A vine romance: Mark Hix transforms in-season tomatoes
Use a variety of juicy heritage tomatoes to create this summer's freshest and most colourful creations
Saturday 24 July 2010
I am so glad that British farmers are reviving the wonderful tradition of tomato growing – and that they are not just offering up a couple of varieties of the common round tomato. Not that there's anything wrong with round tomatoes – my grandfather used to grow fantastic moneymakers in his greenhouses and he would flog the odd pound of them here and there to cover some of his costs and, of course, to get the locals talking about "Bill's tomatoes".
Over the years we have tended to rely on imported tomatoes, and for a while those torpedo-shaped plum tomatoes became a bit of a novelty among chefs and shoppers. Now, fortunately, we are finally starting to see heritage tomatoes in our shops and supermarkets. Tomatoes of so many different shapes, colours and sizes are increasingly grown around the country by farmers with a bit of creative savvy – and they not only brighten up the fruit bowl on our kitchen tables, but they make planning a simple summer dish into a real joy.
Which tomatoes you choose is up to you; if I come across a few unusual varieties, I tend to just buy a selection and use them in different ways during the course of the week – from a simple tomato salad to deep-frying the under-ripe green ones in a crisp batter.
Fried green tomatoes with hot soused mackerel
I was brought up on soused mackerel as a kid and I often put it on our menus now. While I was judging a young chef competition down at the Weymouth Food Festival last year, one of the contenders served up a delicious hot soused mackerel dish which inspired me to create this dish. Unripened green tomatoes have so many possibilities, especially when they are pan-fried, deep-fried or chopped up in a salsa. If you grow your own tomatoes, you are bound to get a good crop of green ones that struggle to ripen in our inconsistent British sunshine – or you can just pick them when they are green.
4 mackerel fillets weighing about 100-120g each or 8 smaller ones, boned
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on the angle
2 large shallots, cut into rings
12 black peppercorns
tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
125ml white wine or cider vinegar
2tsp sea salt
4 large green tomatoes, cut into 1cm-thick slices
A couple of tablespoons of vegetable or corn oil
Shredded parsley leaves (optional)
Put the carrots, shallots, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaf, vinegar, sea salt and water in a non-reactive, wide saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drop in the mackerel fillets and simmer gently for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat.
Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. Season the tomatoes and fry them on a high heat for a couple of minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and arrange in a line on warmed plates. Remove the mackerel from the cooking liquid and lay on the tomatoes with some of the carrots and shallots. Scatter with the parsley, if using; serve.
Baked breakfast tomatoes with duck eggs
I had this dish in Portugal a while back as a starter for dinner, but I thought it would make a great breakfast dish. You can use fresh, over-ripe tomatoes or a can of chopped tomatoes for this.
2tbsp olive oil plus a little more for drizzling
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 x 400g cans of good-quality chopped tomatoes, or 1kg skinned ripe tomatoes
A couple of sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 English muffins, halved
4 duck eggs
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes and thyme, season and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Lightly toast the muffins on both sides and lay in an oven-proof dish. Pour over the tomatoes, then crack an egg on to each muffin. Bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until the eggs are just cooked.
Serve immediately, drizzled with some olive oil.
Tomato salad with lovage and goat's curd
You can use a mixture of tomatoes or a single type for this dish. Lovage is a delicious herb but can be somewhat overpowering, so do use it in moderation.
I've gone back to my childhood days here and I have used good old Sarson's malt vinegar like my grandmother used to dish up with my grandad's home-grown tomatoes.
About 500g ripe mixed tomatoes
A tablespoon or so of Sarson's malt vinegar
A couple of tablespoons of rapeseed or olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few leaves of lovage, washed
2-4tbsp goat's curd or fresh goat's cheese
Cut the tomatoes into a selection of wedges, chunks and slices and arrange on serving plates.
Season, drizzle with the vinegar and oil, tear the lovage leaves and scatter on top, then spoon the goat's curd into the centre or break up the goat's cheese and place on the tomatoes.
Red mullet with tomatoes and basil
Red mullet is one of those fish that needs very little doing to it; this light tomato relish is the perfect partner.
You can use any tomatoes for this; I've used both golden and red varieties here to create a colourful blend. I've added some tiny leaves of bush or Greek basil as they are more robust than normal basil and they will hold up in the dressing for about an hour without discolouring.
4 fillets of red mullet fillets weighing about 120-140g each or 8 smaller ones
2tbsp of vegetable or corn oil
For the tomato relish
4 medium-sized tomatoes, finely chopped
1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
A small handful of Greek or bush basil leaves, roughly chopped
3-4tbsp olive oil
tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix the tomatoes with the shallots, basil, olive oil and vinegar; season to taste and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Season the red mullet fillets, heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick pan and cook the fillets, skin-side down first, for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve the fish with the relish spooned over or on the side.
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