Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Tomatoes for Two

 Sujata Massey

It’s entirely possible to buy tomatoes in many parts of the world without being able to speak the language. In Spanish and German, it’s called a tomate. In Hindi, they say tamaatar, and in Gujarati, tamota. In Turkish, domades. 


There seems to be one theme emerging, but there’s a second linguistic direction followed by those who speak romance languages. The French named the tomato pomme d’amour (love apple). The aphrodisiac philosphy carries over to the name pomidor in Russian and pomodoro in Italian.


I was born in England so I used to say toe-mah-toe, but now that I’m in the US it’s toe-may-toe. Doesn’t sound as romantic, but I do believe tomatoes are the binder of happy meals and marriages. 


Last Sunday, my husband Tony and I agreed it would be a good idea to buy 30 pounds of Roma tomatoes at the farmers market in order to stock up for the fall and winter. 

I actually only needed about five pounds of tomatoes to make a highly spiced Indian tomato chutney.

On the other hand, Tony needed a huge amount. He wanted to make a few gallons of a pureed tomato, garlic and onion sauce that could be a base for many dishes. He’s been making this sauce for us for years and ensures a good store for most of the year by carefully pouring 2-cup quantities and freezing them. But now that he’s got his own vacuum-sealing equipment, he could do it in air-tight blocks to be stored in our large standing freezer (another recent husband purchase). 


I don’t know if you are getting the dynamic of our 31-year-marriage yet, but it involves what you might call differences of opinion.


Two people, two tomato-buying expeditions ensued. On a Friday, I bought 5 pounds of Roma tomatoes from a roadside farm stand. On Sunday, when we went to the Baltimore Farmers Market, where I found the only farmer selling bushels and larger of tomatoes, including Romas, which everyone knows are the preferred sauce-making tomato due to their lower level of water content. I paid for the beauties, and Tony lugged a 25-lb cardboard box packed with Romas to our car. When he got home, he located the cotton gloves he’d wear under vinyl gloves to protect his hands from slipper tomato juice, and he located the vacuum sealing machine and roll of heavy-duty freezer plastic. The knives came out, and operation tomato sauce was underway.


At the start of marriage in our twenties, I’d have been at Tony’s side helping him blanch a few hundred Roma tomatoes in lightly simmering water, and then deseed, as well as the eyewatering task of chopping onions. But Tony’s cooking style is longer and more perfectionist than mine, so I’ve leave him to cook some dishes undisturbed.


When his sauce was on its first simmer (yes, it gets cooked twice!) and all his rigamarole was in the dishwasher, I returned to the kitchen to start prepping. My recipe was a lot simpler, and I had many fewer tomatoes to chop. Still, I had to do some math to calculate the right amount of vinegar and sugar and garlic and ginger to use. Just slivering the fresh ginger and garlic took me an hour and a half. 


I am always looking for shortcuts, so I decided to try simmering my chutney in a slow cooker. After a night’s cooking on low, I was disappointed that the temperature was just a bit too low for the chutney to thicken. So, I poured the warm mixture of tomatoes, spices and vinegar into a ceramic-coated Dutch oven, and after I brought it to ha happy boil, I lowered the temperature to simmer and partially covered the pot.  About four hours later, the red chunks swimming in vinegar had reduced by half into a rich reddish brown, sticky concoction. I added just a tiny bit more sugar and salt to taste, and the chutney was ready to cool in the fridge.


At the end of our tomato weekend, the kitchen smelled of vinegar and garlic, and we were happily exhausted. Both tomato recipes are listed on my website. Tony’s sauce is European, and my chutney is Indian, but we are united as a couple who will share these savory tastes over the upcoming six months. 


Here’s what one can do with a simple tomato-onion-garlic sauce:

Add Italian herbs and make a marinara sauce

Add ground meat and make it a ragu

Add cumin and chilies and other ingredients to make a Middle Eastern, Mexican or Indian gravy to blanket a baked dish or curry

Add milk or cream to make cream of tomato soup



Here are some ways to use a tomato chutney:

Serve it as an accompaniment to a classic Indian meal

Add it to a cheese, vegetable or chicken sandwich

Serve it with grilled meat or fish

Peel hardboiled eggs, split them, and put a dash of chutney down the middle


Bon Appetit!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sujata, thank you so much for offering these recipes and for this great peek into one of your marriage rituals, which was very heartening to read. We will miss you sorely at Bouchercon.


  3. Thank you, Wendall! I guess it is a changing marital ritual--to get the same ingredient and take it different ways. I will miss you too, but hopefully next least one convention meetup

  4. Oh Sujata, how I wish I could still eat tomatoes. But they are just another food that life has made me cross off my list. Thanks to allergies.

    Tomatoes are a nightshade, so their leaves look exactly like a plant which grows in the British Isles. When English people went to Italy, they thought that that red fruit was growing on a plant they called deadly nightshade, because it was, in fact, poisonous. It amazed the British tourists that the Italians ate that fruit. They concluded that Italians were taking their lives in their hands, because the fruit had an aphrodisiac quality, which explained the amorous nature of the Italians. A people who would take their lives in their hands for the sake of lovemaking. This is how the tomato got its reputation for being an aphrodisiac! The love apple!!! From AA.