Eat your reds
Superhero tomatoes combat heart disease and cancer, says Susan Jane Murray, and make great gazpacho
Tomatoes practically blush with virtue, like a rosy little cherub with puppy fat. You've probably noticed the praise they enjoy in medical circles for their superhero faculties. In fact, the European Commission is backing a five-year research project called Lycocard to investigate the role that tomatoes play in helping to reduce cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer.
Lycopene, a particular carotenoid found in tomatoes, is thought to have raging antioxidant properties. We all like antioxidants because they help to counteract mischief-making oxidants in our blood stream. These meddlesome oxidants are found in poor dietary choices such as saturated and trans fats, sugar, artificial additives and adulterated or processed foods. Cheap, pre-packaged meals are full of the above, making your blood feel like sludge.
Now that we know lycopene can help to zap villainous oxidants, we should be plotting to take more. Here are two interesting points about this carotenoid and its host, the humble tomato. First, carotenoids are fat-soluble: they circulate in the bloodstream alongside cholesterol and other fats. That explains their relationship with heart disease and arteriosclerosis -- scientific patois for the hardening of arteries. So, to make lycopene effective, it is best to eat tomatoes with a healthy fat such as extra virgin olive oil. Secondly, tinned tomatoes and tomato puree are richer sources of lycopene than their fresh equivalent. Bizarrely, tomatoes hold greater levels of lycopene once cooked.
Aside from their heroic carotenoid level, tomatoes are 85 per cent juice, helping to keep us hydrated. No wonder they were pelted on stage at brutal performers in the 19th century. What a comical mess! Nowadays, however, the plastic-wrapped Frankenstein tomatoes that you find in many supermarkets are harder than Barry McGuigan's forehead.
Summer in a Bowl
Gazpacho is a chilled tomato soup. It is superbly tasty and refreshing on a summer's day, especially if heat tends to muffle your appetite. When temperatures soar, the Spanish swill pitchers of gazpacho. Their tickers are all the merrier for it.
In the traditional recipe, gazpacho calls for the inclusion of stale white bread. You may notice I have doctored this one to make it more healthful and to help cancel out the ill-effects of last night's barbecue binge. If necessary, add chilli to resuscitate your liver. But be warned, chilli is also a potent libido defibrillator.
You will need:
1 small punnet or 250g cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1 cup cucumber, diced
3 spring onions, sliced
500ml (2 cups) tomato passata
Juice 1 small lemon
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Basil leaves, to serve (optional)
Hard-boiled egg, crumbled
Too simple really -- just whizz and serve. You'll need to start with the cherry tomatoes and garlic. Just give them a jolly good whizz until they're really smooth. Add in all the remaining ingredients and pulse the lot very briefly.
Gazpacho is best thick and chunky like a soupy salsa. Should you find you've accidentally pureed until kingdom come, don't panic. Blame heatstroke. Garnish with a smile and crumbled egg.
Chill the gazpacho in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes, and spoon into four shallow soup bowls. Serve with a drizzle of top-quality olive oil, a few basil leaves, if you are using them, and factor 50.