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Seasonal Pantry: For tomatoes, there's no time like the present

Ahh, tomatoes. The 2013 season came early and there's already an easy abundance. This year, instead of seemingly endless waiting followed by near-panic indulgence — if fall rains come early, the season could end suddenly — we can enjoy the love apple languidly, as if we'll have them forever. We won't, of course, but this year it sort of feels that way. I had my first BLT in early June, an all-time record.

The tomato is native to the New World, with the first brave vine most likely rising from the fertile soil of a river valley in what is now Peru and Bolivia. The fruit of this vine was tiny and green, with a persistent and unpleasant taste.

The tomato languished in obscurity for centuries before it was introduced to western Europe soon after Hernán Cortes the explorer conquered Mexico City in 1519. In 1544, Petrus Andreas Matthiolus of Italy wrote that “the tomato is eaten in Italy with oil, salt and pepper.”

In 1692, the first Spanish recipe for tomatoes appears in “Lo Scalco Alla Moderna,” a cookbook by Antonio Latini.

“Take half a dozen tomatoes that are ripe,” Latini writes, “and put them to roast in the embers, and when they are scorched, remove the skin diligently, and mince them finely with a knife. Add onions, minced finely, to discretion, hot chili peppers, also minced finely, and thyme in a small amount. After mixing everything together, adjust it with a little salt, oil and vinegar. It is a very tasty sauce, both for boiled dishes or anything else.”

Tomatoes with oil, salt and pepper; tomato sauce with onions, chiles and thyme. Things haven't changed much, have they?

For other delicious tomato recipes, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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Although you can make this classic Spanish dish with any tomato, the Early Girls from The Patch of Sonoma are the perfect size and texture. Served with a big green salad, this can be dinner on a hot night when you don't have much appetite. It's also an excellent first course when entertaining.

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