Carmel Somers: The simple beauty of tomatoes
Red alert: the best tomatoes are those picked in the summer months
Blackened tomatoes with chorizo and egg. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Tomato season is upon us bringing sunshine, sweetness and simplicity. The natural sweetness of tomatoes means they have always appealed, making them a staple in our diets. However, while we eat them year round, the best tomatoes are those picked in these few months and, because of this, they always bring me back memories of eating in the sunshine.
As children my girls used to snack on sweet cherry tomatoes. However, as the tomato gets bigger the sweetness becomes less profound. The use of salt magically draws out this flavour and leaves us to appreciate the “fruity” nature of the tomato.
To me, the beauty of tomatoes lies in their simplicity. Coming in all shapes and sizes – from heritage to beef – tomatoes can be enjoyed in their raw state, roasted, baked or made into a sauce for a quick supper. What is actually an exotic fruit whose origins lie in Mexico (tomato is based on the Mexican “tomatl”) is now a commonplace ingredient in the European diet.
The heirloom (or heritage) tomato is a variety whose seeds have been saved and replanted for generations, hence the name. They come in an array of colours from green and yellow to a deep red with hues of purple and an entertaining array of shapes and sizes.
The delicacy of the heirloom tomato means it doesn’t travel well and is thus often harder to come by. Moneymaker, our most common variety, has a far tougher skin which was selectively cultivated to have a longer shelf life and be more resilient, giving rise to its name.
Finally, a few simple tips to enhance your tomato experience. Firstly, store and serve tomatoes at room temperature to allow their flavour to develop. Secondly, while the combination of tomatoes and basil is always a winner it’s relatively new. The Italians originally kept basil, also known as “holy basil”, solely to ward off insects and they only started to use it as a herb relatively recently. I have a preference for pairing tarragon with tomatoes due to its stronger flavour.
Blackened tomatoes chorizo and eggs
Blackening tomatoes on a very hot pan is a great way of bringing out their natural sweetness, especially when you’re in a rush and turning on the oven seems like a big deal.
8 slices uncured/cooking chorizo
1. Heat a cast iron pan until very hot.
2. Halve the tomatoes and oil them lightly and sprinkle with salt. When the pan is smoking, put the tomatoes cut side down and leave without moving until nicely black. Lower heat and flip tomato. Continue to cook until soft through.
3. In the meantime, light the grill and allow it to get nice and hot. Remove the tomatoes from the pan and lower the heat on the hob. Add chorizo and cook for a couple of minutes on either side. Return the tomatoes to the pan and crack in the eggs and cook until the eggs are nearly set.
4. Finally, place the pan under the hot grill until eggs have set.
Tomato and orange soup
There is something comforting and nostalgic about tomato soup. The addition of orange here gives a refreshing sharpness and transports us to sunny climes. When making any soup its vital to taste as you go, adjusting the seasoning as early as possible and allow the cooking process to be slow in order for the flavours to develop.
100ml olive oil
2 small carrots
2 sticks of celery
1 clove garlic
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
2 litres well flavoured stock
1.5kg of tomatoes, roughly chopped
Handful of basil leaves
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1. Heat a saucepan and add the oil followed by the carrots, celery, onions, garlic and orange zest. On a medium heat, allow the vegetables to soften for roughly 5 minutes. Place a tight fitting lid on top and allow to cook for 15 minutes on a very low heat.
2. Next, add the stock and bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes, basil and a squeeze of lemon. Simmer for approximately an hour.
3. Whizz the soup in a blender, add the orange juice, mix well and finally taste for seasoning.
Tomato and quinoa salad with creamy tarragon dressing
8 large tomatoes or 20 cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Small bunch tarragon, 4 generous sprigs
75ml cider vinegar
50ml olive oil
1. Boil a pot of water. Rinse the quinoa in cold water and drain well. Add to the boiling water, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook for approx 15-20 minutes, until cooked. It should still have a little bite. When cooked, drain again and allow to cool.
2. Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes and arrange on a large plate. Season well with salt and allow to sit while you make the dressing.
3. Remove the leaves of the tarragon from the stalks and chop finely. Add the tarragon to a bowl along with the cream and oil. Whisk the mixture until it’s light and fluffy, now add the vinegar along with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to stand for 10 minutes and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and depending on the strength of the vinegar you might need to add another splash. Alternatively, add all the ingredients into a blender and whiz it very carefully to combine (the cream can turn to butter every easily).
4. Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes and scatter the dish with the cooked quinoa.