Tangy tomato treats

Vintage tomato varieties play the starring role in this summer's big hit dinner party dishes, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

You don't even think about the way the tomatoes are grown when you're tucking into a tomato and basil salad. Although tomatoes used to be grown commercially all over the UK, there are now very few growers left - more than likely due to the prevalence of cheaper imports. When I visited some producers in Jersey a few months ago, I met up with Kevin Herve of Harmony Heritage tomatoes.

We've been buying Kevin's vintage tomato varieties for the restaurants for the past few years via Tony Booth in Borough Market, so it was a great opportunity to meet the man responsible for reviving these interesting old varieties. Kevin's main line is the Jersey Jewel, a small plum tomato sold on the vine that you can find at Tesco. More interesting, though, are his Heritage tomatoes, which consist of eight varieties in all shapes and sizes. With names like Pink Accordion, Oxheart, Dr Wyches' Yellow, Cuor di Bue and Red Zebra, they taste as wonderful as they sound and look.

The thing that fascinated me was Kevin's virtually chemical-free growing process. Instead of using pesticides, he imports other insects that are natural predators to greenhouse pests. He also buys boxes of live bumblebees to pollinate the tomatoes. Kevin sells his tomatoes as a mixed box, which means that you can easily create colourful and summery tomato dishes.

At the Rivington Grills we are currently running a tomato menu, with five or six Harmony Heritage tomato dishes, from Bloody Mary sherbet to mackerel with tomato salad.

Tomatoes on toast with Ragstone goat's cheese

Serves 4

A slice of hot buttered toast with ripe tomatoes is a pleasurable and simple snack, especially when you use an heirloom variety such as Black Prince from Siberia. Any ripe, tasty tomatoes will do, but these or another variety, like Marmande or Oxheart, really set the dish off.

I've used Ragstone goat's cheese here, which is made by Charlie Westhead at the Neal's Yard Creamery in Herefordshire, but any small fresh goat's cheese log will do.

4 slices of bread, cut about 1cm thick
4 large ripe tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme with the leaves removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g Ragstone goat's cheese or a similar small goat's cheese log

Cut 4 slices from the centre of each tomato about 1/2cm thick, and put to one side. Chop up the rest of the tomato and place in a saucepan with the oil, garlic and thyme leaves. Season and cook on a gentle heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring until the tomatoes disintegrate into a pulp.

Toast the bread on both sides, then spread the tomato mixture on top and arrange 4 slices of tomato on each. Cut the goat's cheese into 16 thin slices and lay a slice on top of each tomato. Place under the grill for 3-4 minutes and serve.

Heritage tomato and Parmesan clafoutis

Serves 4

There's no reason why we can't start turning classic desserts into savoury dishes, as you'll see in the next recipe for tomato summer pudding. Don't panic - I'm not turning into a weirdo, I'm just exploring new possibilities. Try to use mixture of coloured and cherry tomatoes.

The tomatoes will need to dry out a bit before you make the clafoutis, so it's a good idea to get them out of the way the day before.

500g mixed tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
3 medium sized eggs
40g flour
200ml single cream
2tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
Butter or olive oil for greasing

Pre-heat the oven to 140C/gas mark 1. Cut the larger tomatoes into small wedges or chunks and the cherry tomatoes in half. Lay them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, then season them with salt and scatter with the thyme leaves. Leave them in the oven for 3-4 hours, removing the cherry tomatoes after an hour, or until they have reduced in size by about one-third.

Whisk the eggs together, then add the flour and cream, season, add half the Parmesan and beat well with a whisk. You can do this with an electric hand blender if you wish.

Now turn up the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Grease a round ovenproof gratin dish or similar, pour in the batter and then arrange the tomatoes in the batter. Scatter the rest of the Parmesan on top.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the sides have risen and the batter is a light golden colour.

You can serve this simply as it comes, or with a spoonful of crème fraîche and scattered with basil leaves.

Tomato summer pudding

Serves 4-6

Could this be the summer's dinner-party hit starter? My friend Anya Galaccio told me that she found this version of the classic summer pudding in the Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. After ploughing through Lindsey Bareham's The Big Red Book of Tomatoes, I then discovered that she too has created her own version; as did Jennifer Paterson.

1kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
250ml tomato juice, or passata
Enough white or brown sliced bread, about 5-8mm thick, crusts removed, to line a 1-litre pudding basin or 4 individual ones
1tbsp tomato ketchup
1tbsp cider vinegar
A handful of torn basil leaves

Line a 1-litre pudding basin with clingfilm, allowing it to overhang the sides (this will ease the turning-out process), and then make a circle from a slice of bread (or 4 small ones for individual moulds) to fit the base. Cut the rest of the bread into pieces to fit around the f sides, making sure that they're big enough to overlap a little. Cut a couple more pieces to fit halfway up the bowl and at the top. As you are lining the bowl, briefly dip the pieces of bread in the tomato juice, allowing them to overlap a little and pressing the joins together with your fingers.

Put the chopped tomatoes and remaining tomato juice into a saucepan with the ketchup and cider vinegar, season and warm them through for a couple minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a colander over a bowl and leave to cool.

Spoon the tomato mixture and a little of the drained juice into the lined basin up to about the halfway mark. Cover with a round of bread, then top up with the rest of the fruit, and a little more juice, and cover with a circle of bread. Fold the sides over it a little and bring the clingfilm into the middle. Put a plate on the top, weighed down with a couple of tins (or something else heavy) and leave overnight in the fridge to set.

To serve, run a small knife around the pudding to loosen it and invert it on to a serving plate. Spoon over the reserved sauce.

Bloody Mary sherbet

Serves 4-6

As you've probably noticed over the years, I've got a bit of a thing about making drinks into jellies and sorbets. This would be a great fun starter at a dinner party, and you can make it as potent as you feel your guests can handle. I wouldn't recommend serving absinthe jelly for dessert, though.

Making fresh tomato juice can be slightly tricky unless you have ultra-ripe juicy tomatoes, and even then it never tastes quite the same as the bought stuff, so I'm recommending using a carton.

1 litre tomato juice
4tbsp Worcestershire sauce (more if you wish)
Tabasco to taste
4 shots of vodka (or more - up to you)
Juice of 1 lemon
4-6 small sticks of celery from the heart
1tbsp freshly grated horseradish
4-6 good pinches celery salt (preferably home made; see following recipe)

Mix all of the ingredients together except for the celery, horseradish and celery salt. Pour into a shallow tray and place it in the freezer. Stir every so often until the mixture has frozen to a grainy, slushy consistency. Serve in martini glasses or similar with a stick of celery and the horseradish and celery salt scattered over.

Celery salt

Find a head of leafy celery. They're not that easy to find, as most producers tend to cut all the leaves off, but you're more likely to find one at a farmers' market. Remove all the leaves, keeping the rest of the celery for a soup, stock or salad. Roughly chop them, either in a food processor or by hand. Set your oven to its lowest temperature. With some modern ovens, you can just use the fan; and if you have an Aga, the warming oven is ideal. Scatter the celery on to 1 or 2 baking trays and leave in the oven overnight until the pieces are dry and crisp without being brown. Depending on how watery the celery is, you may have to allow even more time. Once they're dry enough, put them into a food processor with a handful of sea salt flakes and blend to a coarse powder-like consistency or finer if you wish. Store in airtight containers.

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