Posts Tagged: UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center
I know, most of us treat tomatoes like a vegetable in the kitchen, slicing and dicing them into dishes that are savory rather than sweet. Botanically speaking, tomato is a fruit because it’s developed from the ovary in the base of the flowers and contains the seeds of the plant (though cultivated forms may be seedless.)
No matter, the tomato is a nutritional powerhouse any way you cut it, loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant credited with preventing both cancer and heart disease.
The UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences devotes many resources to tomato production, helping large- and small-scale growers, organic and otherwise, control weeds, manage pests, fight disease and tackle all the other adventures farming can bring. The department is also home to the C.M. Rick Tomato Genetic Resource Center, the largest known collection of tomato seeds in the world. You can’t breed a better tomato without diversity of genetic tissues, and the repository and its abundance of wild species are the sources of resistance to 44 major tomato diseases and at least 20 insect pets – not to mention improved fruit traits like tolerance to saline conditions and drought.
Of course, growing or buying a tomato is only part of the equation. How do you make sure the fruit of your labor is tasty and safe? Here are some helpful hints from the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, a handy resource for all your postharvest technology needs:
How to choose: A ripe tomato will be plump, vibrant in color and fairly firm to the touch. You want it to have a little give, but not much. Ageism aside, avoid a tomato with wrinkles.
How to store: Keep tomatoes at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, with the stem scar (the belly button, if you will) facing up to reduce softening and darkening of the fruit. It’s best to eat them within two or three days, though some tomatoes are perfectly fine for about five days. Store tomatoes unwashed and then rinse them under running water before eating.
How to prepare: After rinsing your tomato well, wipe it dry and cut away the stem scar and surrounding area before slicing into it. Don’t wash tomatoes in a sink filled with water (nor use soap or detergent) because tomatoes can absorb contaminated water and soap residue through its stem scar. Cut or chopped tomatoes (and dishes like salsa) should always be covered and refrigerated if not consumed within two hours or preparation. Cut tomatoes will last one or two days in the refrigerator.
How to enjoy: Enjoy them every which way! It would be hard pick my favorite tomato recipe, but you can’t go wrong with this fast, fresh salad:
Tomato platter special
Four fresh tomatoes of any color or variety
Two red onions
Two orange, yellow or red bell peppers
A few sprigs of basil
Your favorite vinaigrette
Four ounces Feta cheese
Slice the produce into circles and fan them out on a platter in an attractive, alternating order. If you have fresh cucumbers, they fit nicely in this flower, as well. Drizzle with vinaigrette, crumble on some Feta cheese, give a few grinds of fresh pepper and few shakes of salt and place basil sprigs on top.
I don’t know if plant scientists make better chefs, but knowledge of plant science can certainly improve our cooking. Take, for example, understanding how to handle oxidation, the interaction between oxygen molecules and all the many substances they may contact. Oxidation is what makes your fender rust and your copper penny turn green. As it relates to plants, oxidation is what causes fresh-cut produce to turn brown and wine to lose its flavor when left too long in an open bottle.
Perhaps you know how to thwart oxidation when preparing potatoes and serving sliced apples (and if not, we’ll get to that in a minute) but here is a less-common food that often falls victim to oxidation: pesto. Has this happened to you? You gather an armload of picture-perfect basil, blend it together with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese and produce a fantastic pesto sauce for your spaghetti. Fresh from the blender, it’s as green as your holiday tree. But by the time you serve it an hour later, it’s a dull shade of olive brown and has lost much of its taste. Oxidation strikes again.
Here’s a handy plant-science trick: Blanche your basil. Heat destroys the enzymes that cause oxidation and the resulting discoloration. Drop your fresh basil in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds and then shock it in a bowl of ice water. Dry it completely, proceed with your favorite recipe and your pesto will stay green and tasty for days. Here’s the recipe I like to use:
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (I use walnuts when I don’t have pine nuts)
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided (for special treat, try using a UC Davis olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup parmesan or other hard cheese
Combine the basil, garlic and nuts in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
If you’re eating it right away, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese. Yum! If you’re freezing it (up to three months), transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Thaw and stir in cheese.