The garden is absolutely bursting with beautiful fresh produce at present, summer vegetables, berries, currants, edible flowers….. scarcely enough meal slots to get around to using it all.
This week I’m just going to focus on tomatoes. . . A delicious reward for all the seed sowing, watering, pruning and harvesting.
We used to be commercial tomato growers, my father-in-law, Ivan Allen built his first glasshouse in Shanagarry in the late 1920’s but nowadays we only grow small quantities but many varieties. Lots and lots of cherry tomatoes because they tend to be more productive than the larger tomatoes, super easy to grow and deliciously sweet when allowed to ripen on the vine.
We grow both red and yellow varieties; Sun-Gold is a relatively new hybrid, bred for its tangy sweet flavour. It ripens to a golden orange colour and tends to split when really ripe but that doesn’t bother me.
We also grow over 25 different varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes. The seeds for these open pollinated, non-hybrid cultivars were carefully passed on from one dedicated seed saver to another at a time when many of these tomatoes were not considered worth growing because they had a shorter shelf life, a lower yield and didn’t fit the supermarket criteria for a uniform product.
Commercial tomatoes were picked off the plant under-ripe and became progressively less flavourful, particularly during winter months. Consumers moaned and surprisingly the plant breeders and supermarkets listened….first we got vine-ripened tomatoes which were supposedly better and certainly more expensive but rarely more flavourful.
Next, there were varieties that were grown ‘for flavour’ no less, which begs the question, what exactly were they grown for previously? Well, we all know the answer – profit of course, all part of the relentless commodification of food, absolutely nothing to do with nourishment, nutrient density or flavour.
Back to the heirloom tomatoes – there are literally hundreds of different varieties of every size, shape and colour. Some are round, others pear shaped, elongated, heart shaped, pleated…..Some plants produce only 3 or 4 tomatoes weighing up to a kilo each, others like the wild Argentinian are smaller than a marble but produce 20 or 30 intensely sweet, teeny weeny, super cute fruit on each truss. We love them and so do the grandchildren who eat them like smarties. We just have the red variety this year but there’s also a yellow version called Gold-Rush currant that gets good press to put on next year’s list.
Each tomato variety has an intriguing story but best of all, each tastes different, many are super juicy, some are tart, others have complex bittersweet flavours, not just the one dimensional sweetness that some of the newer varieties now have.
I first came across some of these heritage tomatoes at the San Francisco Farmers Market in California over 20 years ago, strange looking tomatoes bursting with flavour, bizarre shapes, intriguing names…The word quickly spread and customers craving flavour flocked to buy them. Soon they were on the supermarket shelves, grown commercially but sadly, a shadow of the originals and once again much more expensive.
Reality is, if we want tomatoes bursting with sunny flavour, we need to grow our own or buy from home gardeners, Farmers Markets or from local shops.
Some of my favourite varieties are Oxheart (a red or yellow meaty tomato), Brandy Wine, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra (a juicy green fleshed tomato), Yellow Pear (bright yellow and pear shaped), Dancing with the Smurfs (an amazing slightly tart purple, blue tomato that develops a red tinge when completely ripe. Speckled Roman, a beautiful elongated tiger striped tomato and Burpee Delight, Black Russian, Orange Bourgoin, Tigerella, all super delicious.
But a word of caution, just because they are heirloom tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean they will taste great. Choose tomatoes that smell intensely tomatoey and feel heavy for their size, that means they will be deliciously juicy.
A few recipes to celebrate your delicious harvest…
We love to make this cold soup in the Summer with the vine ripened tomatoes in the greenhouses that are bursting with flavour – serve as a starter or as a refreshing drink for picnics.
700g (1 1/2lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
3 thick slices good quality stale bread, crusts removed and chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
425ml (15fl oz pint) fresh tomato juice
2 roast and peeled red peppers
110g (4oz) onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium cucumber, chopped
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise optional
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper and sugar
2 red peppers, deseeded and finely diced
1 small cucumber, finely diced
4 very ripe tomatoes, finely diced
4 slices bread made into tiny croutons and fried in olive oil
2 tablespoons diced black olives or small whole olives
1 small onion, diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint
Put the tomatoes, chopped bread, crushed garlic, tomato juice, roasted red pepper, chopped onion, cucumber, olive oil and mayonnaise into a food processor or blender. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Whizz until smooth. Dilute with water and chill, taste and correct the seasoning.
Serve the garnish in separate bowls. Guests help themselves, the soup should be thick with garnish. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, on a very hot day and add an ice cube or two if you wish.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil, Olive Oil and Runny Honey
The Ballymaloe Cookery School stall at the Midleton Farmers’ Market has a unique selection of organic heirloom tomatoes from the greenhouses in all shapes and sizes. Red, yellow, black, striped, round, pear shaped and oval. They make a divine tomato salad and are wonderful with fresh buffalo mozzarella or ricotta and lots of fresh basil.
8 very ripe heirloom tomatoes
Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1–2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons runny honey
2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, torn
Cut the tomatoes into haphazard shapes. Sprinkle with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix the oil, lemon juice and honey together. Add the basil leaves, pour the mixture over the tomatoes and toss gently. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. A little freshly squeezed lemon juice enhances the flavour in a very delicious way. Serve immediately with fresh baked crusty bread.
Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart
This gorgeous tart was inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine last year. The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked so assemble close to the time of eating. Best made in late summer or early autumn when the tomatoes are exquisitely sweet. We use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork.
170g (6 oz) of Savoury Short Crust Pastry
250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta
100g (3 1/2oz) Pecorino, grated on a microplane
2 tablespoons double cream
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons basil, mint or thyme and marjoram or a mixture
lemon zest of half an organic lemon
flaky sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
650g (1lb 6oz) mixed heritage and cherry tomatoes – we used striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes
First make the pastry. Cover, chill and line a tart tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in a moderate oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.
Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.
Meanwhile put the ricotta into a bowl, add the pecorino, double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, freshly chopped herbs, grated lemon zest, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Mix gently, taste and correct the seasoning.
Taste a little dollop with a slice of tomato, correct the seasoning if necessary, you may need a little more honey.
Not long before serving spoon the ricotta filling into the fully cooked pastry case, slice the tomatoes thinly, arrange the bigger ones, including green zebra on top of the ricotta first. Then add a mixture of the smaller cherry ones cut in half lengthways and crosswise to cover the whole surface.
Season with flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, a little drizzle of remaining honey, (about a half teaspoon) and lots of thyme, marjoram leaves and some little basil leaves.
Chettinad Tomato Rice
I first tasted this dish at The Bangala in Karakudi in South India – delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to a piece of pan grilled fish or chicken breast.
100g (3 1/2oz) ghee or clarified butter
100g (3 1/2oz) vegetable oil
2 pieces (2 inches) cinnamon sticks
4 pods of green cardamom
2 bay leaves
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 green chillies, split in half
3 large ripe tomatoes (300g/10oz), blanched, peeled and finely chopped (like a thick purée)
500g (18oz) Basmati rice, soaked for 15 – 30 minutes
900ml (1.6 pints) water or chicken stock
225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt to taste, needs plenty
Heat a deep saucepan. Add the oil and ghee or clarified butter.
Add the cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.
Add the chopped onion and green chillies. Sauté until all the ingredients turn a pale golden colour. Add the raw tomatoes. Stir for 3-4 minutes. Add soaked and drained rice, chicken stock or water, coconut milk, salt and turmeric. Bring to the boil. Cover with a lid. Cook on gentle heat until the rice is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed, 10 minutes approximately.
Remove from the heat. Keep pan covered until serving.
Confit of Tomatoes
This method concentrates the flavour of the tomatoes deliciously. The oil absorbs the flavour of the tomatoes and will, of course, enhance dressings and salads. Serve on grilled bread, with pasta, mozzarella and fish.
Makes 3 x 370g (13oz) jars approximately
1.3kg (3lbs) ripe small or cherry tomatoes
5- 6 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
extra virgin olive oil, to cover
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Choose an ovenproof dish that will just fit the tomatoes in a single layer. Remove the calyxes from the tomatoes and arrange them in the dish. Tuck a few garlic cloves and the sprigs of thyme in here and there between the tomatoes. Just cover with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until soft and tender. Eat immediately or allow to cool. Store in a sterilised jar covered in the oil and use within a week or so.
Eat immediately or leave to cool then store in a sterilised jar covered in the oil and use within a week or so.