This is the first summer in a long time that I haven’t had a tomato garden. My garden needed a rest, and my plan was to work on my annual tomato piece for Recipes for Health during the two weeks I spent in Provence, where my love affair with Mediterranean cuisine began. It was an easy assignment. Summer cooking here revolves around tomatoes, squash and eggplant, and these ingredients pretty much dominated my market baskets.
When I started going to Provence more than 30 years ago, the tomatoes were superior to anything I could find in the States. Now that’s not the case, thanks to our wonderful farmers’ markets, which offer a wider variety of these nutrient-dense vegetables than any French market I visited this summer. An added benefit is that in American markets you are much more likely to find tomatoes that are organically grown.
This is significant from a nutritional standpoint. A recent study by scientists at the University of Barcelona, published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and reported in Science Daily, found that organic tomatoes contain higher levels of phenolic compounds than conventionally grown tomatoes. Phenolic compounds (polyphenols) are natural antioxidants, found in many plants, that are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and degenerative diseases as well as some cancers. It is believed that the organically grown tomatoes have more of these compounds because without nitrogenous fertilizers they must rely on their own defense mechanisms, and so they produce more antioxidants. Says one author of the study, “The more stress plants suffer, the more polyphenols they produce.”
My Pain Catalan With Extra Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
This is what I eat for lunch just about every day when I’m on vacation in Provence. It’s inspired by the Catalan signature dish, but I usually substitute mustard for garlic because I don’t really want to have the raw garlic lingering on my palate throughout the afternoon.
2 slices whole-wheat country bread
1 garlic clove, cut in half, or Dijon mustard to taste
1 large or 2 smaller ripe tomatoes in season
Salt to taste
1/2 ounce goat cheese, crumbled or thinly sliced
1. If desired, toast the bread. Rub with the cut side of the garlic clove or spread with mustard. Cut one of the tomatoes in half and rub the cut side against the bread until the bread is nicely saturated with the juice and pulp of the tomato. Slice the remaining tomato and layer over the bread. Season to taste with salt, crumble the goat cheese on top, add a few torn basil leaves if desired and enjoy.
Yield: 1 serving, or 2 servings as an appetizer.
Advance preparation: This is really a dish to make and eat right away.
Nutritional information per serving: 229 calories; 7 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 2 grams monounsaturated fat; 11 milligrams cholesterol; 32 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 350 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 12 grams protein