Hey you lucky people in the northern hemisphere… it’s tomato time! While we are squelching around in our gumboots (it’s rained nearly every day for a month in Auckland!) you are coming into the best part of summer when tomatoes have had enough sun to really taste of something – they’ll be sweet, juicy and fruity. I’m a tomato addict – I once wrote a book about them Take A Vine-ripened Tomato– and one of my favorite lunch-time snacks is a simple plate of sliced
vine tomatoes on crunchy bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, a little sea salt and pepper. Lemon seems to bring out the fruity freshness of a ripe tomato – they have an affinity – and make the tomato seem sweeter. Yum! Tomatoes are easy to grow, but if you don’t have a garden you can still grow cherry tomatoes in a terracotta pot in a sunny spot – just remember to water them daily in hot weather.
An absolutely gorgeous recipe for little tomato tarts using cherry tomatoes comes from my book Take A Vine-ripened Tomato. The Tomato Tarts are made with puff pastry rounds spread with pesto, then halved cherry tomatoes. They’re baked on a high temperature until the pastry is golden and flaky and the tomatoes slightly singed. They’re dead easy to make and are simply delicious to eat.
If you have a stack of tomatoes you might like to oven-bake them. I prefer semi-dried (oven-baked) tomatoes to sun-dried tomatoes, which I find too jammy and too tough. Semi-dried tomatoes still have a lot of moisture in them and are juicy and sweet. Of course they won’t keep as long as sun-dried tomatoes, but that’s just the excuse you need to gobble them up in salads (try them with avocado and smoked fish), pasta dishes (mix them with oil, garlic, chilli, pitted olives and rocket /arugula) and sandwiches (put them in a BLT for a juicy surprise).
Top tomato tips
When picking tomatoes, keep the calyx on each one because it helps them to keep.
The only edible part of the tomato plant is the fruit (the tomato); wash your hands well after a stint in the garden staking tomatoes.
If buying tomatoes, remove them from any plastic packaging and store them in a shallow bowl.
Keep tomatoes at room temperature, not in the fridge; chilling them ruins their texture and taste.
Salt draws the juice out of tomatoes, making them watery, and this can dilute dressings, so salt them just before serving. If making a mixed salad with tomatoes, add tomatoes to the salad at the last moment.
If using fresh tomatoes in a soup, sauce or casserole sort of thing, skin them first, because the skins separate from the flesh during cooking and will float to the top.
Lemon has an affinity with tomatoes and makes them taste fruitier and sweeter than vinegar. Extra virgin olive oil with a few squirts of lemon juice and a little sea salt makes one of the simplest but most delicious tomato salads. Or try lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil for a more intense flavour.
Apple glaze or apple syrup are both equally delicious sprinkled over sliced tomatoes – giving them a fruity tang and making them taste even more tomatoey!
Tomatoes contain loads of vitamin C, as well as other vitamins, and lycopene, an antioxidant phytochemical, which is effective in preventing cancers and heart disease. Canned and cooked tomato products contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, so include them in your diet on a regular basis along with fresh tomatoes.
Everyone has their own method, and here’s mine. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Have a bowl of chilled water ready to receive the scalded tomatoes. Lower tomatoes carefully into the pan of gently boiling water and count to 10 for ripe tomatoes and up to 20 for firmer tomatoes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of chilled water. Try peeling them. If they peel easily, carry on scalding any extra tomatoes, but if they’re difficult, put them back in the pan for 10 seconds more. I find this method absolutely reliable because you can adjust it to the ripeness of the tomatoes.