This blog post was written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Kayla Kaspari.
Whether a tomato is considered a fruit or vegetable is one of the most highly debated questions in the food world. No matter what they are, tomatoes find their way to our mouths in a variety of foods and straight off the vine. Though they are botanically a fruit, in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court in Nix v. Hedden ruled tomatoes as a vegetable. Fruit or vegetable, plant breeders have been developing and changing tomatoes to now offer over 3,000 varieties from the basic cherry and beefsteak tomatoes to the more exotic banana leg, green zebra, and snowberry tomatoes. The different varieties have been developed to improve quality, disease resistance, size, flavor, and color.
This summer I have personally enjoyed the tomatoes I have planted outside, as well as tried some new breeds of tomatoes to make my evening cucumber tomato salads brighter and more fun. I tried the green zebra tomatoes this year, which my family loves to call green stripes. If you are at the store or trying to add some color to your plate besides the traditional red tomatoes, be on the lookout for any heirloom tomatoes, as those often come in varieties of colors and are easily found in grocery stores in Illinois.
If you harvest your own tomatoes, you have probably noticed over the last few weeks that every day there is one ready to be picked. July- September is peak tomato season in central Illinois, so make sure you get them picked and placed inside on the counter where they are best stored for peak flavor and texture until you’re ready to eat.
Enjoy all the tomatoes you can now; before you know it, it will be January and fresh tomatoes will not be growing in everybody’s backyards. Yes, we luckily have tomatoes in our supermarkets year round because when we don’t have them from local farms, we get them from places like California and South Carolina. However, the freshness and quality decrease along its journey to get here. Enjoy all the tomatoes you can now while they are ripe and fresh off the vine.
Fresh tomato basil mozzarella salad (Printable PDF)
4 large tomatoes (any variety)
1 cup balsamic vinegar
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
¼ of a medium-sized white onion (or onion of choice)
6 fresh basil leaves
½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup olive oil
Wash your hand with soap and water. One hour prior to serving, slice the tomatoes about ¼” thick. Sprinkle with kosher salt and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature. While waiting for the salt to draw the water from the tomatoes create the balsamic glaze by pouring balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over low to medium heat, stirring regularly to prevent burning. Add the oil, stirring regularly to prevent burning, until it has reduced to half of its original amount and/or is a syrupy consistency. Slice the basil and onion into thin strips. When ready to serve put the mozzarella, onion, basil, black pepper, balsamic glaze on top of the tomatoes and serve. Refrigerate leftovers.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving): 420 calories, 33 grams fat, 500 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 9 grams protein