If you are a little further south in the US, then you are probably seeing the first crops of tomatoes arrive in your groceries and markets. I don't think I have been in a country that didn't revere the tomato. In Italy they were a staple of the the Pugliese diet, being the base for sauces as well as ubiquitous on sandwiches and bruschetta (pronounced 'broosketta'). When I lived in Puglia I watched amazed as my Italian friends would stand around a giant bowl and tirelessly slice tomato after tomato with blunt plastic knives while chatting away. These would then be smothered onto thick toasted bread and sprinkled with olive and salt.
In Zambia, tomatoes were one of the few crops that grew even in the most blistering heat. They were not often eaten raw but were added to vegetables such as rape (a kind of leafy green) or pumpkin leaves and cooked to a rich sauce that would be eaten with cornmeal porridge.
In China, I saw small, bright cherry tomatoes added to chocolate cakes as a garnish. Why not? They looked stunning and they are a fruit after all!
It is important to remember that refrigerating tomatoes is not a good idea. It makes them mealy in texture and impedes the flavor. Nigella Lawson suggests that if you really must keep them in the fridge, then take them out and put them in a sunny spot for a while before using. It's a compromise, I suppose.
We are early in the season and few of us are probably thinking about canning tomatoes yet, so let's try a couple of ideas that allow fresh tomatoes to shine.
Tomato Sandwiches (British Style)
Yes, I know these seems an odd idea for a recipe. However I think, simplicity is deceptively difficult.
- Salted butter at room temperature
- Two slices of good white bread (sour dough, for example)
- One medium sized heirloom tomato at room temperature (Cherokee purple is a favorite of mine)
- Several paper towels
- Slice your tomato thinly and blot the slices on the paper towel
- Spread the bread with a layer of butter
-Once the paper towels have absorbed most of the moisture, add the slices to one slice of buttered bread (the butter should be inside, not outside like it is for grilled cheese)
- Top with the second slice of buttered bread
- Cut sandwich in half.
Salsa crudo is very popular in southern Italy and means 'raw sauce'. The tomatoes are not cooked, in fact none of the components of this sauce are cooked. Typically this sauce is for pasta, but you could use it as a sauce for fish or chicken and maybe add some capers.
- Four large tomatoes - skinned
- One large clove garlic, lightly pressed to release some juice, but still intact
- One tablespoon each of chopped fresh basil and flat leaf parsley
- One teaspoon of good salt
- Two tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Finely chop the tomatoes
- Mix with all the other ingredients
- Cover and leave to stand for about half an hour
- Taste for seasoning
- Remove the garlic clove and discard
- Serve over pasta or with fish or chicken
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