Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? It’s an age-old question.
Scientists deem tomatoes a fruit because of how they grow (with enclosed seeds), while many cooks categorize them as vegetables because of how they are used (in savory instead of sweet dishes). Tomato variety names skew us to the fruit side: grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes.
But in 1883, the United States Supreme Court took a stand and declared that tomatoes are—drum roll, please—vegetables! Of course, this decision was likely influenced by the fact that, at the time, vegetables were subject to a 10 percent tariff while fruits entered the country tax-free.
When shopping for tomatoes in your local vegetable aisle, look for those without discolorations or bruises. With delicate tomatoes, small blemishes can mean big damage on the inside. Next, give your tomatoes a sniff—the more fragrant they are, the more flavorful they are. Lastly, if you can’t make it to your farmers’ market, opt for tomatoes labeled “vine-ripened,” which means they weren’t picked green then sprayed with an accelerant on their way to your grocer.
The recipe below will further complicate the tomato’s identity crisis. Slow-roasting tomatoes brings out both their tangy and honeyed flavors.
Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad
- Pint of grape or cherry tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 large garlic clove (or two small), minced
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- 8-ounce container of fresh pearl-size mozzarella, drained (or larger fresh mozzarella cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
- 1/2 large ripe avocado, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 8 fresh basil leaves, julienned
- 1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Rinse and dry whole tomatoes, then arrange on a sheet pan in a single layer. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, salt and pepper; toss.
3. Roast tomatoes for 2 1/2 hours until they begin to crisp and caramelize. Allow tomatoes to cool to room temperature.
4. Gently toss the cooled tomatoes with mozzarella and avocado. Sprinkle basil on top, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic glaze*.
5. Serve at room temperature.
*You may substitute balsamic vinegar for the sweeter, thicker glaze if you’re unable to locate it at your grocer (but FYI, Trader Joe’s sells a great one).