Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Heirloom Tomatoes

I started planting heirloom tomatoes in my garden just a few years ago and have never looked back. No, they’re not going to win any conventional beauty contests, but like regular garden tomatoes, their taste is far superior to any perfectly round, plump red tomato you’ll find in your neighborhood grocery store.

An heirloom is an open-pollinated or naturally-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivar of tomato which dates back to the early 50's when people saved their seeds each year for next year's crop.  They look odd and deformed but taste amazing. I like to call them the Steve Buscemi of Tomatoes because they’re “kinda funny-lookin’” but outperform their contemporaries. There are hundreds, even thousands of different varieties each with their own unique color, taste and shape. I also love the names: Green Zebra, Mr. Stripey and Purple Russian to list a few.

two purple cherokees and one brandywine

Tomatoes are loaded with antioxidants, dietary fiber and vitamins, and they’re naturally low in calories. When cooked, their antioxidant (lycopene) content increases which can help protect you from certain cancers and also give your skin a healthy, youthful glow; but they are still loaded with health benefits when eaten raw. And, I recently read that tomatoes are an aphrodisiac which might be the reason behind that healthy glow.

Heirloom or not, if you grow your own tomatoes or buy them at a farmer’s market, you know how amazing they taste with little or no enhancement. Their intense flavor can stop you in your tracks. I like them naked, or with a simple dusting of sea salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Here I have some with goat cheese and basil….

 And here they are made into a pizza…

Enjoy your fresh garden or farmer’s market tomatoes now….in a month or so they’ll be a distant, fond memory, but something to look forward to next summer for sure.

"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil

"Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pistachio-Herb Pesto

If you have a garden, you most likely have an overload of fresh herbs this time of year and making pesto is probably on your to-do list.  Here is a recipe I’ve been making for a few years now and it’s truly wonderful.  It uses a variety of fresh herbs, lemon zest and pistachios – one of my favorite nuts.  You can use any nut you like, I think walnuts would also work well with this recipe or you could use the traditional pesto nut: pine nuts. 

The list of health promoting properties that fresh herbs have is enormous.  For example, parsley which is a main ingredient in this pesto helps with circulation and is a natural diuretic.  Rosemary is a powerful antioxidant, stimulates the immune system and fights the signs of aging.  Oregano is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.  And the list goes on and on…

There are unlimited uses for pesto with pasta being the most popular; you can also add it to soups, serve over grilled chicken or shrimp, or use it as a topping for bruschetta.  My favorite way to use this pesto is on pizza.  Here is a photo of a pesto pizza I recently made, very simply with some Asiago cheese, a small amount of tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes.  We were in total pizza heaven – it was so good .  Pair it with a bold red and Bob’s your uncle.

Pistachio-Herb Pesto

1 small clove of garlic, peeled
2 cups packed Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1/2 cup fresh basil
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon-thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh sage leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary – chopped
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup roasted & lightly salted pistachios
zest of one lemon
salt & pepper to taste
2/3 cup olive oil

In a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic until finely chopped.  Add all herbs, cheese, pistachios, lemon zest, salt & pepper to the garlic and blend until finely chopped.  With the blender/processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture becomes creamy and emulsified.  You may need to add more salt or pepper at this point.  Use immediately or when cool, can be refrigerated for a couple of days or freeze for later use.

"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil

"Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates