Tomatoes: The Most Versatile Of All The Vegetables? [Opinion]

Tomatoes are one of the most versatile of all farm-raised food products. OK, there are really good arguments for nominating potatoes as the primary contender for this distinction, but, for a greenhouse vegetable column, we’ll just stick with tomatoes.

An ice cream dish with a sweet basil coulis, a sauce made from pureed tomatoes and basil, was featured on the “Heirloom Tomato Feast” menu of a Jackson, MS, restaurant.  Photo credit: Rick Snyder.
An ice cream dish with a sweet basil coulis, a sauce made from pureed tomatoes and basil, was featured on the “Heirloom Tomato Feast” menu of a Jackson, MS, restaurant. Photo credit: Rick Snyder.

Sure, we know that Americans eat just under 20 pounds of tomatoes on average per year. Those of you who are not keeping up are being overcompensated in tomato consumption by the rest of us.

We eat them fresh, and we eat them processed — ketchup, tomato sauce, salsa, puree, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. And we know how healthy they are for us — low in calories, yet high in beta carotene and lycopene (the red pigment).

Last week I had the opportunity to eat in a fine dining establishment in Jackson, MS. In addition to the excellent selection of fares you would expect from all fine (i.e. expensive) restaurants, there was something totally unexpected.

Tomatoes Only
Sitting atop the usual menu was a small card that listed only items made with tomatoes. No, this was
not the pizza menu. Nor was it a list of vegetable salads or tomato soup. It wasn’t even Italian food, as one might expect.

It was titled “The Heirloom Tomato Feast”!  As you might expect, an Extension vegetable specialist has no need to look over the large, standard menu of steaks, seafood, and pastas once encountering this enticement.

The first course was chilled heirloom tomato solyanka with gulf lump crab. As noted, this is a cold soup. I had never heard of solyanka before, but it seemed to me it was much like gazpacho. However, this had chunks of fresh crab meat in it.

The entrée was Gulf Snapper. Note: Jackson is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico, so seafood is considered to be local. This snapper was “served on oven roasted tomato risotto.”

And the side dishes were fried-green tomatoes and tomato vinaigrette. The former are unripe tomatoes, picked when they are just barely starting to turn. They are sliced, coated with fresh ground corn meal, and lightly fried in a pan. If you have not tried them, you probably should. The vinaigrette is a sauce made from tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, and spices (oregano, garlic, etc.).

You might think this would be about all the tomato ingestion a person would need in one sitting, but no, it wasn’t.

Tomato Ice Cream
I have joked for many years when asked what flavor of ice cream I wanted, requesting tomato ice cream. Such flippant requests have never been redeemed. Until now, that is.

Tomato ice cream was the final course. It was vanilla ice cream with sweet basil coulis, a sauce made from pureed tomatoes and basil. I’ll admit the upper region of the ice cream mound was more like plain old vanilla with a pinkish hue. But, as you navigate your way south, the embedded puree was thick and full of flavor — a good, strong tomato sauce flavor, almost like sun-dried tomatoes. There would have been no better way to top off this meal of tomatoes.

Fruits and vegetables are required for us to have healthy eating habits. Sometimes, however, we have to think outside the box and find new ways of incorporating them into our daily diets. This restaurant did a great job of doing just that.

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