Recipe: Santorini-style tomato croquettes

Make the most of bounteous tomatoes before root veg appear, says Frances Bissell.

A re-reading of Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Tomatoes makes me want to fill my kitchen with this exuberant scarlet fruit, bursting with sweet, fresh juice, and marry it with basil, with mint, with onions, with bread, with ‘the filial essence of the olive tree’ in impromptu salads and sandwiches. Fortunately the stalls in the farmer’s markets are still piled high with ripe tomatoes of every size and stripe, yellow, green, red, pink- so we need to make the most of this bounty before the duller months of root vegetables.

Shopping in farmers’ markets used to require a very different kind of shopping list; no lemons or avocadoes for example, but who would have thought a few years ago that this is where we would be buying our jalapenos and rocotillas, to go with the coriander and tomatoes to make delicious ceviches with Channel or West Country fish? This year for the first time I have bought English apricots and seen black Hamburg grapes in the market.

With the tomatoes, I also buy lightly striped aubergines, tomatillos if they have them, and small courgettes from Wild Organic, Adrian Izzard’s stall in both the Swiss Cottage and Parliament Hill Farmer’s Markets. I dice the aubergines, lightly salt them, rinse after a couple of hours and then squeeze dry. Sautéed in plenty of extra virgin olive oil with some sliced salad onions, the sliced courgettes and kernels cut from a couple of cobs of sweetcorn, I also add some chopped tomatoes with the tomatillos and simmer together for half an hour or so. This is delicious on its own, or you can crumble in some feta, or bake some eggs in the mixture. Sometimes I add stock and Sicilian cuscus or Sardinian fregola to make a summery, yet satisfying menestra.

One of my favourite cooked tomato recipes is for croquettes. This recipe from the Greek islands uses nothing more than the sweetest, juiciest tomatoes, some fresh mint and flour. At home I cook them in a frying pan in a little olive oil; in restaurants they are deep-fried, so there is naturally a different taste and texture. I highly recommend them, either as a first course, or in miniature as snacks to accompany an aperitif.

Santorini-style tomato croquettes

The method is more useful than a specific recipe, because one never knows how much juice the tomatoes are going to yield; I prefer to use the beef-heart/marmande type tomato rather than the plum tomato. Put a sieve over a bowl. Halve the tomatoes and scoop the seeds into the sieve. Rub the liquid into the bowl and discard the seeds. Chop the tomatoes quite small and add them to the bowl. Season lightly and then gradually add flour. You want to add enough to bind the tomatoes, but the mixture should remain fairly wet. Add finely chopped mint.

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Heat olive oil in a frying pan, enough to generously cover the base. Take up a spoonful of the tomato mixture and place it in the hot oil. You can probably fit three in a pan.

Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, ensuring that the oil is not too hot, as you want to cook the fritters, not burn them. Turn the fritters over with a spatula, and gently press to flatten them slightly. The second side will cook more quickly. Once done, remove them and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately. As with all fritters, once they begin to cool, they harden.

Fried bread and tomato salad is another very easy dish, a version of the Tuscan panzanella. Take day-old sourdough, remove the crust, slice it thickly and then cut into cubes. Prepare tomatoes as you usually do for a salad, either slicing or quartering, peeled or unpeeled. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add a dash of your favourite vinegar and a splash of olive oil, as well as plenty of shredded basil or mint. Fry the cubes of bread in olive oil, drain on paper towels and add to the tomato salad.