Three recipes with tomatoes
- Credit: Frances Bissell
Gazpacho, roasted vine tomatoes, cherry tomato clafoutis, heirloom tomato salad with real burrata, Greek salad with chunks of tomato, feta, cucumber and kalamata olives, zingy and bright Sicilian caponata - there's a tomato dish for every day of the week. And who wouldn't want to eat tomatoes every day at this time of year?
The English have always been partial to tomatoes, ‘early adopters’, one might say, when considering John Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1596. Newly introduced to England, and called apples of love, he writes that "they grow in Spain, Italie and such hot countries from whence myself have received seeds for my garden, where they do increase and prosper." And so they did ever since, in domestic gardens and greenhouses.
Tomatoes are so much a part of the Mediterranean diet that it is easy to imagine them being indigenous to 'Spain, Italie' etc. However, they did not reach these parts until about 1560, through the Columbian Exchange, with some debate as to whether Naples or Seville was their first landfall.
One scarcely remembers how awful commercially-grown tomatoes used to be; large, pale, watery interiors, thin, sharp flavour and none of that glorious pungent scent. Now tomatoes come in a rainbow of colours and varieties, with real scent and flavour and for the last few years, none have been better than English tomatoes in high summer.
At this time of year, I use them at most meals, including bread and tomato variations, a perfect combination, from a simple tomato sandwich on white bread, to the classic Tuscan panzanella, not to mention tomato pudding – made like a summer pudding - and pan con tomate. My kitchen is rarely without a pot of sweet ripe tomatoes blended with extra virgin olive oil, salt and garlic, which I spoon over lightly toasted sourdough for breakfast.
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Even some summer days welcome a hot dish, so for a delicious supper, I offer a richly flavoured vegetable stew, which combines sweet corn, with tomatoes and aubergine - it's just as good the next day, eaten cold, but not chilled, with hot pita bread or grilled garlic bread.
As a change from the usual fruit version, I make individual clafoutis which are best served warm, and are a perfect summer first course, when you want something more substantial than a salad. But to begin with, a classic tomato soup.
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The perfect tomato soup (Serves 4)
The secret here is to temper the high acidity and sugar of ripe tomatoes with celery, onion and carrot. Soup made only of tomatoes is rather metallic and one-dimensional. This soup freezes well, so worth making a batch.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
several peeled garlic cloves - optional
1 kilo ripe, sweet tomatoes
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
milk or cream - see recipe
fresh mint or basil
Peel and dice the vegetables (not the tomatoes) and fry gently in a tablespoon of olive oil until the onion is translucent and golden, and the rest of the vegetables soft. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water if necessary to stop them burning, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopped, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not add the tomatoes before the vegetables are soft, as the acidity prevents the other vegetables cooking thoroughly. Season lightly. Add about 200 ml milk or cream and blend the soup until smooth. Sieve and return to the saucepan. Reheat and adjust seasoning before serving, scattering with chopped herbs.
Cherry tomato clafoutis (Makes 4)
50 g butter
400 g cherry tomatoes
100 g plain flour
200 ml milk
3 organic eggs
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Use half the butter to grease a quiche dish or individual dishes, and arrange the tomatoes on the bottom. Dot the top with the rest of the butter. Put the dish(es) on a baking sheet. Make a batter with the remaining ingredients, and pour over the tomatoes. Put straight into the middle of a preheated oven at 200 C, gas mark 6 and bake for about 25 minutes if using shallow individual dishes, 35 to 40 minutes for a single deeper quiche dish.
Aubergine, okra, corn and tomato Stew (Serves 6-8)
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large aubergines, or several smaller ones, trimmed and diced, not too small
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed - more or less, to taste
200 g okra - the smallest freshest pods you can find.
1 kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
Sprigs of thyme
200 g sweet corn kernels
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, or coriander
Fry the onion gently in half the olive oil, using a flameproof casserole or heavy saucepan. Add the aubergines, and fry all over, then add the garlic, okra, tomatoes and thyme. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat, and continue to cook, partly covered, until the vegetables are almost tender. Add the corn and cook for a further 3 minutes. Check the seasoning, scatter on the chopped parsley or coriander and serve.
©Frances Bissell 2021. All rights reserved