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Food of the Month: Tomatoes

By Christina Rousseau
Healthy Beginnings Team Lead

Each year, I look forward to August when all my favourite produce is in season: corn, peaches, zucchini and, of course, tomatoes!

Tomatoes were also August’s Food of the Month, which The Stop uses to highlight seasonal, local produce at its peak. We featured tomatoes in our takeaway lunches, in our Food Bank hampers, and at our weekly Good Food Market.

We also like to use our Food of the Month as a conversation starter: to share information on the history and nutrition of different fruits and veggies, and to swap recipes with community members.

So, here’s some brief history of this popular fruit, ways for you to take action to protect the people that grow them in Ontario, and a few delicious recipes!

A Little History

Tomatoes feature heavily in Italian cuisine like Caprese salad, panzanella, Margherita pizza, and bruschettaor my favourite, my Nonna’s spaghetti saucebut the fruit actually originated in Central and South America (likely Peru).

Tomatoes arrived in Europe in the 16th century due to colonization, following the destruction of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán by conquistador Hernán Cortés. Initially, many Europeans feared eating tomatoes because they were said to be poisonous. It wasn’t until the invention of pizza in Naples in the 1880’s that tomatoes were finally embraced.

Tomatoes were popular with Indigenous peoples in Mexico prior to colonization, but they didn’t gain attention throughout the rest of North America until Italians from impoverished, rural areas in the southern part of Italy immigrated to the United States and Canada. A full circle moment?

Tomatoes Today

Ontario accounts for about 98% of all tomato production in Canada, and much of this production relies on migrant labour. The town of Leamington, Ontario has crowned itself the “tomato capital of Canada,” and each year, the city hosts roughly 5,000 migrant workers, mostly from Mexico and the Caribbean, through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Migrant workers in Leamington often spend 8 months of the year working in Canada, but they have a fraction of the rights of citizens or permanent residents.

These workers are legally tied to a single employermeaning they can’t go work for someone else if they’re being treated poorly. Over the past few months, preventable outbreaks of COVID-19 have spread across many farms due to unsafe, overcrowded housing. These workers often resist testing because they fear a test positive will result in deportation, and therefore a loss of critical income.

More than 600,000 migrant workers across Canada face similar oppression, with little to no recourse to improve their conditions for fear of reprisals and deportation. As allies, we can each play a role in supporting the migrant workers who grow the beautiful tomatoes and other produce that we enjoy in Ontario. Here are a few things you can do:

• Learn more about migrant workers and the conditions they face. Two great films come to mind, which are both free for you to watch: El Contrato and Migrant Dreams by award-winning filmmaker and activist Min Sook Lee 

• Join Justicia for Migrant Workers and CaterToronto for their #puttinggraceonthetable social media campaign and their September 7th Digital Day of Action.

• Follow @MigrantWorkersAlliance on Facebook and Instagram to learn more about how you can support Canada’s largest migrant workers’ rights coalition organizing for non-permanent residents’ rights


Healthy Bites Recipes

 

Enjoy these recipes from our first Healthy Bites livestream food demo, featuring tomatoes. If you’re giving these recipes a try, feel free to tag us on social media @TheStopCFC. Or better yettag us in photos of featuring your own tomato inspiration!


Stuffed Tomatoes

Recipe by Lais Donella, Healthy Beginnings perinatal program volunteer.

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium beefsteak tomatoes
  • 3 medium zucchini
  • ½ cup of choice of (already cooked) protein. For example:
    • Shredded chicken, ground beef, shredded tofu, ham, or whatever leftover protein you have available in your fridge.
  • ½ cup of can vegetable of choice:
    • Peas, corn, beans, carrots, or any leftover vegetables you have work great too  
  • ½ tbsp. of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. of olive oil
  • 1 little minced clove of garlic or 2 tsp. of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup shredded cheese (optional)

How to prepare:

  1. First food and safety: wash the tomatoes and the zucchinis well.
  2. Slice the tomato tops open and, with the help of a knife or spoon, remove the core and seeds out making the tomatoes like empty vases.
  3. Flip the tomatoes upside down resting them on a paper towel or cloth so they can drain.
  4. Grate all the zucchinis with the larger opening blade of your grater.
  5. Put the grated zucchini in a colander and squeeze as much liquid out as possible. You want to have about 1 cup of grated drained zucchini.
  6. For your protein if necessary slice or crumble it in small pieces that will mix well within the zucchini.
  7. In a bowl add the grated zucchini, your vegetable of choice, the protein, the garlic and the spices. Mix well until incorporated.
  8. On a baking tray line up some foil or just grease the bottom, place the tomatoes apart from each other. And fill up each tomato with the mix until it’s full to the rim.
  9. Optional top up each tomato with some grated cheese.
  10. Bake the tomatoes at 350 F for about 15 – 20 min. Serve and enjoy!

Panzanella Salad 

Recipe by Christina Rousseau

Ingredients:

Croutons

  • 3 cups of bite-sized pieces of bread (preferably stale). You can use a small baguette, some focaccia, a bun, or whatever bread you have around the house
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

Dressing

  • 2 garlic cloves, grated or put through garlic press
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Optional: ½ tsp. oregano
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced

Salad

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces. This should be about 3 cups worth of tomatoes when everything is cut. Any kind of tomato will do
  • ½ cup sliced cucumber
  • ½ cup torn basil; more for garnish

Some optional ingredients:

You can add some or all of these, but your salad will still be tasty without them!

  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn or cut into bite-size pieces
  • ½ cup garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed if using canned)
  • 2-3 peaches, pitted and sliced

How to prepare:

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees with rack in the middle of the oven. In a medium bowl, toss the cubes of bread with 2 tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 7-15 minutes, or until the bread is dried out and golden around the edges. You could even do this stage the day before. Let cool on a wire rack.
  2. For dressing, add garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and oregano to a medium size jar. Shake until the ingredients are well combined.
  3. To mellow the intensity of the onion, add them to the jar and set aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble your salad.
  4. Add bite sized tomato pieces, cucumber, basil, and any additional ingredients to a large bowl for serving.
  5. Add bread cubes to the tomatoes mixture, pour dressing and onions on top, and toss well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours before serving. You want the bread to be al-dente (soft but still with some slight bite), but don’t let it get to the point of being soggy.
  6. Toss with a little more olive oil, vinegar or salt if needed just before serving.

Caprese Salad Skewers

Recipe by Christina Rousseau (but can we even call this a recipe?)

Ingredients:

  • Bocconcini (small mozzarella balls)
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt (I like a nice, flaky salt)
  • Pepper
  • Mini skewers or toothpicks
  • OPTIONAL: balsamic glaze

How to prepare:

  1. Rinse the tomatoes and basil.
  2. Drain the bocconcini. If necessary, cut them in half so that they are roughly the same size as the tomatoes.
  3. Add 1 of each (piece of bocconcini, cherry tomato, piece of basil) to your skewer or toothpick. Do whatever order you like, but I tend to put the basil in the middle.
  4. Repeat for as many of these skewers as you would like to make.
  5. Drizzle or brush each skewer with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. If you want, you can add some balsamic glaze on top as well, but some Caprese purists might disagree with you. Since you’re the one eating it, do whatever you like!

Follow The Stop on Facebook to join our September Healthy Bites food demo!