Saturday, 9 August 2014

The tomato glut begins!

Our cherry tomato plants are just delivering the first trusses of bright red fruit. From now on, we'll have more tomatoes than we can cope with - the same as every year. Add to that the gradually ripening Andean horned tomatoes, the plum tomatoes, and the big beefsteaks, and we have a tomato challenge on our hands.

Short-term, roasting tomatoes is a good way to extend their life in the fridge. I roast or grill cherry tomatoes whole, and larger tomatoes halved, scattered with olive oil and salt, and sometimes with thyme or oregano; 160c to 180c is enough to get them nicely done. Roast tomatoes make a rich and dark flavoured soup, add flavour to any salad, work well with couscous and other roast vegetables.

Sun-drying preserves them for longer, though they're not then as easy to use - you'll need to rehydrate them before you cook with them. No sun? A low oven (140c or lower) for a long time, or a food dehydrator, works equally well. Halve the tomatoes and lay them skin down. Sun-dried tomatoes can be packed in a glass jar and covered with oil, though they don't keep as long - I do that to a single batch at a time and use the jar up within a week or so.

Tomato sauce is another way of using up excess tomatoes. A good tomato sauce needs the tomatoes to be peeled and deseeded, and then boiled till they are very soft and slightly reduced. Tomatoes don't have to be the only ingredient; you can add onions, garlic, pepper, harissa or chili if you like a hotter flavour, and herbs; a very nice tomato sauce adds a little ginger (I prefer to add stem ginger, with a little of the sweet syrup, though you could use fresh root ginger or powdered ginger if you wanted). You could put the tomato sauce in glass jars and providing you boil them for a while, and put a bit of oil on top of the surface, they'll keep, but frankly it's less hassle (and more safe) to freeze the sauce.

Don't restrict yourself to using the sauce on pasta. Watered down a bit, it makes good soup - add other vegetables, or pasta, or use up your stale bread by chopping it and adding that to the soup. It also makes a good sauce for risotto rice or for a pilaff - use it instead of stock (again, watered down a bit).

By the end of the season, there will be green tomatoes, too. It's far too early to think about those right now... but when we get there, green tomato jam, or green tomato rings dipped in polenta and shallow fried, will help to use them up. Right now, though, it's the red ones that I've got to use up... bursting with juice, I'm looking forward to my first ones straight off the plant, opulent, and warm with the morning sun. Mmmmm.

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