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Crush and simmer tomatoes to lock in nutrients
Smashed tomatoes makes for a quick sauce to serve with any style of noodle. - photo by BILL HOGAN

In the food world, tomatoes don’t get as much appreciation as they probably should.

Some folks can’t seem to decide if they’re a vegetable or fruit, while others ignore them altogether unless they come in the form of ketchup.

They are begrudgingly added to sandwiches, half-heartedly sprinkled across salads and all but hidden beneath layers of meat and cheese on pizzas.

Long story short, they get no respect. But they should.

They’re full of Vitamins A and C and the antioxidant lycopene.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Vitamin C aids body tissue growth and repair, helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. The department also reports that a lycopene can reduce the risks of certain types of cancer and lower cholesterol levels. Lycopene can also help patients in their fight to get high blood pressure under control.

Vitamin A helps keep eyes and skin healthy protects against infections, say officials with the CDC.

When selecting a tomato, you want to choose one that is plump with smooth skin, unblemished skin. To make sure you have selected a ripe tomato, choose one that is completely red, or reddish-orange — depending on the variety.

Pair a carton of tomatoes with a little pasta and seasonings and you’ve got a meal. A quick one, at that. This is the kind of "spaghetti" recipe that lends itself to all sorts of variations, depending on what you have in your cupboard. Don’t have butterfly, also known as farfalle, pasta? Use what you have.

Want something heartier? Add a cup or two of cooked chicken or shrimp or tuna. The herbs can be anything you like; try basil and parsley together, or thyme by itself. Need some tang? Add a tablespoon or two of capers. Maybe we should call it "however you like it" pasta. Dried herbs can be substituted for fresh; however you should use only a third as much due to their stronger flavor. If you have more time, continue cooking the sauce for a thicker texture and more mellow flavor.

Unlike with other fruits and vegetables, cooking tomatoes doesn’t decrease their overall nutritional value. Cooking and crushing tomatoes helps their lycopene content absorb into your bloodstream quicker.

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services contributed to this article.