Consumed around the world in many diverse ways – raw, cooked, baked, canned – the tomato is not a vegetable but a fruit. And not just any fruit. Tomatoes are rich in vitamins and lycopene – an antioxidant that is also found in red peppers and carrots – and has many other health benefits as well.
But the tomato, in all its shapes and forms, is first and foremost a very tasty food that is also good for you.
Although the tomato came to Europe from South America only 400 years ago, most Mediterranean cooking cannot be complete without it. And in Italian cuisine, the tomato holds a place of honor.
Chef Amir Schuller of the Italian restaurant Bellini in Neveh Tzedek has made use of the abundance of tomatoes this summer and devised an all-tomato menu.
He serves a cold tomato soup in a pastry “cup,” makes pasta with many different tomato-based sauces, and fries tomatoes. He has agreed to share a few of his most trusted, easier-to-prepare recipes with us.
TOMATO TART TATIN
Tart tatin is an upside-down tart in which the fruit, traditionally apples, is caramelized in butter and sugar before baking. In this version, the chef replaced the apples with tomatoes for a quick and delicious savory tart, which can be served as a main dish with salad or as an appetizer when cut into small portions.
✔ 200 gr. pastry leaves (preferably with butter, not margarine)
✔ 2 Tbsp. butter
✔ 6 tomatoes (best are Tamar)
✔ Juice of 1⁄2 lemon or 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar)
✔ 10 leaves basil
✔ 6 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
✔ 100 gr. Parmesan cheese, grated
✔ 100 gr. mozzarella cheese, sliced
✔ Dried oregano
✔ Salt and pepper
✔ 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Heat oven to 200º. With a sharp knife, cut an X in the bottom of each tomato and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes.
Remove and place immediately in ice water. Remove the skin of the tomatoes (it should peel easily) and slice each tomato into 6 slices.
In a skillet large enough to hold the tomatoes, melt the butter, add sugar and let dissolve. Add tomatoes, lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes or until tomatoes release their juices. Remove from heat and let cool.
Butter a 26-cm. pie pan. Arrange the tomatoes in the pan, arrange the mozzarella slices evenly, sprinkle with Parmesan, garlic, oregano salt and pepper and drizzle the lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
Roll out the pastry dough to fit the pan exactly. To make it fit, cut the dough with scissors. Place on top of the tomatoes, tucking the pastry in at the edges. Using a fork, make small holes in the dough.
Place the pie pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 180º. Bake 25-30 minutes, until pastry is golden.
Let the tart sit for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen it from the pan. Set a large serving plate upside down on the tart and turn it over so the tart comes out. Garnish with basil leaves.
COLD TOMATO SOUP
This refreshing cold soup is fortified with a little vodka, to spice up your evening.
✔ 20 tomatoes
✔ 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
✔ 1 cup water
✔ 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
✔ Bunch basil, leaves only
✔ 1 tsp. hot chili powder
✔ 1⁄2 cup sugar
✔ 1⁄2 cup vodka
Cook tomatoes, carrot, salt and water in a tall pot over low heat until tomatoes fall apart, at least 30 minutes.
Add basil leaves, chili powder and sugar and stir well.
Using a hand blender or a food processor, puree soup until smooth.
Strain the soup through a sieve to get a smooth, red liquid soup. Let cool and add vodka. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Garnish with crumbled feta cheese.
COLD PASTA SALAD
My favorite picnic dish is a pasta salad. I usually throw in many leftovers and try to make it as colorful as possible. In this recipe, the chef uses dark olives, fresh mozzarella balls and eggplant. But if you use zucchini, feta cheese and red peppers, the salad will be just as good.
✔ 1 package pasta (penne or fusilli)
✔ 1 eggplant
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil, for cooking
✔ 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
✔ 30 fresh oregano leaves
✔ 10 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
✔ 300 gr. fresh mozzarella cheese balls, cut into small cubes
✔ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ Salt and pepper
Cook the pasta according to directions on the package. Drain and let cool. Heat the oven to 180º.
Cut the eggplant into 1⁄2-cm. slices, brush the slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the eggplant until cooked. Remove from the oven and chop coarsely.
Place pasta, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, olives, oregano leaves and mozzarella in a salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Toss and serve.
This is great as a relish and adds flavor to every dish, especially sandwiches.
Unopened, refrigerated and closed tightly, the jam can keep for many weeks.
✔ 1 kg. cherry tomatoes
✔ 1 kg. sugar
✔ 2 cinnamon sticks
✔ Juice of 1 lemon
✔ 1 anise star
Cook all the ingredients in a pot over low heat for about 1 hour. Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until tomatoes lose their shape and the liquid thickens.
To check if the jam is ready, place a small saucer in the freezer. When very cold drop a tsp. of the jam’s liquid on the chilled saucer and wait 2-3 minutes.
Move your finger in the middle of the puddle. If the jam does not run, it’s ready. If not, keep cooking.
When the jam is ready, pour into a clean glass jar, close tightly and refrigerate.