TOMATOES are a wonderful ingredient. Often they’re seen as an accompaniment, the base of a sauce or an addition to a dish, but I believe you can make them the centrepiece of a meal – especially in fresh, light summer suppers.
The secret is to get your hands on some high quality, fresh tomatoes and find a recipe that brings out their juicy, natural flavour.
July is a brilliant time to enjoy tomatoes and heritage varieties are worth seeking out if you can. Heritage tomatoes – or heirloom tomatoes as they’re sometimes known – are grown more naturally, as they would have been in the past, hence the name.
They lack the genetic mutation that gives modern tomatoes an appealing red colour while sacrificing the fruit’s sweet taste. They are less uniform than the perfect, flawless varieties you’ll find in supermarkets, but I think that’s what makes them all the more enjoyable and attractive on the plate.
Heritage tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes and the joy is you can create a plate of vibrant reds, yellows, purples and greens and every bite will bring with it a lovely new burst of flavour. Most will taste a lot more beefy and flavoursome.
What I also love about them is the shapes – small, large, round or bumpy – you’ll rarely find two exactly the same, which is the great thing about serving and eating them.
Grown naturally, heritage tomatoes are left to soak up the summer sun, making them seriously sweet, ripe and delicious. You’ll find more than 25 varieties, and part of the fun is trying as many different types as you can, from vibrant red “sweet cherry” tomatoes to sweet, orange “sun gold” tomatoes, the smoky sweetness of “black cherry”, or the distinctive red and yellow stripes of the “tigerella”.
To let the flavours really shine, make a heritage tomato salad, and complement it simply with some fresh herbs and oils or cheeses. Heritage tomatoes also really bring out the flavour of this season’s meats and fish.
Right now at the restaurant we’re serving a wonderful dish on our “celebration of the season menu” – a heritage tomato salad with Newhaven lobster served with olive toast and a tomato consommé. This creates a wonderful plate which tastes like the essence of summer.
Whether you’re planning a barbecue, a summer meal with friends or a simple, light, seasonal supper, I would certainly recommend that you bring heritage tomatoes to the forefront of your dish rather than simply letting them sit on the sidelines.
Heritage tomato, mozzarella salad with homemade pesto Serves four
For the pesto:
• 50g fresh basil
• 1 clove of garlic – crushed
• 5 tbsp quality extra virgin olive oil
• 25g quality Pecorino cheese – finely grated
For the salad:
• 8 heritage tomatoes – sliced
• 50g fresh basil leaves
• 250g mozzarella – roughly chopped
• salt and pepper for seasoning
For the pesto, using a pestle and mortar or a blender combine the basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil to create a paste. Stir in the finely grated cheese.For the salad, divide the tomatoes equally among four plates and place the mozzarella on top. Lightly drizzle with the pesto and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the fresh basil leaves and serve.
Summer tomato salad served with tomato consommé and tapenade Serves two to three
The flavours of summer are undiminished in this raw salad set off by salty tapenade. You can use vegetarian Worcestershire sauce if desired.
For the vegetable consommé:
• 12 ripe tomatoes, chopped
• ¼ cucumber, chopped
• splash Worcestershire sauce
• splash red wine vinegar
• 2 garlic cloves
• handful basil leaves
For the tapenade:
• 1 garlic clove
• 4 tbsp capers
• 200g black olives
• splash sherry vinegar
• extra virgin olive oil
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
• 5 tomatoes, preferably mixed colours
• 3 asparagus spears, tips only
• 5 radishes
• ½ bulb fennel
• 100g broad beans
• small bunch baby basil
For the vegetable consommé, season the tomatoes and cucumber with Worcestershire sauce and red wine vinegar. Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor. Place a sieve lined with a muslin cloth on top of a bowl, then pour in the vegetable consommé mixture. Bring the edges of the muslin together, tie with a piece of string and hang over the bowl. Leave for six hours to drain. Reserve the liquid consommé collected in the bowl.
For the tapenade, blend all of the ingredients in a food processor adding just enough olive oil until it forms a paste, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
For the salad, slice the tomatoes into different sized pieces. Slice the asparagus, radishes and fennel and place them in a bowl of iced water to chill. When ready to serve, drain.
To serve, divide the tomatoes, broad beans and chilled vegetables among four small serving bowls and garnish with the tapenade and baby basil. Pour over the consommé.