or simmer them in casseroles and stews.
  3. When you buy tomatoes from a local farmer, you’re getting a more ethically produced fruit. Industrial tomato production has a dismal track record on workers’ rights: crops are typically harvested by migrant workers, some of whom live and work in conditions that have been described as modern-day slavery.
  4. Tomatoes are good for you – low in sodium, for example, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  5. They’re a very good source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and K, along with potassium, manganese and dietary fibre. They’re also a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phospohorus and copper.
  6. They’re high in carotenoid lycopene, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of heart disease by supporting the cardiovascular system and regulating fats in the bloodstream. (By the way, red cherry tomatoes have up to 12 times more lycopene than red beefsteak tomatoes.)
  7. Tomatoes are loaded with other antioxidants that play a part in protecting the bones and kidneys, some studies show.
  8. The tomato’s antioxidant profile and anti-inflammatory properties provide anti-cancer benefits.
  9. Some studies have linked diets that include tomatoes with lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
  10. Fresh tomatoes are higher in vitamin C, but processed (i.e., thermally processed as part of canning) tomatoes have higher levels of bio-available lycopene as well as total antioxidant strength.


Do you preserve the season’s fresh tomatoes? Why and how?

Seasonal eats: Late winter comfort food from Chef Ben Baird

Saturday, March 16th, 2013



By mid-March, winter in Ottawa can feel like an endurance contest. An advantage to the length of the season is that you get more time to savour fall and winter foods.  And there are a lot more of them than we think, from Brussels sprouts and squash to beef, venison and game.

The next two Earthward posts will feature recipes from Chef Ben Baird of the Urban Pear for a variety of late-fall produce — celery root, kale, fennel, tomatoes – that he brings together with coconut-crusted cod. The result is a delicious, comforting late-winter meal for two that takes about 1.5 hours to prepare, start to finish.

Rather than having all four recipes in one post, I’m including two this week: for the cod and for the tomato fennel broth. The final two – celery root purée and winter kale, mushroom and green onion stir-fry – will follow next week.  

About the recipes

Chef Baird designed the four dishes to be served together, but points out that they’re versatile enough to go with many other things. For example, the celery root purée and the kale stir-fry would work well with any grilled protein, he says, even “some nicely marinated tofu.”

About the chef

Ben Baird is chef and co-owner at The Urban Pear restaurant on Second Avenue and the Ottawa STREAT Gourmet food truck, one of 18 new food trucks and carts approved by the City of Ottawa last month. Starting in May, Ottawa STREAT Gourmet will serve fresh, local, seasonal fare on the north side of Queen, west of O’Connor.

Baird was trained at the Stratford Chefs School and won bronze at the Gold Medal Plates competition in 2009 and 2007.

About the ingredients

The cod Chef Baird used in his recipe was sustainably caught, frozen at sea and purchased from the Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply.  For the broth, he used tomatoes that he stewed and jarred last fall, but says any canned Canadian tomatoes would do.  

Coconut crusted cod

8 oz cod, fresh or thawed from frozen

1 egg

2 tbsp milk

½ cup unsweetened coconut

¼ cup bread crumb (panko is ideal)

¼ cup all purpose flour

salt and pepper

oil for frying

Cut cod into about pieces of about 2 oz each and keep on paper towel in fridge so that fish is nice and dry.  Beat milk and egg and season with salt and pepper. Mix bread crumb, coconut, salt and pepper. Add salt and pepper to the flour as well.

If you’re preparing other dishes to go with this, make sure you’ve finished them before frying the fish.

Heat 2 inches of oil to 350°F in a large, fairly deep pan. Dredge cod pieces in seasoned flour to coat, dip them into the egg and then into the coconut mix.  Gently place the fish in the hot oil and fry in small batches. When the fish is a dark golden color on one side, turn it and fry on the other side.  Place cooked fish in a 200°F degree oven while you fry more.

Remove fish from the oil, place on fresh paper towel and season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately. 

Tomato fennel broth

500 ml can of Canadian tomatoes or equivalent, with juice

½ onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp whole fennel seed

3 whole star anise

dash of chili flakes

1 cup dry white wine

3 tbsp cold butter

1 tsp fresh grated horseradish

¼ lemon

In a medium saucepan, sauté the chopped onion until lightly colored. Add garlic, fennel seed, star anise and chili flakes and lightly until aromatic. Deglaze pan with white wine and reduce fluid by half before adding the tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and turn off.  Taste your broth; if it’s too acidic, add a small amount of sugar or honey.

Using a hand blender, pulse to break up the tomatoes (this will affect the amount of broth you get).   Strain broth into a small sauce pan using a fine mesh strainer or clean cheese cloth.  Return broth to medium heat and reduce further.

When you’re happy with the broth, slowly add butter, whisking constantly.  Finish with fresh grated horseradish and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper. 

What are your favourite late-winter dishes?