with Donna Sweeny

Love Apples

One of the many new foods introduced into Europe in the 16th century, tomatoes have a long and colorful history. When the Spanish conquistadors ar­rived in Mexico, they found the Aztecs eating tiny, yellow tomatoes, and brought them, along with other foods, back to Europe. The Italians called them pomodoro, golden apples, because of their color and size; they later developed the larger, red variety known to us today, but the name has remained the same.

Probably because of their relationship to poisonous plants, tomatoes were long regarded with suspicion; cau­tious cooks routinely simmered them for hours before using them. The more adventurous French decided early that tomatoes were not a poison at all, but rather an aphrodisiac, and so dubbed them pomme d’amour (love apples). Vive la France!

The popularity of tomatoes grew slowly and it was not until the turn of this century that they gained wide accept­ance and canned tomatoes be­came a staple in most kitchen pantries. I recently spoke with Donna Higgins. Director of Consumer Services for Del Monte Foods U.S.A. Donna oversees the test kitchens in San Francisco where recipes for Del Monte products are developed and tested.

She pointed out the versatili­ty of tomatoes, which can be enjoyed on their own or as a complement to pasta, vegeta­bles, meat or fish. This adapt­ability is recognized worldwide and tomatoes now appear in every ethnic cuisine, including Mediterranean, Mideastern and Asian. Tomatoes are good for you and economical, too; high in vitamin C, they can be used to extend a main dish protein source such as meat.

Processed tomatoes are allowed to ripen on the vine, making them more flavorful than most fresh tomatoes and, of course, they are available year round. While fresh toma­toes must be peeled, cut and cooked, canned tomatoes arc recipe-ready. In using process­ed tomatoes, consumers arc assured of consistent quality and of getting the same results time after time.

In developing these recipes. Donna and her staff have kept in mind the lifestyle of today’s consumer; the emphasis is on short preparation time, and good food choices. You are sure to enjoy them.

Louisiana Chicken (4 servings)

  • 4 half chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) Del Monte Cajun Style Stewed Tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 slices Monterey Jack cheese
  • Parsley
  • Place chicken in baking dish. Cover and bake at 375° for 30 to 35 minutes; drain.
  • Combine tomatoes and cornstarch; stir to dissolve cornstarch. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove chicken from baking dish.
  • Pour sauce into dish re­serving 1 cup sauce. Ar­range chicken over sauce; top with remaining sauce. Place I slice cheese on each piece of chicken. Bake until cheese melts. Garnish with parsley. Serve with hot cooked rice, if desired.

Microwave Directions:

  • Place chicken in microwavable dish. Cover and cook on high 8 to 10 minutes; drain.
  • Combine tomatoes and cornstarch in microwavable bowl; stir to dissolve cornstarch.
  • Cover and cook on high 10 minutes; stirring half­way through. Proceed as above. Cook cheese-top­ped chicken on high 2 minutes.

Ratatouille is an excellent accompaniment to roasted meats and can also be used as a topping for pasta. Unlike the traditional French method which requires liberal amounts of olive oil and slow cooking, this modern day adaptation is relatively low in fat and it can he made in minutes in a microwave oven. This quick cooking method allows the vegetables to retain their dis­tinct color and flavor.

Italian Ratatouille (6 servings)

  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 onion,  chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Del Monte Italian Style Stewed Tomatoes

Microwave Directions:

  • Cut eggplant in sixteenths lengthwise. Cut into 1/2-inch wedges.
  • In 3-quart microwavable dish, combine eggplant, onion, green pepper, gar­lic, water and oil. Cover and cook on high 8 to 10 minutes; rotate dish half­way through. Drain.
  • Stir in tomatoes. Cover and cook on high 8 min­utes. Make ahead and refrigerate, if desired. Serve hot or cold.

Southwestern Simmered Beef (6-8 servings)

  • 3 pounds bottom round, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Del Monte Mexican Style Stewed Tomatoes
  • 1 can (7 ounces) Ortega diced green chilis
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Cut meat into 2-inch pieces. In heavy 4-quart pot, brown meat in oil.
  • Add onion and garlic; cook until soft. Sprinkle with flour, cook 2 min­utes. Add remaining in­gredients.
  • Cover and simmer 1 to 1/2 hours or until meat is tender. Stir occasionally and add additional water if needed. To serve, gar­nish with dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Chunky Italian Salsa (Makes 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Del Monte Original Style Stewed Tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt
  • Drain tomatoes, reserving juice. Dice tomatoes.
  • In bowl, mix tomatoes, oil, parsley, garlic, vinegar, basil and pepper with reserved juice. Season with salt to taste. Serve at room temperature over hot cooked pasta, fish, chicken, grilled meats, or cooked vegetables. Use as pizza topping or toss into pasta salad. Can be served immediately or stored in refrigerator up to 5 days.

Spicy Cajun Game Hens (4 servings)

  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) Del Monte Cajun Style Stewed Tomatoes
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, cut in strips
  • 1 green pepper, cut in strips
  • 1/2 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (20 ounces each) Cornish game hens, thawed, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Combine tomatoes, vegetables, garlic and thyme; place in 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  • Mix ground peppers and salt; rub over hens. Place hens skin side up on vegetables. Cover and bake 45 minutes, basting occasionally. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes longer. Remove hens; keep warm.
  • Place vegetables and juices in saucepan. Dissolve cornstarch in water; stir into vegetables. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Serve hens on top of sauce.