Everyone’s Favorite Fruity Veggie

When the question of whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables comes up at your next cocktail party, refer to the US Supreme Court case of Nix v. Hedden (1893).  In this case, the Court unanimously decided that rather than the botanical classification of tomato as a fruit (because it is seed-bearing and grows from the flowering part of a plant), the tomato should be classified under customs regulations as a vegetable, based on the ways tomato_http-::bit.ly:1b0LBcs in which it was used.  At the time, imported vegetables were taxed, but not fruits.

Regardless of the botanical or legal classification, tomatoes and tomato products (in addition to watermelon, guavas, papaya, and pink grapefruit) contain lycopene.  Lycopene is a carotenoid and is a much more powerful antioxidant than its chemical relative, beta-carotene.  It’s not just raw tomatoes that contain the powerful antioxidant- cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene from the plant’s cells, which increases our ability to absorb the lycopene.

To confirm previous findings that frequent tomato or lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, Giovannucci at al (2002) evaluated data from 47,365 participants in the prospective Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.  Consumption of tomato sauce, which contains a whopping 20 mg of lycopene per ½ cup, Barnard and Reilly 2008 was associated with an even greater reduction in prostate cancer risk.  Two servings of tomato sauce per week provided a 23% reduction in prostate cancer risk compared with those who rarely eat tomato products.  Men who consumed 10 or more servings of tomato products each week had a 35% reduction in prostate cancer risk.

If consuming 10 or more servings of tomatoes each week to significantly reduce your prostate cancer risk seems daunting, consider this:

  • Even pizza sauce and ketchup (in addition to spaghetti sauce) count as lycopene-rich tomoto products.

When planning meals this week, try out the Tomato Pie, Pasta Fagioli, and Panzanella recipes below, check out Shortcut Gazpacho with 23 mg lycopene per 1 cup tomato juice, and enjoy a snack of watermelon for 14 mg lycopene per 280 gram slice.

Please note, though, that tomatoes can be a common trigger for migraines, arthritis, and digestive problems.  To learn more about an elimination diet to determine what food may be triggering your poor circulation, inflammatory pain, hormone-related conditions, or metabolic and immune problems, check out Dr. Barnard’s book Foods That Fight Pain.  He recommends an elimination diet based on simple foods that are free of all common pain triggers.  Once your symptoms are gone or at least diminished, you slowly and systematically add other foods back into your diet.  Dr. Barnard provides tips on how to identify trigger foods and plenty of recipes with only foods included in the safe list.

 

Tomato Pie

2 to 2 ¼ lbs heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced

½ to 1 t salt

1 sweet onion, diced and sautéed

1 c Cashew Ricotta pureed with ¾ c (½ can) white beans

¼ to ½ c fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)

Freshly ground pepper

1 pie crust (prepared vegan pie crust such as Pillsbury or refer to Vegan Pie in the Sky for delicious pie crust recipes)

½ c whole wheat bread crumbs (use 1 c bread crumbs if not finely ground)

Spread the thinly sliced tomatoes on paper towels or a dish towel and sprinkle with salt.  After 10 minutes, use more paper towels or another dish towel to blot the salt and excess moisture from the tomato slices.

In the unbaked pie crust, layer the tomatoes, onions, herbs, and cashew ricotta bean mixture.  Sprinkle each layer with freshly ground pepper and top with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350˚F for 30 minutes, shielding the pie crust if needed.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

 

Pasta Fagioli

My mother-in-law, through her Italian heritage, handed this recipe down to us, though I think we may have abbreviated it over time.  The key that made this dish such a hit with my kids is that everything is pureed except the ditalini.  I did not grow up with real Italian food, so it reminds me of a fancy spaghetti-oes, which you likely loved unless you had authentic Italian food growing up like my husband.

1 large sweet onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1T EVOO

2 28oz cans of Italian style stewed tomatoes

½ c fresh Italian parsley

2t dried basil

½ t freshly ground pepper

6c vegetable broth (low sodium preferred)

30 oz white beans

16 oz ditalini pasta (or another type of small pasta)

In a soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic in EVOO at least until tender, longer if you have time.  Add the tomatoes and herbs, reducing heat to medium low.  Stir frequently until fragrant, then add the broth and white beans.  Cover and cook at least 20 minutes but ideally for an hour or two to allow the flavors to fully develop.  Puree the soup in batches, using a dish towel to cover the blender, allowing steam to safely escape.  In a separate pot, boil the pasta, and only add the pasta to what is being served.

My family loves the leftovers of pasta fagioli too, because we combine the soup and the pasta.  When you do this, the pasta absorbs the liquid in the soup, and the pasta swells up significantly.  It’s like getting two for one because the meals look so different.

Once you’ve made the recipe, you can comment below about how to pronounce ‘fagioli’.  It is most often pronounced ‘fa-zool’ in the US (maybe because of “That’s Amore” but depending on the region in Italy, can be pronounced ‘fa-joe-lee’, ‘fah-djoh-lee’, or ‘fa-sool’.

 

Panzanella

16 oz whole wheat French or Italian bread or whole wheat bagels, cut into small cubes

1 seedless cucumber or 2 cucumbers seeds removed, peeled and diced

2 lbs heirloom or organic tomatoes, coarsely chopped

¼ red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 to ½ c fresh basil, torn

3 cloves garlic, minced

2T to ½ c Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette, homemade or bottled (or you can substitute high quality balsamic vinegar)

Optional ingredients to consider

¼ c kalamata olives, pitted and cut into quarters

1 avocado, pitted and diced

1 c fresh organic corn, removed from the cob

Mix the vegetables, herbs, and dressing in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  The bread cubes may be toasted in a 300˚F oven for 15 minutes to dry them out (this may not be needed if you are using day or two old bread).   After the bread cubes have cooled, toss them with vegetable mixture and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Let sit 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Most panzanella recipes contain ½ to 1 cup of olive oil, which in my mind totally opposes the point of eating fresh, raw summer veggies.  The volume of dressing needed will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are.  With really ripe tomatoes, I use very little dressing.  In the latest batch I made, I used about 2 T of high quality balsamic vinegar instead of dressing, and it was fabulous- tasted like bruschetta with a fork.  If you aren’t eating the panzanella all at one sitting, reserve some of the bread cubes to add the next time.

 

Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette (adapted from The Starch Solution)

Makes 1 cup

Use a ½ c measuring cup and add approximately equal amounts of balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and unseasoned rice wine vinegar.  The higher quality vinegars you use, the better the flavor of the end result.  Adjust the proportions and vinegars to suit your liking.

2 cloves garlic

1/8 c ketchup

½ T Dijon mustard

½ to 1 T agave nectar

½ c water

¼ t powdered agar (Telephone brand powdered agar is available in small packets at Asian markets) or arrowroot

Add all ingredients except the agar/arrowroot to the blender, and blend until smooth.  While the blender is running, add the agar/arrowroot.  Continue to blend until the powder has been incorporated and dressing has thickened a bit (it will thicken more with refrigeration).  Taste and add more agave if needed.

 

References

Barnard, Neal. Foods That Fight Pain. 1998

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Mar 6;94(5):391-8.

McDougall, John and McDougall, Mary. The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good. 2012

 

Photo Credit: Tomatoes http://bit.ly/1b0LBcs