The time is ripe: Mark Hix's simple, summery tomato recipes

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm glad that we are seeing more varieties of British-grown tomatoes on the market these days – there are more pretty shapes and colours available now and they make for delicious and really tasty summer salads. If you grow your own tomatoes you are probably praying for some constant sunshine to ripen them up, but sadly our climate isn't likely to deliver that kind of weather – so if you have the time and patience, greenhouse growing is probably the safest way to go. I remember vividly the time and patience that my grandfather lavished on his 50 or so plants every year – he treated them like children and pruned and fed them obsessively to create fine, tasty specimens. Alternatively, you can buy some great British-grown tomatoes from good farmers' markets.

Portuguese tomato and chorizo soup with a poached egg

Serves 4

You can make this with Portuguese or Spanish cooking chorizo; the oils from the sausage seep out into the soup to give it a delicious, lightly spiced, nutty flavour.

1tbsp olive oil
150g cooking chorizo, cut into rough -1cm cubes
1 large red onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 firm beef tomatoes or 6 normal-sized tomatoes, cut into 1cm chunks
1ltr chicken stock
2 x 1cm-thick slices of sourdough, cut into 1cm cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 hens' eggs

Heat a little of the olive oil in a wide, heavy-based frying pan and gently cook the chorizo for a couple of minutes to release some of the oils; add the onion and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes on a low heat until soft. Turn the heat up and add the tomatoes and stir on a high heat for a couple of minutes, then add the stock, season and simmer for 10 minutes. Blend a quarter of the soup in a liquidiser and return to the pan and re-season if necessary.

Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a frying pan and cook the chorizo for a minute or so until it begins to crisp up, then add the bread and continue cooking and stirring until the bread is crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on some kitchen paper. Poach the eggs and carefully drain on some kitchen paper. Ladle the soup into warmed serving bowls, place an egg in the centre of each and scatter the croutons and chorizo over the top.

Tomato, fennel and Parmesan salad

Serves 4-6

Raw fennel and tomatoes are a great combination, especially with a hard cheese such as Parmesan or pecorino. You can serve this as a simple starter or side dish – or as part of an antipasto selection. Try to buy a selection of tomatoes of different varieties and colours.

300-350g ripe mixed tomatoes
1 fennel bulb, quartered, root removed and very thinly sliced with a knife or on a mandolin (reserve any green ferns)
60-80g Parmesan, thinly shaved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

1tbsp good quality white wine or cider vinegar
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cut the tomatoes into a mixture of chunks and wedges, mix the vinegar and oil together and toss with the tomatoes, fennel and fennel ferns in a bowl, season and arrange on serving plates, then scatter over the Parmesan.

Armenian tomato and aubergine salad

Serves 4-6

This is rather like the salad that you find in Turkish restaurants, and it's a great dish to just put on the table as a sharing starter.

You can make this as fine or as coarse as you like, and I prefer chopping the ingredients by hand, but you could also give all the ingredients a whizz in a food processor if you wish.

3 medium-sized aubergines
2 cloves of garlic, preferably new-season's, peeled and crushed
1 red chilli, halved, seeded and finely chopped
350-400g ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely chopped
150ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Cook the whole aubergines on a barbecue or under a hot grill, for about 15 minutes, turning them every so often until the skin blackens.

Remove from the grill and then leave the aubergine to cool a little.

Cut the aubergines in half and scoop out the flesh as close to the skin as you can to get a really good smokey flavour. Chop the flesh over several times until it's almost a purée, then put it into a bowl with the garlic, chilli, tomatoes, spring onions, olive oil and coriander. Season and mix well with a spoon.

Serve at room temperature with some warm flatbread.

Tomato spelt

Serves 4

I'm really getting into using spelt now instead of rice for certain dishes. It has a great flavour and because it's pretty robust, you don't have to be quite as careful with it as you do with rice.

You can serve this on its own or with grilled meats or fish, or a minced kofta-type kebab.

2tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp thyme or fresh oregano leaves
100g spelt, soaked in cold water for 2 hours, then drained
3tbsp tomato purée
1ltr vegetable or chicken stock
4 firm tomatoes, cut into rough 1cm dice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion, garlic and thyme for a couple of minutes, stirring every so often.

Add the spelt and tomato purée and then gradually add the vegetable or chicken stock in four or five stages, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next. When the rice is almost cooked, add the tomatoes and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be quite wet but not soupy. Season to taste and serve hot or at room temperature.

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