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Real Food: July's the perfect time to talk tomatoes

By: Joanne Neft
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It’s July and there’s nothing quite like biting into the first vine-ripened tomato of the season. As errant juices drip down toward your elbow, it’s time to celebrate summer as well as the health benefits of tomatoes. Tomatoes are actually a fruit, but oftentimes they’re identified as a vegetable. No matter the label, tomatoes are full of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that works in neutralizing free radicals (oxygen molecules that cause cellar damage in the body). A handful of studies show that eating foods high in lycopene protects against a wide range of cancers, from prostate cancer to lung and breast cancers. Tomatoes also can be helpful by lowering cholesterol. In one study, drinking 12 ounces of tomato juice daily for 20 days lowered LDL cholesterol levels over 10 percent. The first tomatoes of the season are showing up at local farmers market. As you approach growers tables stacked with tomatoes you’ll notice a sweet aroma coming from the tomatoes. I have a sneaking suspicion the aroma is nature’s way of encouraging us to pick up a big bag of this vine-ripened powerhouse in order to savor each and every bite. Learn more about Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny’s “Placer County Real Food” project and cookbook at www.placercountyrealfood.com. __________ Tomato tips Never, never store tomatoes in the refrigerator. On a platter covered with a double layer of paper towels (or a dish towel), place tomatoes stem side down. Use the tomatoes within three or four days. Should you buy more tomatoes than you can eat fresh, place whole tomatoes on a jellyroll pan in the freezer. When frozen, place the tomatoes in a large zip-lock bag. Once a frozen tomato is defrosted, the skin slips off easily. Dice it and use it for making a quick tomato sauce. __________ Tomato and Lemon Cucumber Salad 1 ½ pounds mixed tomatoes 1 red onion, julienne 4 lemon cucumbers, thinly sliced ¼ cup basil, sliced thin 1 bag baby greens Tomato Vinaigrette Juice from tomatoes ¼ cup red wine vinegar 1/3 cup olive oil Cut tomatoes into 1-inch pieces and place in a colander over a bowl, reserving all the juices. After about 20 minutes of draining, combine tomato juices with vinegar and oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss half the dressing with tomatoes, onion, cucumber and basil and place in the center of a large platter. Toss greens with remaining dressing and use them as a garnish.