Although it is possible to get tomatoes all year round, I would encourage you to enjoy them in their season. The deep fragrance, flavour and texture of properly sun-ripened summer fruit is so worth it that it more than makes up for refraining from their use for the remaining months of the year.
When ripe, most varieties of tomatoes should be heavy for their size, not too soft and they should just yield to the touch. They should be even in colour, whether they are red, yellow, orange, streaky or multicoloured with green blushes – unless they are one of the few varieties to ripen to a rich and saturated green.
Do not keep tomatoes in the fridge, it doesn't do them any favours – it dumbs down both their perfume and flavour. They are best handled gently and stored at room temperature. Any tomatoes that must be refrigerated due to over-ripeness are best turned into sauces or soups, such as the robust and delicious pappa al pomodoro found in Tuscany.
Though Italian tomatoes are already available, English tomatoes are only just coming into their own now. Cherry tomatoes are one of my favourites. They are best bought on the vine and have a wonderful grassy smell and sweet flavour. The large, ribbed-shaped tomatoes, most commonly from Italy, are known as cuore di bue (ox heart), and are best sliced raw into salads or on bruschetta. Plum tomatoes are good for making sauces – when ripe, they are sweet, with a thicker skin and fewer seeds, their flesh is dense and the resulting sauce is sweet and delicious.
So many ingredients go well with tomatoes – olive oil, black olives, basil, anchovies, bread, roasted peppers. Also, just served simply, at their ripest, with robust olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt, they can't be beaten.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Roast tomato sauce with black olives, Parmesan and polenta
Polenta is one of the most comforting foodstuffs I know – it's wonderful on cooler evenings and works beautifully with the sweet flavour of roasted tomatoes.
For the polenta
1 litre/13/4 pints of water
A pinch of sea salt
250ml/9fl oz of coarse yellow polenta
80g/3oz unsalted butter
150g/5oz freshly grated Parmesan
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
For the roast tomato and black olive sauce
2kg/4lb ripe cherry tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
1 bunch of sage, leaves only
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
20 small, good-quality black olives (Ligurian, for example), pips removed
To make the polenta, pour the water into a medium-sized, heavy-based pan and place over a medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, add a good pinch of salt and add the polenta. Turn down the heat and stir occasionally until cooked through, which will take about 25 minutes; the polenta should no longer be grainy. Add the butter and Parmesan and stir well to combine the tastes. Adjust the seasoning as necessary, possibly adding a little more salt. You can keep the polenta warm in a bain-marie for up to two hours, as long as it is covered with a lid.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. To make the tomato and olive sauce, roughly chop the tomatoes and place in a baking tray along with the garlic, chilli, sage and olive oil. Season generously with sea salt and place on the middle shelf of the oven at for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter over the olives and stir well; adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve with the polenta in warm bowls and add some extra, grated Parmesan on top, to taste.
A salad of mozzarella, tomato and basil oil
3 large bunches of basil
1 garlic clove
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200ml/7fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
4 ripe beef tomatoes
4 buffalo mozzarella (100g/31/2oz each)
1 bunch of purple or green basil
75ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
First make the basil oil. Pull the basil leaves from their stalks and put them in a food processor with the garlic and a good pinch each of salt and pepper. Process until the basil is finely chopped. With the motor running, trickle in 200ml/7fl oz of the oil and blend until you have a moss-green purée. Leave to stand for a few minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour into a jar, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. It will keep for a week.
Slice the tomatoes and arrange on a plate. Tear the mozzarella in half using your fingers and arrange on top of the tomatoes. Gently tear the basil leaves and arrange on top. Season and finish with the remaining olive oil and the basil oil. Serve at once.
Roast chicken with anchovy butter, green tomatoes and deep-fried sage
The sharp, clean sweetness of the green tomatoes offers a clean, pure contrast to the deep, salty flavour of the anchovies. If you can't get hold of green tomatoes, use a quality vine tomato such as San Marzano.
For the anchovy butter
150g/5oz unsalted butter
1 tin of anchovies in olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, stalks off, leaves only, finely chopped
A few grindings of black pepper
4 chicken supremes (the breast and wing tip – ask your butcher to do this cut for you)
1 bunch of sage
2 green tomatoes, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, enough to fry the sage
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. For the anchovy butter, place all the ingredients into a blender and purée until smooth. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
Place a frying pan large enough to accommodate the chicken over a medium heat. When hot, pour in a tablespoon of oil. Season the chicken generously on both sides and fry skin-side down. When the skin is crispy and golden, place the pan in the oven and roast for 6-8 minutes. Take out of the oven, remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm. Place the pan that you have cooked the chicken in (with the oil still in it) over a medium heat. When smoking, add the sage and fry until crispy; this will not take long. Divide the tomatoes between four plates. Lay the chicken on top and spoon over the anchovy butter. Finish with the sage.