I can eat tomatoes like sweets. Popping the little cherry tomatoes, pop pop pop, into my mouth. I love to sprinkle them with salt. I like them fried. I like them grilled. I like them rubbed on toast, bruschetta stylee or pan con tomate if we are talkin’ Spanish. I like them fresh. I like them canned. I also like tomato juice, especially in Bloody Marys. I like them on pizzas. In stews and curries. I’ve even had them with cream and sugar, people swore they were strawberries. But most of all I use tomatoes for pasta. Most people use canned tomatoes for a pasta sauce. I would encourage people to use fresh tomatoes too. Diced, keeping all the juices, frying them in olive oil, with plenty of garlic and some fresh bay leaves, you can’t go wrong. It’s a quicker pasta sauce than canned.
One of the sweetest juiciest places to get tomatoes in the UK is The Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight. I went to visit them last week. I was impressed by the greenhouses which use advanced and sustainable techniques for growing. Several varieties of tomato were laid out for me to taste, from Piccolo cherry tomatoes, to baby plums on the vine, then bubu beef tomatoes that you could cut a slice out of, like a cake, they ranged from yellow and pink, to tiger striped and pillar box red.
When it’s sunny, the sales of tomatoes go way up. This year has been tough for all gardeners, blight has been a problem with all this rain. It has affected commercial growers too.
I remember when on the vine tomatoes came out. I couldn’t believe how they managed to stay on the vine all the way to the shop. I learnt that certain varieties are used, where the branch is strong and the tomatoes do not drop off. Now on the vine is common place. Many chefs are using the vines in their cooking too. That gorgeous smell, a kind of green hairy odour, that comes from the vine not the tomato.
By the way, you must never put a tomato in the fridge. Kept in a bowl in your kitchen, they continue to ripen and retain their flavour..
Tomatoes are a new world food, originating in Peru. Technically they are a fruit, a large berry, but are acidic rather than sweet like most fruit.
The Tomato Stall also make this fabulous ingredient, one of my favourites: oak roasted semi dried tomatoes. Seriously I love this. They make great aperitif snacks, but can be added to salads too.
Yesterday I made a quick pizza using Isle of Wight tomatoes and the oak roasted tomatoes.
500g of strong flour
50ml olive oil
10g of sea salt
10g of quick yeast
320ml of warm water
1 tablespoon of honey
2 balls of mozzarella.
1 or 2 vines of tomatoes, halved
a dozen oak roasted tomatoes
Measure out the flour, semolina, olive and salt (put on one side) into a mixing bowl.
In a jug put the yeast, water (not too hot, don’t kill the yeast) and honey. I leave it to rest on the Aga. When it froths I add it to the mixing bowl, taking care not keep the yeast away from the salt. Salt slows down the rising action in the yeast.
Knead or mix until you have a stretchy dough.
Leave covered for an hour then lay on an oiled baking tray.
Scatter torn mozzarella, halved tomatoes and oak roasted tomatoes with plenty of sea salt. Use the flavoured oil from the oak roasted tomatoes too.
Leave to rise again.
Bake in a hot oven (375 degrees) for 15 minutes.
I should have had a picture of the above pizza when cooked. But we ate it too quickly.