It’s Tomato Time

When you see Sweet 100s, Early Girl, Red Currant, Brandywine, Lemon Boy, Sun Gold, Marvel Striped, Green Zebra or Black Prince tomatoes at your local farmers market, you know summer is in full swing.

Many of these are local heirloom varieties. Early Girls, which are grown all along the West Coast, are almost unknown on the East Coast, though I sure wish I could get this small, fleshy tomato, which is perfect for cooking, somewhere near me in New York City. And wouldn’t you love to locate Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter. During the Great Depression these monster tomatoes paid off the house for the man who developed them. Maybe they won’t remedy today’s housing crisis, but garden catalogues say they weigh up to three pounds. Please e-mail me if you know where they grow!

Even supermarket chains these days offer locally grown heirloom as well as hybrid tomatoes when they are in season, thanks to growing interest in their unique flavors. Also, rising transportation costs make produce from smaller, local growers as appealing to the chain stores as tomatoes trucked in from big Florida and California producers.

Around here, heirloom varieties cost five dollars a pound at the farmers’ market. But just once, treat yourself to a salad composed of slices from three or four kinds and see why chefs get so excited about these fragile beauties. Ask the farmer at the stand to suggest a varied collection. Here, I would get a pink-fleshed Brandywine, a fuzzy-skinned yellow-to-pink Yellow Peach, a striped Green Zebra and a handful of Red Currants to scatter around them. Season this colorful composition only with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a few drops of good olive oil.

When meaty beefsteaks are a good buy, I make this succulent casserole. Normally a side dish served warm, it is also good baked in the morning, before the day heats up, to serve for supper. Accompanied by ears of fresh corn and a green salad, you have a summer feast.

Summer Tomato-Rice Casserole - Makes 6 main servings (approx. 6 cups), 8 as side dish.

3/4 cups long-grain brown rice
4 ripe large beefsteak-type tomatoes, 2 1/2 - 3 pounds, cored
1 cup shredded lite three-cheese blend, such as mozzarella, Jack and Cheddar
1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
Ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup panko-style breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook rice according to package directions; there should be 2 1/2 cups cooked rice.

Cut thin slice from bottom of each tomato, discard it, and slice each tomato crosswise into 4 thick slabs. In mixing bowl, combine cooked rice, cheese, oregano, ground and cayenne pepper and half the salt. In another bowl, use a fork to combine the panko, garlic, oregano, remaining sal, and olive oil. Season to taste with black pepper, and set aside.

Coat covered 2-quart heatproof casserole with cooking spray. Arrange 4 tomato slices to cover bottom of the casserole. Using half the rice mixture, cover tomatoes. Top with another 4 or 5 tomato slices, then remaining rice. Finish with another tomato layer, overlapping the slices to cover the rice completely.

Cover casserole and bake for 45 minutes, until casserole is moist. Uncover, and sprinkle topping evenly over casserole. Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes, or until topping is lightly colored, tomatoes are very tender, and casserole is bubbly under the topping. Let casserole sit for 20 minutes, or serve lukewarm.

Per 1- cup serving: 180 calories, 6 g total fat (3 g saturated fat), 24 g carbohydrate, 10 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 460 mg sodium.

The Author:

“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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