Tomatoes Rule the World! (part 1)

If you’re a human being, and you’re diet doesn’t consist of crackers and lemon water, you’ve probably at some point consumed the products of the tomato plant. Tomatoes, originally cultivated by Meso-americans, were brought to the rest of the world by the Spanish during the 16th century. At first the tomato plant was viewed with suspicion by Europeans, probably because tomatoes are a member of the deadly nightshade family. For the first decade or so after their introduction to Europe, tomato plants were used as an ornamental plant. (Imagine, a world without ketchup.) Eventually, some hungry peasant or enterprising cook decided to try eating the small, yellow berries (that’s right, tomatoes are a berry), and the rest is history.

The tomato plant grows easily in the Mediterranean climate; and is so versatile that it became an ubiquitous part of Spanish and Italian cuisine. In fact, tomatoes are to Italian food as bland is to English food. (Oops, I’ve already used up half of my cliché quota, and this is only the intro.)

Tomatoes were originally prepared similarly to eggplant, fried in oil with a little salt and pepper. This is the genesis for the humble tomato sauce (or pomodoro sauce). Pomodoro literally translates as ‘golden apples’, which is how ancient tomatoes appeared. Pomodoro sauce is the basis for many Italian dishes, but is mostly associated with pasta in North America. I’m here to tell you though, tomato sauce isn’t just for noodles.

Having a tasty pomodoro sauce recipe in your repertoire is a must, especially since it is so easy and versatile, and so much better and less expensive than the stuff you find in a jar. Your tomato sauce can be used as a base for other pasta sauces, as a simple pizza sauce, or thin it out to make a quick tomato soup. The possibilities are endless! (Dammit, I used another cliché.)

For a light, healthy meal I decided to make zucchini fritters to go with my pomodoro sauce. The sauce and fritters can be made ahead of time, and quickly warmed up for a quick lunch or dinner.

Frittelle di Zucchine con Pomodoro

(Serves 2-3)

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Part A: The Pomodoro sauce

(Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes.)

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 1 796ml cans diced tomatoes)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced*
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely minced*
  • 1/2 tsp fresh sage, finely minced*
  • 1 tsp fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

*You can substitute 1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning if necessary.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and gently cook it in the oil for 2 minutes, until it becomes fragrant (do not allow it to burn). Add the onions, and cook them and the garlic for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, stir in the tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper, and fry for another 5 minutes.

Now, stir the herbs, vinegar, and tomato paste in with the tomatoes, and fry for 2 minutes. Then add the water and basil leaves. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes. While you are waiting, you can take this time to prepare the zucchini fritters. Or dance around naked in the kitchen (you might want to make sure the blinds are closed first).

After 15 minutes, give your sauce a taste, and adjust the seasoning. Then stir in the rest of the olive oil, and simmer with the lid off for another 5 minutes. Once your sauce is done, you can begin making your fritters.

Part B: The Zucchini fritters

(Prep time: 20 minutes. Cook time: 12 minutes. Makes approx. 6 fritters.)

  • 3 medium zucchini (approximately 1 1/2 lbs.)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Shred all the zucchini into a colander using a box grater. Toss the zucchini with the salt, and allow to rest for 10 minutes. The salt will help to pull the water out of the zucchini (this is super important). After 10 minutes, squeeze as much water out of the grated zucchini as you can using either cheesecloth, or a clean tea towel. It will take a couple of attempts to get out all the liquid, but if you don’t persevere the fritters won’t hold together- or cook- properly.

Mix all the ingredients gently in a large bowl, until they just begin to come together. Let the mixture sit and tighten up for 5 minutes in the refrigerator . When you’re ready, heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Place a tablespoon of the mixture in the oil, flatten with a spatula, and fry the fritter on each side until golden-brown and crispy (about 3 minutes). Place the cooked fritters on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

Top your finished zucchini fritters with your delicious pomodoro sauce and a little fresh mozzarella, or feta cheese. Sit back with a glass of wine, and enjoy the fresh, beautiful flavours of your meal. It’s like a little taste of summer in your mouth, Italian-style. (There’s my cliché quota. Better wrap this up soon.)

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So hail to thee, tomato! Conqueror of the world, and master of our tastebuds. You’re certainly more than just a condiment for french fries.

(Coming in part 2, how tomatoes became soup, and conquered childhood.)

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