Joco Diversions

August 19, 2014

While the flavor is at its best, grab some locally grown tomatoes and let them shine

The fewer ingredients in a recipe, the higher their quality must be.

The fewer ingredients in a recipe, the higher their quality must be.

The Star’s recipe for Fresh Tomatoes With Pasta is a case in point. Theoretically, you could make this recipe using any old flavorless tomato picked while barely ripe, but why bother?

If it’s flavor you seek, make this recipe now, while the last of the locally grown tomato crop is coming in. The best time to enjoy tomatoes is mid-June through mid-September.

Unless you grow your own, be on the lookout for heirloom varieties available at farmers markets or upscale supermarkets.

Bred for flavor rather than supermarket aesthetics and long-distance shipping requirements, heirlooms come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of lopsided shapes. Most also have fun names, such as Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple and Green Zebra, and are highly perishable.

Heirloom tomatoes tend to be pricey. The going price at a Hen House supermarket in Lenexa is $4 a pound. But after splurging intermittently on these beauties throughout the summer, I think their overall taste and eye appeal make them worth the added expense in a dish where they have a starring role.

Still, even a sign that says “heirloom” doesn’t guarantee that money is always well spent.

“Some heirlooms have abysmal yields and poor consistency; even superior flavor may not be enough to make growing them worthwhile, “ Nina Planck writes in Real Foods: What to Eat and Why (Bloomsbury, 2006).

“Happily, the renewed demand for flavor and texture has opened the gene libraries of many good seed companies, and that means more and better traditional varieties for farmers to try.”

The daughter of Virginia vegetable farmers, Planck created farmers markets in London and Washington, D.C. Her short list of hybrids includes Early Girl, Lady Luck and Lemon Boy.

Again, look for these hybrids at the farmers markets. “They taste great and yield well, but for various reasons — small size, delicacy — they don’t suit industrial growers, so you won’t find them in supermarkets, “ she writes.

Nutritionally speaking, tomatoes are an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene. Studies have shown lycopene can help prevent heart disease and some cancers, especially prostate cancer.

Vine-ripened tomatoes contain more lycopene than those picked while still green and allowed to ripen off the vine.

Tomatoes taste great with extra-virgin olive oil, a heart-healthy fat, which, coincidentally, makes the lycopene more available to the body.

Tomatoes contain a good amount of vitamin C, which can be lost when they are processed.

Shopping tip: We used Heartland brand Multi Grain Spaghetti made from whole-grain wheat, brown rice, oats and wheat bran to test this recipe. A 2-ounce serving has 5 grams of fiber.

Storage tip: Never refrigerate whole tomatoes, which can ruin their flavor. Do refrigerate leftover pasta.

Fresh tomatoes with pasta

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 to 2 pounds tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried basil leaves

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 (12-ounce) package multigrain spaghetti

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper in large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain and toss with tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.

Per serving: 315 calories (26 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 49 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 128 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

Recipe developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.

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