Paradis Talks Tomatoes

Monday, April 12, 2010
Associated Press/ABC News Online

Learning to Live Without Tomatoes and Peppers

Michele Kayal For The Associated Press

Price of peppers and tomatoes got you down? Suggestions for living without

The high price of tomatoes and peppers has Mark Paradis teaching his culinary students a new lesson — substitutions.

"I haven't even contemplated buying one," Paradis, purchasing coordinator for Southern New Hampshire University's culinary school, said of vine-ripened tomatoes. His supplier's price for the produce recently doubled to $50 for a 25-pound case.

He also is trying to wean his chefs off fresh bell peppers, switching to canned and roasted ones instead.

"You're not going to see a fresh pepper as a garnish," he says. "If you're doing a salsa, you're going to have to do a roasted one, which means you're not going to have that crunch."

A cold snap wiped out much of Florida's tomato crop at the beginning of the year, causing wholesale prices nationwide to spike. Meanwhile, prices on peppers have more than doubled, sometimes to as much as $3 per pepper, according to federal data.

For people like Paradis, it has meant reducing his tomato order from four cases a week to one, and switching varieties. These days, he's buying plum tomatoes, an oval-shaped variety with a hardier skin and longer shelf life.

But how about at home, where fresh pasta sauce suddenly feels like an extravagance?

Supermarket tomatoes can now cost as much as $2.99 a pound, a 26 percent increase over last year. Red peppers can run as much as $3.49 per pound.

To satisfy your craving for salsa or for crunch and color in your salads, chefs and cooking pros offer one word substitution.

Last summer, when tomato blight hit the East Coast, sustainability advocate and cookbook author Terry Walters made her salsa from tomatillos, a tomato-like husked fruit related to the gooseberry and frequently used in Mexican cuisine.

"Tomatillos are a great substitute," she says. "They're firm on the outside, they're a little crispy. They're great with the same flavors — olive oil, cilantro, fresh basil."

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