Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tomatos Make The Dish

Tomatoes are part of the Creole triumvirate of a seasoning blend made from tomatoes, onions and sweet peppers, according to Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook. The Shrimp Creole on page 220 features this saucy seasoning in an easy-to-prepare recipe that takes less than an hour to make. Tomatoes entered the New Orleans stage of the culinary arts thanks to the Spanish Conquistadors, who encountered the vegetable in South America and later brought it to New Orleans during their 40-year period of colonization beginning in 1762.

According to Wikipedia, the tomato was discovered when the Spanish first came to South America in the early 1500s. It was distributed throughout Europe and the Spanish Colonies with cultivation in Spain starting in the 1540s. By the mid-1700s, cultivation of the plant had spread throughout the colonies though many plantings were ornamental in nature and not necessarily used in cooking due to a false belief that the plant was poisonous.

In an article, "The Tomato Had to Go Abroad To Make Good," it is stated that the tomato has been commonly eaten for about the past 100 years in the United States. Being largely cultivated as an ornamental plant, the vegetable was also known as "love apples" from the French phrase pomme d'amour. The article argues that the tomato's first known appearance in New Orleans is in 1812.

It was embraced by Mediterranean cooks when first introduced in Europe. The first cookbook with tomatoes listed among the ingredients was published in 1692 in Naples, though the recipes appear to be of Spanish origin. Terry Thompson-Anderson, author of Cajun-Creole Cooking, states in an excerpt of her book the identifying characteristics of Creole-Italian cuisine:

The most unique feature of the cuisine is its tomato sauce, commonly referred to as "red gravy" or "tomato gravy." This rich sauce, used over meats and pasta, has dozens of variations from family to family.
The acidic property of the tomato helps to bring out the other flavors in a dish, making it beloved ingredient of chefs. This vegetable is rich in anti-oxidants, particularly lycopene and benefits the heart and the prevention of prostate cancer.
photo courtesy of Sylvar, used under this Creative Commons license

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