Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free
Tomato is a member of the deadly nightshade family and was mistakenly thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious of this bright, shiny fruit. The leaves of tomato plant are in fact poisonous, the fruit, however, is not. Native (western South America and Central America) versions of tomato were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red. The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica.
So how does a tomato fit into the fruit vs vegetable debate?
Our word fruit comes to us from the Latin fructus or frui, meaning “to enjoy”; vegetable comes from vegetabilis, which relates to a much less exciting word “growing”. No surprise then that much of the enjoyable appeal of fruits lies in their irresistible sweetness: most temperate-zone fruits contain about 10 to 15% sugar by weight, and tropical fruits are even sweeter.
Definition of tomato will differ depending n whether you speak to a scientist or a cook. According to Oxford dictionary, tomato is a fruit because it develops from an ovary in the base of a flower and contains seeds of the plant. It is this presence of seeds that botanically defines tomato as a fruit. It also makes cucumbers, squash, green beans, peppers and pumpkins all fruits. Vegetable, on the other hand, is defined as edible parts of plants that are not strictly the fruit of the plant from which they come – leaves (spinach, lettuce, cabbage), roots (carrots, beets, turnips), stems (asparagus), tubers (potatoes), bulbs (onions), and flowers (cauliflower and broccoli).
Scientifically and culinary, however, are two completely different ball games (and the Supreme Court has been involved a number of times to resolve the struggle between the two). As far as cooks are concerned, tomato is a vegetable because it is used in savoury rather than sweet cooking.
However, tomatoes exhibit an inherent sweetness of a fruit which can be accentuated through slow roasting. When you cook tomatoes at low temperature for a long time, you condense and intensify their flavour and transform them into an incredible addition to any dish. Not only does slow roasting elevates the flavour of tomatoes to another level, it also makes your house smell incredible. It is one of the simplest recipes to have under your sleeve and will become a staple in your kitchen.
The key to this is to only preheat your oven to 100°C. Line a baking sheet with foil then slice the cherry tomatoes in half and spread them out in a single layer cut side up on the baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and thyme leaves (optional) and lay a few cloves of garlic (in their skin) among the tomatoes. Put the tray in the oven and roast for two to three hours – you want the tomatoes to be shrivelled, but still a little juicy. You can either use them straight away or store in a container in the fridge drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil. They will last about 2 weeks, although they usually disappear straight away in our house! (Note that slow roasted garlic cloves are also delicious – sweet and creamy – and you can keep them to add to salad dressings or blend into cauliflower mash.)
I like to use these slow roasted tomatoes in this simple zucchini noodles recipe – which is a refreshing alternative to pasta on a hot summer night.
Ingredients (serves 2 people)
2 medium zucchini
a handful of slow-dried tomatoes
a large handful of basil
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
a small clove of garlic, peeled
pinch of sea salt
a good plug of your best quality extra virgin olive oil
optional extra: freeze dried wheatgrass powder
First make the pesto by blending all the ingredients but zucchini and tomatoes in a blender until smooth. Add more olive oil if the mixture needs loosening. Now using a spiralizer make you zucchini noodles (if you don’t have a spiralizer you can also use the julienne peeler).
Assemble the dish by mixing the zucchini noodles with pesto until each strand is covered in the sauce. Mix in the slow dried tomatoes, sprinkle with a few hemp seeds and some torn basil leaves and voila your beautiful summer pasta is ready. Sit back and Enjoy!