Kitchen Wit and Wisdom: A tasty gift from the Mayans

Tomatoes are an ancient fruit — vegetable to some — that are both delicious and filled with nutrition

“Tomato, a pulpy nutritious fruit commonly eaten as a vegetable,” is another wonderful gift of the Mayans to the world. This humble vegetable of Central America has seized the attention of millions of health seekers for its incredible phyto-chemical properties and for its outstanding antioxidant content, including, of course, their often rich concentration of lycopene.

Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. There are literally hundreds of different tomato varieties and this amazing fruit is eaten as is or in countless recipes.

Tomatoes are abundant right now and I have two recipes today featuring them. The first is a stuffed tomato the whole family will love, and the second a simple vegetable dish that highlights the summer flavours of fresh tomatoes and zucchini. It goes great with grilled meats or poultry.

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

6 slices bacon

6 medium tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup croutons

Salt and pepper to taste

6 sprigs parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 11×7-inch baking dish.

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside. While bacon is cooking, wash tomatoes and slice off stem ends. Gently scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/2-inch wall. Finely chop pulp and place 1/3 cup of it in a medium bowl. You may discard remaining pulp.

Stir crumbled bacon, green pepper, cheese, croutons, and salt and pepper into tomato pulp. Spoon an equal amount of mixture into each hollowed out tomato. Place stuffed tomatoes into prepared baking dish.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until heated through. Garnish with parsley sprigs.

Tomato-Zucchini Casserole

1-1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

2 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced

5 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced

1/4 cup butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

3/4 cup fine bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly butter a 9×9-inch pan.

In a large bowl, combine Cheddar, Parmesan, oregano, basil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Arrange half of the zucchini slices in the pan. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cheese and herb mixture on top. Arrange half of the tomatoes, and top with another 1/4 of the cheese mixture. Repeat layers.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions, and cook until soft and translucent. Stir in bread crumbs; cook until they have absorbed the butter. Sprinkle on top of casserole.

Cover loosely with foil, and bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake until the top is crusty and the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.