Tomatoes

The tomato is a particularly versatile and delightful fruit and strangely it is mostly used in savoury dishes rather than desserts.
There are so many reasons to grow your own tomatoes, from getting beautiful smells, to a variety of tastes and textures to match with whatever you are cooking.

In the Garden

I believe that home grown tomatoes have the greatest flavour difference to their shop bought cousins than any other item I grow on the allotment. The fruit you buy in the shop are so dull compared to those you grow yourselves. On top of this, the smell of the vines growing fill summer with joy. If you do not have a garden or allotment, and have never been near a tomato vine, I suggest you go to your local grocers and find the tomatoes still on the vine, and then just smell them. You might look odd in the shop doing this, but it is great fun and will give you an idea of what the plants smell like.
When you are growing tomatoes there are several important things to ask/find out:
  • Is it a vine or bush tomato plant?
  • How much space will it need?
  • Can the plant be planted outside or does it need to be undercover?
  • What colour should the fruit be (this is important for harvesting!)?
Make sure that you know the answers to all of these points and check the forum here if you want any further advice about how to grow the different types and varieties.
Coming to the final point – colour when harvesting. The reason this is important is that some tomato varieties are green rather than red. You can get yellow, indigo and green ripe tomatoes so ensure that you know what you are getting beforehand or you might let them rot on the plant by accident.
 
My final point about growing tomatoes is that you will find some get a condition called flower end rot. This appears, surprise surprise, on the flower end of the tomato. The tomato appears sunken and the end goes brown as it starts to rot. There are multiple recorded reasons and treatments for this, however, even though I have lost a few tomatoes to it from multiple plants, it was not a major issue. Personally I would cut my losses and get on with the rest of the crop.
 

In the Kitchen

Because of the versatility of tomatoes I am writing an extra large blog post this week (Ooohh), based on the following headings:
  • Red (ripe) tomatoes
  • Green (unripe) tomatoes
  • Sauces
  • Other ways of preserving tomato

Red (Ripe) Tomatoes

The ripe tomato is perfect for eating on its own, before you make any recipes with it. However, I have so many that I cannot do this with all the fruit, so here are some fun easy recipes for nice food you can make.
 
Tomato, Feta and Spinach Tart
This is a great light dish that would work well for lunch with a light side salad.  It is a good use for your smaller ripe tomatoes.
Did I mention that it is super easy?
 
INGREDIENTS – SERVES 4
  • 16 cherry tomatoes (more if you are making bigger tarts) 
  • 200g spinach
  • 200g feta
  • 270g filo pasty
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 200ml Balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar

METHOD

  1. First you need to line four pie trays (no more than 10cm) with baking parchment then brush with olive oil and weigh down the centre.
  2. Cut pieces of filo into squares to fit the four dishes. Continue until you have 4 or 5 squares per dish.
  3. Put the first layer of filo onto the parchment and then brush with oil. Then add the second so that the corners of the new square sit in the centre of the edge of the previous square.
  4. Continue this process on all of the tarts until you have used all of the sheets and then weigh down the centre of each.
  5. Put into the oven at 200°C for 5 minutes and then take out and remove the weight from the centre.
  6. Boil the spinach in salted water for several minutes, until completely wilted.  Take out and let dry on kitchen roll.
  7. Slice the feta into small cubes.
  8. Place 4 tomatoes in each tart with wilted dry spinach and feta cubes.  Place the four tarts back in the oven at 220°C for 10 more minutes.
  9. While baking the tarts, make a balsamic reduction.  Add the balsamic vinegar and the sugar to a sauce pan and reduce down for 10 minutes or so, stirring throughout so that it doesn’t burn.  You want to be able to pour the reduction but for it to be much thicker, like double cream. 
  10. Take the tarts out of the oven and serve immediately with the balsamic reduction drizzled over the top.

Ricotta Stuffed Tomato
This sounds much harder than it is. Stuffed tomatoes are a wonderful food, and should be undertaken more often, however are often overlooked for other stuff-able vegetables, like peppers and courgettes. Do not be put off. This particular stuffed tomato works really well as a starter.
 
INGREDIENTS – SERVES 4
  • 4 large beef tomatoes.
  • 500g ricotta cheese
  • 2 limes
  • A teaspoon of smoked chilli flakes
  • A teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 sweet pepper

METHOD

  1. Place the beef tomatoes into a small frying pan and blacken the skin around the outside. Take all out when skin is black in multiple places. Roast the sweet peppers at the same time.
  2. Take off the lid of the tomato. Cut around the top at about 5mm down.
  3. Scoop out the insides of the tomato. You will need to do this carefully with a teaspoon. You do not want to leave any of the seeds inside, but also do not want to damage the flesh, especially at the bottom of the fruit.
  4. In a bowl mix the zest and juice of the limes with the ricotta, the chilli flakes and the nutmeg.
  5. Add the mix to the inside of the tomato.

Greek Tomato Salad
This is a stunning salad of summer colours, with flavours to match. You must use the ripest tomatoes and cucumber. Fresh oregano makes this dish, but make sure you do not have one that is too hot as that will take away from the flavour of the tomatoes themselves.
 
INGREDIENTS – ONE LARGE SHARING SALAD
  • 15 medium heritage tomatoes (try to get a cross section of different colours, flavours and firmnesses)
  • A handful of rocket
  • Half a cucumber
  • 100g of feta
  • A handful of black olives
  • A tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves
  • A tablespoon of fresh dill fronds
For the dressing:
  • 100g Greek yogurt
  • 2 lemons

METHOD

  1. Chop the tomatoes into random chunks; do not worry about uniformity.
  2. Chop the cucumber and feta into chunks and add to the tomato.
  3. Take the black olives off the stone by cutting in half. Put the halves into the salad.
  4. Tear the rocket roughly and add.
  5. Mix in the oregano and dill.
  6. Put the Greek yogurt into a separate bowl and add the juice and zest of both lemons. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Place the salad onto a large serving platter, drizzle over the dressing and serve with some warm pitta bread.

Green Tomatoes
Every so often you might find yourself harvesting green tomatoes.  Maybe you have accidentally broken a vine of unripe tomatoes or maybe you have had a bout of early frost which has killed the plant before all tomatoes are ripe.
Green tomatoes do ripen off the plant.  It is better letting them ripen on though as they grow bigger, juicier and become sweeter.  However sometimes the green tomatoes are too green, or you may have had too many tomatoes over the last few weeks, or maybe you just want to try something different.
 
Ripen the Tomatoes
There are two methods of ripening that I find work:
  1. The windowsill method: Place the tomatoes on a sunny windowsill and let them ripen in  the sun.  This can take about a month but works well if you have the space available.
  2. If no windowsill then the paper bag method works:  Put the green tomatoes, clean and dried, into a paper bag with one ripe tomato.  This ripe tomato will encourage the others to ripen as well. Place the bag into a cupboard and let rest for about a week. With this second method you need to ensure they are fully clean, and fully dry, with no splits in any tomatoes otherwise the tomatoes can start to rot and this can destroy the entire bag (and make your cupboard smell for years to come!).

Green Tomato Salsa
This is a good quick way to use up the tomatoes and works well with grilled fish or poultry.  it provides a hot, bitter and sour tasting salsa, which can overpower more delicate flavours but with a tuna steak or marinaded piece of chicken, can be just right. If you want the mixture finer add it into a food processor, but I prefer it with chunks, despite the extra effort.
 
INGREDIENTS – ONE SMALL BOWL
  • About 450g (or 1lb) of green tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 lime
  • A handful of fresh coriander
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper

METHOD

  1. Chop the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño and coriander finely and place into a mortar. (Hold some of the coriander back to top the salsa.)
  2. Crush the garlic and then chop to mince and place in the mortar.
  3. Zest and juice the lime and place both into the mortar.
  4. Once all ingredients are in, pound the mixture firmly, but ensure you keep some of the texture.
  5. Place into a serving bowl with your fish or meat on top, or with nachos around the side.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
A lovely way to add some bitter acidity to a plate of food. You can add to tanginess or Iranian stews as a souring agent, it makes an interesting replacement to lemon, dried lime or tamarind, a bit less bright than all.  Or just eat them like a gherkin, on top of a burger!
Some recipes suggest adding sugar into the pickling mixture (sometimes called a brine) but I feel that you do not want a sweet pickle as the sharpness contrasts beautifully with the tomato itself. Give both a try though – just add a tablespoon of sugar for each cup of vinegar.
INGREDIENTS
  • 1 kg of green tomatoes (about 2lb)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • A handful of dried dill
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

METHOD

  1. Chop the tomatoes into slices and place into the pickling jars.
  2. Mix the vinegar, water, salt, peppercorns, and dried dill in a sauce pan. Bring to the boil and then cover and let rest until cool
  3. Pour the pickling mixture over the tomatoes, making sure all of the tomatoes are fully submerged. I use pickling weights to ensure that none float to the surface.
  4. Screw on jar lids and put in the fridge for 3 days before opening. This will allow the pickled tomatoes to, well, pickle. These should last for 1 week in the fridge beofre the tomatoes start to go soggy, if they last that long.

Sauces
The two sauces below use red fully ripe tomatoes. Both recipes allow the tomato flavour to come through and are particularly versatile.
I would consider using the salsa with all things Mexican, increasing or decreasing the heat to your liking. Again, maybe serve with some grilled meat or as part of a sharing dish, or in tacos (maybe even along side the green tomato salsa if you have it).
The tomato sauce is my go to sauce for everything. Pasta sauces, pizza sauces, lasagna, ragu; anything that calls for a tin of chopped tomato! This is much richer than what you will find in tin of chopped tomato and beautifully sweet. I try to make 6 or 7 jars at a time and then preserve. It should last for 3 months, but to be honest I have not tried that – it doesn’t tend to last that long in my household!

Classic Tomato Salsa

This might look similar to the green salsa above, but the use of the white onion is necessary as the red onion is much sweeter (to contrast with the bitterness of the green tomato). You also do not want to use the zest of the lime as it is more perfumed. For this, you want to rely on the taste of the red tomatoes, and solely that.
INGREDIENTS
  • about 450g (or 1lb) of green tomatoes
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 lime
  • a handful of fresh coriander
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper
  • a teaspoon of dried chipotle chilli flakes

METHOD

  1. Chop the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño and coriander finely and place into a mortar. (Hold some of the coriander back to top the salsa.)
  2. Crush the garlic and then chop to mince and place in the mortar.
  3. Juice the lime and place into the mortar.
  4. Once all ingredients are in, pound the mixture firmly, but ensure you keep some of the texture.
  5. Place in a serving bowl with your fresh coriander on top. And eat!

Mary’s Base Tomato Sauce
My Mother-in-Law gave me this recipe as a way to use a glut of tomatoes. It is beautiful! Use this in everything. No exceptions (unless the recipe doesn’t ask for a tomato sauce, in which case serve it on the side anyway!).
 
INGREDIENTS
  • 1kg ripe tomatoes (2lb)
  • 1 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

METHOD

  1. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and then remove.
  2. Let cool and then remove the skins.
  3. Place the peeled tomatoes in a pan with the sugar, salt and pepper and start cooking through, ensuring that you smash the tomatoes.
  4. Cook for about 30 minutes and then pour into containers.
  5. If you want to preserve the sauce, place the containers (use preservation jars) with lid firmly tightened into boiling water and leave for another 30 minutes as the sauce inside boils through. Take the boiling water off the heat, and let the containers cool in the water.
  6. The cooled sauce should then have sealed the jar. Test to manufacturers instructions and the sauce inside should last for 3 months.

Preserving Tomatoes
One of the big things about tomatoes is that they are a summer fruit. Yes, you can find tomatoes in a supermarket all year round, but these taste more like water than the fruit you grow yourselves.
I am a big believer on trying to live more sustainably, and to that end preserving tomatoes so that you can have use of them into winter, is a much needed task. However, timing is important here, as is storage. However, to get to that point, you need to know what you are going to make.

Dehydrated Tomatoes

These are simple. I have not managed to get them as juicy as a sun-dried tomato but even still they are delicious. I use the smallest tomatoes that I have as they dry quicker.
INGREDIENTS
  • Tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper, dried basil and dried oregano to season

METHOD

  1. Slice tomatoes in half and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Place on dehydrator shelves allowing space for airflow.
  3. Dehydrate at 50 degrees C for 12-18 hours, until crispy.
You can store the dehydrated tomatoes in oil or in an airtight container or turn into powder. if you have dried thoroughly they should last for several years happily.

Tomato Powder
This is solely an extension of the dehydrated tomatoes. Ensure that the tomatoes are fully dry before attempting this.
INGREDIENTS
  • Dehydrated tomatoes

METHOD

  1. Chop the dehydrated tomatoes into small pieces and place into a blender.
  2. Blend until as fine as you can go. if you need finer place into a coffee or spice grinder.
Store in airtight containers, or you could try vacuum packing. If dry when ground then it should last for years to come. Then just mix with water for paste, sauce or soup.

Tomato Chutney
I have always wondered the difference between a chutney and a jam. After some research into this, the key difference sweet vs savoury, although this is a simplification.
Jams tend to have pectin added and much more sugar. They also tend to be sweeter. Chutneys, however, have more savoury tone, sometimes brought by the use of onion or vinegar giving a bit of a tang.
This tomato chutney recipe certainly has that tang and would work well served with a cheese board (for you vegans out there, here is a vegan cheeseboard that is coming for Christmas 2018!).  It uses Indian spices so could be a suitable addition to your curry, although you will still want a decent mango chutney as well.
INGREDIENTS
  • 1kg (or 2lb) of ripe tomatoes 
  • 1 large red onion 
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of dried Kashmiri chilli flakes
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger
  • 200g of muscavado sugar
  • 150ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cardamon pods
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole black pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon of hot paprika
  • A glug of corn oil

METHOD

  1. Add the cardamon pods, the coriander seeds, the cumin seeds and the whole black pepper corns into a hot heavy based frying pan and toast.  When the popping starts tip into a mortar and grind until you have a powder.
  2. Pour the oil into the frying pan and add the sliced red onion. Fry for several minutes.
  3. Add the spice mix and the crushed garlic and fry for a little bit longer.
  4. Peel and chop the garlic pieces, slice the tomatoes and then add all of the ingredients to the pan and allow to simmer down for about an hour, on a low heat, stirring so that it doesn’t burn.
  5. When the mixture goes dark brown (after about an hour) it will be ready.  
  6. Pour the mixtures into sterilised jars and let cool.  It should last for 6 weeks.