The tomato comes into its own at this time of year. While few joys in life are better than biting into a perfect sun-warmed tomato fresh from the vine, all too often, the taste is disappointing compared to the smell.
However, even the most insipid shop-bought tomato can be turned into a comforting explosion of flavour when cooked low and slow with fresh herbs and a sprinkling of salt. With a glut of home grown sweet tomatoes, this basic dish becomes a whole new level of delicious. And at this time of year, this sort of healthy comfort food is just what I crave.
Add oozing mozarella, crumbly, creamy feta or a generous sprinking of parmesan and you have a simple yet warming sauce to accompany pasta, cous cous or home-baked bread. Add peppers, onions and aubergine and you have a one-pot ratatouille. Add fresh chilli and coriander for a spicy sauce that’s great for Juevos Rancheros. And simple roast tomatoes can be a great accompaniment for everything from a fry up to grilled halloumi.
I leave the tomato skins on as it’s healthier. However, if you want to peel tomatoes easily, slit the skin all the way round then plunge them into boiling water and leave for a few seconds. The skins will slide off easily.
You can also remove the seeds to dry and plant next year (and make your tomato sauce less watery). Don’t do this with shop bought tomatoes though, as the seeds may not be suitable for planting.
Alternatively, if you’re really tired or feeling lazy, put the tomatoes into a tray whole. Add a few whole heads of garlic, a spray or two of rosemary, thyme, bay or the whole lot, sprinkle with salt and put in the oven at a low to medium temperature (130-160c, depending what else you want to cook at the same time:my gran taught me never to leave an oven shelf empty if you had the oven on.)
I tend to chop the tomatoes in half to make them break down more easily, for instant sauces. I also add balsamic, a little chilli and, if the tomatoes are insipid, some sugar as well as salt (using a light hand).
If you like spicy food, roast some chillis whole in the dish at the same time and chop them through to taste.
Fresh herbs are the essential finishing touch: finely chopped rosemary or chives are my favourites, but with feta, I like mint; and with chilli, fresh coriander, plus dried cumin and paprika to add depth. For a pasta sauce, I throw in a slug of wine to simmer down, along with parmesan rind for extra flavour (remove before serving).
I cook by look and smell rather than timings, as produce varies so much, particularly home-grown. However, generally, I find the longer tomatoes are cooked for, the better, as long as it’s on a low heat.
I have clearly long harboured a love of tomatoes (and gardening) as this story I wrote as a child and found recently shows.
And this year, a replica of Tim Tomato decided to grow.
No matter how tasty I find tomatoes, I’m not sure I will be able to bring myself to eat him.