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The tomato: Prince of summer vegetables

It is the most appreciated vegetable on Italian tables. It has only been consumed and enjoyed for the last 200 years, but it seems to be an integral part of our tradition .

A colored berry, fleshy, with shiny and smooth skin, the tomato exerted a fatal attraction, for its look rather than the flavor, on the Spanish conquistadors who discovered it in Mexico in the 16th century. Though it was eaten fresh or in the form of spicy sauces by the Aztecs, the xitomate was considered a foreign and suspect food by the Spaniards and was welcomed in Europe exclusively as an ornamental plant. It was the French, in the 18th century, who used the pomme d’amour, or, as it was later called, the pomme d’or, in the kitchen.

The creations of the great Parisian chefs, including the famous preserves, did not take long to spread across Europe. It was immediately adopted with enthusiasm by the aristocracy in Naples and other regions of the South and nowadays the tomato has become a great favorite in our country.

Today Italy, with 7 million tons per year, is among the leading manufacturers in the world: 30% for fresh consumption, 70% for the canning industry. And not only that. The tomato is also the vegetable that is most cultivated and consumed.

In short, the king of the table. Present everywhere, even in small family gardens because of its adaptability, it is produced on a large scale especially in Campania, Puglia, Sicily, Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. A perennial herb, annual when grown in European climates, the Solanum Lycopersicum needs a position in full sun, well-drained and fertilized soil and a calibrated and constant supply of water to prevent dangerous stagnation, at the same time avoiding the desiccation of the roots.

Creepers or bushes, the plants always require a gap of 50-80 centimeters between them to allow air circulation and discourage pest attacks. The categories most in demand, and therefore most cultivated, are cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes.

The varieties commonly used are about twenty but there are at least1.200: a large family, which includes a variety of colors ranging from red to yellow, green to purple, white to black. And different shapes: round, elongated and ribbed.

It is attractive, tasty and healthy. The tomato contains 94% water, very little sugar, fat and proteins and is therefore a valuable ally in low calorie diets. Refreshing and full of minerals, it primarily contains potassium, useful to avoid water retention, fatigue, cramps and hypertension. And then phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and selenium. It is also a good source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, concentrated mostly in the gel around the seeds (one tomato provides only 40% of the daily requirement).

The added value is in the abundance of the famous lycopene, a powerful antioxidant capable, according to several international studies, of increasing natural defenses against aging, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. It is a molecule that comes into action with cooking (contrary to what happens with vitamins, minerals and salts) and, being fat-soluble, goes well with olive oil. It has been demonstrated that the concentration of lycofene found in the blood is higher when eating heated tomatoes with oil and, therefore, sauces and gravies made ​​from these vegetables are very good for your health.

Regardless of the variety that we are going to buy, tomatoes should be ripe, firm, with a taut skin, free of blemishes, with a vibrant color and intense aroma. Signs of freshness are stalk and leaves (if any), which should be a bright shade and not wilted.

When you buy canned tomato sauce, check on the label that the product is obtained from fresh tomatoes.

You can keep tomatoes at room temperature to complete ripening. If they are already quite ripe, store them in the drawers of the lower part of the refrigerator, at about 8-10° C, without putting them in direct contact with other vegetables. Ideally, place them in paper bags.

A warning: when you remove the skin of tomatoes you should remove the stem, cut a cross at the base, then immerse the vegetables in boiling water for a few seconds and, immediately after, in cold water for the same amount of time. The skin will come off by itself.

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