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Putting the heat on tomatoes

Wed., Aug. 8, 2007

While fresh tomatoes are available year-round, they’re definitely at their best during summer.

And while it’s refreshing to eat the best specimens just as you would an apple, some simple preparations can help you maximize the flavor and nutrition of the season’s bounty.

For example, roasting tomatoes at high heat concentrates their flavor and brings out their rich sweetness by caramelizing the natural sugars. This technique also helps to minimize their bitter and acidic qualities.

The result is an intensely savory and sweet tomato with a hearty texture.

And while cooking tomatoes can diminish the potency of the fruit’s vitamins, it helps concentrate other nutrients, such as lycopene, a powerful antioxidant studies suggest may be important to heart health.

In this simple recipe, roasted plum tomatoes are topped with garlic, fresh parsley and thyme, but you can use any fresh herb, or even some fresh bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

These moist and flavorful roasted tomatoes make an excellent side dish on their own, but also have numerous uses, such as:

•Coarsely chop them and toss with pasta along with some flavorful cheese, such as pecorino or Parmesan.

•Add them to a sandwich instead of using a high-fat spread such as mayonnaise.

•Puree them with their skins to make an intense pasta or pizza sauce.

•Chop them and add some fresh herbs to make a salsa for grilled chicken or fish.

•Top a pizza with them, along with some fresh basil, roasted peppers and part-skim mozzarella.

•Puree them with chicken broth, canned white beans and some fresh thyme to make a flavorful soup.

•Chop them and scramble them with beaten eggs, sliced black olives and some shredded proscuitto.

•Toss them into a green salad instead of fresh tomatoes.

Roasted Plum Tomatoes with Fresh Herbs

12 ripe plum tomatoes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Place the tomatoes on the sheet, cut-side up. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour, or until the tomatoes are shriveled and beginning to brown on the bottom.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the remaining oil, parsley, thyme and garlic. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and sprinkle the herb mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes, or until the herbs are just beginning to brown.

Yield: 24 tomato halves

Nutrition information per piece: 24 calories; 1 gram fat (no saturated); no cholesterol; 3 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram protein; 1 gram fiber; 6 milligram sodium.


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