Wednesday, April 23, 2008

OK, I Lost the Diet Competition

But the not-quite-miracle Grape Tomato Diet will go on and on and on
by Scott Mowbray

I’ve probably eaten about 25,000 grape tomatoes in the past three-plus months, part of my now-failed campaign to beat Sean Kelley in the weight-loss smackdown. Yes, I concede: Kelley lost 20 while I lost something between 11 and 12 (you have to shave it finely when you've lost), and that's that.

But it's turned me into an unpaid shill for the grape tomato.

What's interesting about the grape tomato is that it defies the "local and seasonal is better" argument about fresh produce. The clothy, pink supermarket impostor has justifiably been the whipping boy of the green-market movement, because bad tomatoes are further removed from the tomato ideal than SPAM is from crown roast of pork. But the little grape tomatoes are often better in the dead of winter than the Jersey beefsteak or cherry varieties I get at the green market at the peak of summer, and I’ve had some gnarly "heirloom" misfires that deserved to be history. Nothing compares to the best garden fruit, but the grape varieties are notable for consistency, and they're year-round contenders. The only real criticism is that they can sometimes be too sweet.

The U.S. grape tomato is a child of the global foodways. Probably Asian in origin, it was launched here in the late '90s from seeds imported from a Taiwanese company called Known-You. The newcomer quickly upset tomato carts across the country and led to court actions over who could call it what and who could sell it how. Procacci Brothers in Philadelphia won the right to market the Santa seed variety, though there are lots of imitators. Procacci claims to produce the "authentic" grape tomato and has named its Santa mascots Matt, Otto, and Tom. There is grape tomato blog, and apparently there is a baby in Winston-Salem who was named Otto, after one of the Procacci mascots, in late 2007.

So people have gotten rich, and a baby has been given an unfortunate first name. Meanwhile, I've moved way past eating grape tomatoes raw in butter-lettuce salads. Lately I've been using a razor-sharp Shun Pro six-and-a-half-inch Nakiri Knife to slice the little buggers into thin, dime-size disks that sauté in seconds in olive oil and garlic to yield a vibrant, two-minute pasta sauce. I also shower slices on pizza dough with fresh mozza and basil. Half-grapes in a salad of Israeli feta, English cucumber, Vidalia onion, lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper is mighty good, the tomato-sweet doing a contrapuntal thing with the lemon-sour.

Procacci has moved onto another obsession: the UglyRipe tomato—a Florida-grown, creased fruit that it claims delivers real heirloom quality even in the off-season. I owe Sean Kelley something for kicking my ass. Maybe I'll send him a box of Uglies.

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