Vine-Ripened Health | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Vine-Ripened Health

There's nothing much better tasting than a fresh vine-ripened tomato. It could be that Southern standard, the tomato sandwich—sliced tomatoes on white bread, slathered with mayo. It might be a classic Italian salad, the caprese—a quarter-inch slice of tomato, sprinkled with a touch of olive oil and some sea salt, topped with a basil leaf and a slice of fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Right now, Mississippi vine-ripened tomatoes can be found all across the metropolitan area at open-air vegetable markets. The Mississippi Farmers Market, temporarily located on the parking lot of the Trade Mart just off High Street, is open from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays. Bert Blanton sets up all three days and displays his Certified Farmer 2005 certificate in a plastic cover taped onto the front edge of his produce table. Both the sellers and the customers are glad that the market is open until 6 p.m. during the week, allowing customers to stop in on their drive home. "We want to sell it when the customers are there with the money to buy the produce," he said, smiling broadly.

Just how good for you is a fresh tomato? Loaded with vitamin C, according to The World's Healthiest Foods.org, tomatoes are also a good source of potassium, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin K, riboflavin, chromium and folate, as well as other vitamins and minerals, not to mention lycopene. According to the Web site, the antidoxidant function of lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color, helps prevent heart disease and a host of cancers: colorectal, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung and pancreatic. Finally, gazpacho—typically made with tomatoes and other vegetables—has been shown to be a stress reliever. In the 2004 Journal of Nutrition, a study done by Tufts University concluded that two bowls (250 milliliters) a day over a two-week period increased the subjects' blood levels of vitamin C to 72 milligrams and decreased biomarkers of oxidative (free radical) stress and inflammation.

"On a hot summer afternoon, there's no sweeter lunch than a bowl of gazpacho," says Sara Foster in her newest cookbook—"Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market" (Clarkson Potter, 2005, $35). She makes it with "the very best, fruity green olive oil" and says it works just as well with red tomatoes. One other suggestion from Foster: Sprinkle cooked crab or lobster meat over the soup to make this soup-of-a-salad into a meal.

Golden Gazpacho (serves 6 to 8; makes about 2 quarts)
2 pounds yellow heirloom tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, roasted, cored, seeded and diced
1 banana pepper, cored, seeded and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and diced
2 small yellow summer squash, chopped
1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith or Pippin) peeled, cored and diced
1 large sweet yellow onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walls, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on the soup
8 fresh basil leaves, cut into then strips, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons hot sauce (Tabasco or Texas Pete)
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Combine tomatoes, yellow pepper, banana pepper, celery, cucumber, squash, apple, onion, garlic, broth, olive oil, basil, chives, mint, Tabasco, salt and pepper in a large airtight container and stir to mix. Cover and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve chilled, topped with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of basil strips. Courtesy of Clarkson Potter

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