(Continued from Pesto, Salsa Verde, Chimichurri)
As well as an abundance of herbs, at this time of the year you may well have an abundance of tomatoes. Or at least they will be cheap to buy, and at their flavoursome best.
Home-grown tomatoes: Shouldn’t they taste better?
I have grown tomatoes in the past and I have no hesitation in saying that they are the worst tomatoes I have ever tasted, worse than anything from a supermarket – dry, colourless and flavourless. And the crops are pitiful – one or two tomatoes if we are lucky; with cherry tomatoes we have more luck in terms of number and might get half a dozen, but the taste is no better. While our herbs do well, home-grown tomatoes for us are a waste of time!
Why is it that some people can grow tomatoes like these?
My father’s tomatoes
My father grew wonderful tomatoes. He used to plant a crinkled skin variety that grew in low lying bushes; later he would also grow ‘tree’ tomatoes which he tied to stakes. While these days one feels pushed to eating only tomatoes that are fully ripe, I have always loved semi-ripe ones: tomatoes just past their green stage, with just a hint of redness but already lovely and juicy and a tad acidic. However, half-ripe commercially grown tomatoes can often be a disappointing experience!
We kids would eat tomatoes like a raw apple, with some salt. Apart from sandwiches, our favourite option – whether semi-ripe or fully ripe – was to have sliced tomatoes on hot buttered toast sprinkled with salt and pepper. This very day it is still one of my favourite breakfasts.
Dad would have lots of tomato plants in his garden, and as the summer rolled on they would gradually ripen. One day he would come in from the garden to proudly show Mum the first semi-ripe tomatoes – maybe just one, maybe several. They would go up on to the window sill to ripen further, to be joined by more and more over coming days. In the end tomatoes would be ripening en masse in the garden. Then it was time to act!
My parents didn’t make an Italian style tomato sauce. Nor did they preserve them like some of our neighbours, who were ‘rich’ – they could afford a Vacola bottling kit. Mum and Dad would preserve theirs by making tomato relish and/or a savoury tomato sauce. Mum’s tomato relish is one of the strongest food memories of mine and my siblings from our childhood years, filling the house with a wonderful smell for days and producing bottles of the most exquisite condiment. We will keep the recipe for a future post, possibly this time next year.
But I have a personal affinity with tomatoes: the owners of the Windermere apple orchard who employed my father eventually diverged into market gardening in a big way. They planted substantial areas of the paddocks next to my parents’ house with tomatoes (along with other vegetables). They were the crinkled skin, low lying variety of tomato. Over the summer holidays from university, my back-breaking vacation job for a couple of weeks at least was to pick them, every single ripe one!
Italian style tomato sauce
Italian style tomato sauces come in many guises. The Italian author, Giuliano Bugialli, gives a very simple sauce using just tomato, salt and basil. He has other recipes with more ingredients, including onion, carrot, celery, garlic, olive oil and parsley. He has three names for sauces in general: ‘salsa’, ‘sugo’ and ‘passatto’ (which he uses for sauces that are pureed or passed through a sieve or food mill). Other recipe books also give cooked and uncooked versions of tomato sauces; often you will see the word ‘passatta’ used.
We make a very simple ‘Napoli’ style tomato sauce that can be used as the basis for other dishes. It is quick to make from just a handful of tomatoes or from heaps of them if you wish to freeze the sauce. We don’t peel the tomatoes or sieve them, preferring to retain the goodness of the roughage. We make it in a utensil that allows the water in the tomatoes to evaporate during cooking, thickening the sauce.
For the recipe, click here: Tomato Sauce – Italian Style
As well as normal tomatoes, maybe you also have a surfeit of cherry tomatoes. And maybe a surfeit of figs! In the next blog post we will include a recipe for pasta with cherry tomatoes and a recipe for stuffed figs, both inspired by our visit to some small towns on the Western Italian Riviera.
Continued in: Recipes From The Italian Riviera