Depending on where you live, about this time of year summer creates an abundance of immense, vine-bending tomatoes known as Jersey Beefsteaks. Happily, the season for these beauties, often weighing a pound or more, lasts through September and sometimes even into October.

Named as much for their uniquely meaty interior as for their sometimes staggering size, beefsteak tomatoes are now available almost everywhere, not just in the northeastern states, in supermarkets and at local farm stands, as well as from home gardens. They are even available year-round although, as with all tomatoes, nothing beats them in season and locally grown.

I find that the best way to distinguish beefsteaks from other tomatoes is by weight. Whether a mere 12 ounces or a gigantic two-pounder, a beefsteak feels hefty relative to its size compared with other tomatoes. This is mainly because the beefsteak's unique interior of firm yet succulent flesh punctuated by small paisley-shaped pockets of seeds.

At the beginning of the season, these big beauties are perfect for thick and juicy slices to slip on top of a hamburger, or inside other sandwiches. They are also perfect on their own, as the simplest kind of salad, with just a sprinkle of salt to heighten their flavor.

For a little more embellishment, a bit of chopped fresh basil leaves and a light drizzle of olive oil will add a little elegance as well as flavor.

They can also be used in cooking. Their meaty flesh, along with their full flavor, make beefsteaks ideal to use in certain cooked dishes.

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Here is one that is hearty enough to make a filling entre, yet light in taste and refreshingly appropriate for a steamy summer day.

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Tomato Basil Strata

Makes 9 servings.

Ingredients

  • 7-8 slices firm whole-wheat bread
  • 2 large beefsteak tomatoes, each cut in 8 thin slices
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 4 tsp. brown mustard, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups reduced-fat (2 percent) milk

Directions

  1. Coat a 10-inch pie plate or 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Cover the bottom with bread, using 3 to 4 slices. Cover with half the tomato slices, overlapping them.
  2. In a blender or food processor, blend together until smooth the cottage cheese, egg whites, onion powder, cayenne and half of the mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn mixture into a bowl. Mix in the basil, parsley and half the mozzarella. Spread the mixture on the tomato slices, to cover. Use the remaining bread to cover the tomatoes. Arrange the remaining tomato slices on top to cover the bread. Sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, then beat in until well blended the milk, remaining mustard, measured salt and pepper. Gradually, a little at a time, pour the mixture over the assembled strata. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
  4. Set a baking sheet on a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Bake the strata, uncovered, on the baking sheet until the top is puffed and lightly browned, about 55 minutes. Remove from oven and set on a rack 20 minutes. Cut into wedges or squares and serve.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
157 calories,
5 g. total fat,
2 g. saturated fat,
16 g. carbohydrate,
12 g. protein,
2 g. dietary fiber,
488 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges:1 Bread/Starch, 2-1/2 Low-Fat Meat


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