With their beautiful red colour and heart shape it’s no wonder that the tomato is known as the love apple, and the fruit of love. It is also an essential ingredient in cuisine from all over the world and some of the best and most delicious dishes would be absent from our culinary lives without it. Celebrate the beautiful tomato in lots of ways – some old, some new. Here goes with some of my top favourites.
THE ULTIMATE ROAST TOMATO SOUP
Nothing beats roasting for delivering rich flavor! Take I kg of ripe Roma tomatoes and cut in quarters, then place in a deep oven-proof dish. Add two red onions, peeled and roughly sliced; 3 cloves of garlic; a knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced. If you like a little zing to your soup, add a de-pipped red chilli. Add two fresh bay leaves; a handful of curry leaves stripped from the twig; and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Now pour some olive oil over the veg and mix with your hands. Place in a hot oven, without covering. After 30 minutes, add a can of chopped Roma tomatoes and turn the veggies. The tomatoes will have yielded their juices and so the last part of the roasting is a kind of casserole process – all told, 45 minutes should do it. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little. Remove bay leaves. Place in your blender and process until quite smooth. Now push the blended liquid through a fine sieve - this will catch the skins, pips, ginger fibres etc. The idea is a beautiful, richly coloured, super smooth soup that can be served hot or cold. Salt to taste and swirl in fresh cream, or coconut cream if you are vegan. Croutons are fabulous, or fresh, crispy rolls served on the side. You can also sprinkle a little fresh coriander on top.
This dish is a favourite starter – and it’s so simple! Use the baby Roma, choosing ones that are fresh and firm (if you check the stem point, the darker this point is, the older they are). Use a shallow circular oven-proof dish and brush the base with a thin layer of olive oil. Cut the tomatoes in half and lay them cut face up in a concentric circle. Salt thoroughly with Himalayan salt, then crushed black pepper. Sprinkle dried Italian herb mix on the tomatoes and a touch of cayenne pepper, if liked then sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar. Mix fresh, chopped parsley with finely chopped fresh garlic – this makes it easier to spread the garlic evenly. If you have a squeezy bottle pour in half olive oil and half sunflower oil, then drizzle evenly over the tomatoes. Now it’s ready for the hot grill - leave under grill till the centres are well-cooked, the skins wrinkled and some of the tomatoes are slightly black and sticky. This dish is best served with fresh ciabatta bread and slices of grilled haloumi cheese. Any left overs can be put in a jar and added to salads, pastas and grain salads. Very yum!!
Choose evenly sized, well-ripened round tomatoes; cut off the tops and reserve. Scoop out the flesh and push through a sieve to discard pips. Lightly oil a shallow oven-proof dish and place the tomatoes side by side. Salt lightly and drizzle a little oil into each empty case. For the stuffing, fry a finely chopped red onion with garlic and a bunch of fresh parsley, also finely chopped. Add the tomato juice and when reduced to a rich mix add a cooked grain of choice – quinoa, cous cous, rice, millet or buck wheat. Add some roughly chopped walnuts and stir around until the mixture is well-integrated - not too moist and not too dry. Season very well. Fill each tomato case, sprinkle sesame seeds on top and then pop the lids back on. Place in a hot oven 200 o C until cooked. Fabulous served with fresh green salad and fresh bread as a starter or a main.
The secret is in the ingredients and the dressing, and preparing just before serving – there’s no other way. Use an excellent quality mozzarella cheese and cut into rounds. Cut well-ripened round tomatoes and loosen the seedy middles away from the flesh and discard. On a beautiful platter, alternate the cheese with the tomato rounds; add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle basil sprigs - nip off the heavier stalks and any flower heads. Drizzle with a sweetened basalmic vinegar crema and a good quality olive oil that is not too bitter.