Fruit 'n' fibre

FOOD Making most of tomatoes in their season
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It really is only now that tomatoes should be eaten - towards the end of August and into September when they are at their very best. But long ago a decision was made to eat them all the time. I sometimes wonder whether mozzarella would ever have taken off if it had not been for the permanence of a sliced tomato. Having said only the other week that I can eat cold food at any time of the year, I draw the line at a tomato and mozzarella salad in February. For fruit and cheese in the cold months, give me a Cox's orange pippin and a wedge of Lancashire cheese.

I have read many times recently that it is a huge joke to see a packet of supermarket tomatoes labelled "grown for flavour". Do we meekly put up with tomatoes that are "ideal for slicing and salads" or were we hood- winked long ago into thinking that this is OK? Perhaps many of you like a tomato that slices nicely with a serrated knife. The end result certainly looks quite pretty, with the contrasting hues of red and green that signify under-ripe fruit.

The sensible Italians have long been preservers of tomatoes in every form. "Sun-dried", on everyone's lips - both metaphorically and literally - at the moment, have long been a winter staple of southern Italians for use in stews and sauce. I cannot see the Sicilian granny slicing them thinly and strewing them over a little grilled fish salad, can you? These are for reconstruction in, for example, a wild rabbit or goat stew, to enrich and sweeten the juice of the cooking liquor and introduce a nuance of the late summer months. Try using them like this for once and you may well note the difference.

I thought it might be useful to have a few ideas for what to do with tomatoes other than just eat them. Commercially-produced processed tomatoes most commonly come in tins - pureed (how do they get it so uncommonly red?), whole or chopped, or made into sauce and juice. There is also another good thing called passatta, which is packed in cartons and is simply pasteurised and sieved fresh tomatoes. This last is very useful for a speedy soup mixed with other ingredients and makes an excellent base for gazpacho.

Home-made tomato sauce or puree

There are endless uses for both the sauce and puree given here. A layer on the base of a savoury tart or pizza will make you realise just how wishy-washy is the usual slurry of "tomato sauce" used in pizza parlours. As a boost to a slow braise or pot-roast, the addition of some puree adds depth and colour to the cooking juices. But one of my favourite uses is for a very quick tomato cream sauce. Just add about a tablespoonful to a small carton of cream and heat together gently with a leaf or two of basil (or mint or parsley if you like). Then tip into the liquidiser and blend well. Pass through a fine sieve and add a squeeze of lemon juice. This is delicious when served with grilled chicken, lamb cutlets or a firm white fish such as turbot or halibut.

If you make the sauce into a puree, cook it for longer so that it reduces to an intense, thick paste. It is advisable, however, to get yourselves one of those heat diffuser pads so that the sauce doesn't scorch and burn during the process.

2.3 kg/5lbs very ripe tomatoes, peeled

1 head of garlic, each clove peeled and bashed

2 bay leaves

the leaves from one head of fresh green celery or 3 sticks celery, chopped

the thinly pared rind of one lemon (most definitely no pith, or the sauce will be bitter)

2tsp sugar

a little salt

Peel the tomatoes by plunging into boiling water for 15 seconds and immediately draining. Put all the ingredients into a heavy- bottomed pan and bring to a simmer, allow to cook very gently for a couple of hours, stirring from time to time. If it is a sauce you are making, the consistency should be sloppy thick and still pourable, so take from the heat and pass through a mouli-legumes (and having previously stressed how important one is to your kitchen battery, you will, of course, now have one) on the finest setting. If it is to be a puree, leave until very thick and pasty and almost browning around the edges. If you don't mind the odd seed around, leave as it is, but if you are a smoothy like me, push it through a fine sieve as well. Discard all pulp. Pour into scrupulously clean storage jars and put in the fridge. A sauce will keep there for two-to-three weeks, whereas a puree can be stored for several more, but both must be kept in the fridge.

Tomato consomme, serves 4

This pale elixir can be eaten either hot or cold and if the latter, you may like to jell it by the addition of a few leaves of gelatine. It should not be a stiff jelly, rather a trembling bowlful. A spoonful of creme fraiche further sharpened by lemon juice and perfumed with fresh basil leaves is a special addition to the jellied version.

3kg/6.6lbs very ripe tomatoes - it is not worth making the consomme if they are not

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

a little salt

large pinch of dried red chilli flakes

1 large bunch of basil (and I mean large)

It is essential to use a stainless steel or other non-reactive saucepan here.

Peel the tomatoes, and then, with a small knife, cut and slice them anyhow directly into the pan, so as not to waste any precious juices. Put in the garlic, salt and chilli and set on a low heat. Bring to a simmer, stir and cover. The liquid that forms comes purely from the tomatoes. Cook for 40 minutes. Tear in the basil leaves and continue simmering for a further ten minutes. Strain through a colander into a clean bowl or different pan. Leave to drip for a good hour, but do not force the pulp (use the pulp for another dish).

If you wish to jell the consomme, soften two leaves of gelatine in cold water. Squeeze dry and warm in a small pan with some tomato liquid to melt it, then stir back in. Either using a damp tea towel or jelly bag, strain the tomato liquid into another, scrupulously clean, bowl. It is best to support it well above the container (jelly bags usually have strings attached so that they can be hooked up). Allow to drip until it stops completely. The liquid should settle in the bowl and be clear. However, if there is a little settlement at the bottom, simply pour off the clear liquid into another container.

Freshly-made tomato juice, for 4 glasses

This is a delicious and nutritious drink. Poured into a jug with lots of ice and some sprigs of mint, it is invigorating and fresh-tasting (add a few slugs of dry sherry and it becomes even more so). It is important that this is not made in a liquidiser or food processor, as the end result resembles very thin and rather cheap-looking taramasalata. A mouli-legumes is what you need. You will also need a good sieve.

16 large ripe, tomatoes, peeled and chopped

12 small green pepper, cored and chopped

12 cucumber, peeled and chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

a scrap of garlic

Tabasco

salt

juice of one large lime or lemon

several mint sprigs

ice

Push the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber and celery through the mouli-legumes set on the medium-holed blade into a bowl. Then pass the resultant puree through a fine sieve into another bowl, pressing down well on the solids. Discard all pulp. Tip the tomato juice into a glass jug, add the Tabasco, lime or lemon juice and salt to taste and stir in the mint and ice. Leave for five minutes before pouring into chilled glasses

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