ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - America is a country that loves its tomatoes. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not only do we produce around $2 billion worth of tomatoes per year, making us the second largest tomato producing country in the world, but tomatoes are also the 4th most popularly eaten produced vegetable in the country (although technically it's a fruit). There are a lot of health and taste reasons to use tomatoes; it's just a matter of knowing which ones to use, and when.
"Tomatoes are the first major garden item to ripen," explains Chef Scott Jenkins, the chef of Arlington-based Extra Virgin restaurant. "Tomatoes are so versatile and flavorful, the possibilities seem endless. It is truly the work horse of an Italian kitchen, from soups and salads to sauces and main entree features."
Tomatoes are nutritional powerhouses, offering the body Vitamin A, Vitamin C, antioxidants and lycopene. When it comes to choosing and preparing tomatoes, keep these tips in mind:
- Look for ones that are deep, bright red in color. If purchasing them from a store, opt for ones that look good, with few blemishes.
- Avoid purchasing tomatoes that are dull and discolored, or that have any small black spots, which could be a sign that it is rotten on the inside.
- Feel the tomato and look for ones that are firm, although not hard and not too soft.
- A fresh tomato should have a sweet, strong, earthy aroma near the stem. If possible, avoid buying tomatoes wrapped in plastic, which will prevent you from being able to touch and smell them.
- If you are growing tomatoes yourself, don¹t assume that those with blemishes need to be discarded. Start out by sorting the tomatoes by their visual appeal. Use the best-looking ones for things like salads, plainly sliced and served, stuffed, or grilled. Use the blemished tomatoes to make sauces.
- Simply grilling or roasting is a tasty way to enjoy spring tomatoes. Do a quick online search to find a variety of recipes for both methods.
To make your own homemade tomato sauce, start by cutting out the blemishes and coring the stem. Next, quickly blanch the tomatoes to remove the tough skins. (Immerse them in boiling water for 15 seconds, then immediately put them in cold water.) If you save this step until after the sauce is cooked, you will have an agonizing time removing the skins from the wonderful tomato flesh of the sauce. Place the peeled tomatoes in a stock pot with olive oil and a little water, and start the slow simmer. Now cook and stir until you have a sauce that meets your desired consistency. Keep in mind that this will take a few hours, and that you will have to add water as this process develops.
"I would create a wonderful pure tomato sauce and then create a developed sauce with herbs, onions and other flavors from that master batch of tomato sauce," adds Chef Jenkins. "With the great warm spring weather, we have a head start on the season, and the farmers market will soon be filled with new and heirloom varieties. I'm looking forward to utilizing as many as I can."
Chef Jenkins is currently developing a rich tomato-based pasta dish that will incorporate spring tomatoes that have been slow-roasted in the restaurant¹s wood-fire oven to give it a deep, rich flavor. Extra Virgin, which has an olive-oil-inspired menu and décor, is an Arlington-based restaurant that specializes in modern Italian cuisine. Options include such specialties as wood-fired pizzas, pastas, meat, poultry, and seafood, as well as vegetarian options. The restaurant offers lunch specials, as well as new weekly menu specialties.
Chef Jenkins Home Sauce Recipe
2 pounds whole garden ripe tomatoes, those that have spots or seconds
skin and core tomatoes, I prefer to blanch then ice bath to peel
1 whole Julianne onion, start to caramelize in thick bottom steel pot with 4 cloves minced garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil
When the onions are a deep brown, deglaze the pot with 2 cups good red wine and add 2 cups of water and the 2 pounds of tomatoes. With another 1/2 cup of olive oil, turn the burner down to simmer and cook for about 2 hours, the tomatoes will break down as you stir on occasion and will thicken. Watch the water level, depending on your simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as a pinch of sugar. I also like to chop 1/2 cup of fresh basil and add it to the sauce just before tossing it with the cooked past,. I prefer penne, as it¹s a better way to eat leftovers, and I always cook too much.
About Extra Virgin
Located in Shirlington Village's "Restaurant Row," Extra Virgin offers diners a variety of modern Italian cuisine. The restaurant offers both lunch and dinner, as well as full catering services. The owner, Shary Thur, is a four-time breast cancer survivor, while Scott Jenkins, the executive chef, has over 18 years of culinary experience. The restaurant hosts weekly jazz and other music events, as well as weekly specials, in addition to late night dancing. To learn more about Extra Virgin, visit the website at: www.extravirginva.com.
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