THE TASTE OF A MEDITERRANEAN SUMMER

Juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, grown in the Mediterranean sun, are the ultimate summer ingredient. Full of flavour, with a slightly aromatic scent, they are one of those magical ingredients, like high quality olive oil and lemons that make the others sing.
But not all that glitters is gold and good looks are often deceptive when you are buying tomatoes. If you can, pick them up and smell them as they should have an intoxicatingly pleasant aroma. Chances are if they smell of nothing they will probably taste of nothing. The stalk leaves should be fresh and green and the fruit should be firm with a bright, unflawed skin.
Never store tomatoes in the fridge as this impairs natural ripening and flavour, instead store them at room temperature. Over-ripe tomatoes will deteriorate even more quickly if chilled.

One of my favourite varieties is Plum tomatoes; these are oval-shaped with a firm flesh that is perfect for pizzas, sauces and cooking on the barbecue. They taste wonderful roasted whole with a little sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a sprig of oregano or summer savoury. Large Spanish beef tomatoes are ideal for stuffing and baking whole. They are also a fantastic salad ingredient with some sliced red onion, torn basil leaves, mozzarella and a generous drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Although normally sold at a premium, tomatoes still attached to the vine are well worth the extra expense. It is the stem which gives the distinctive aroma rather than the fruits themselves but they can be picked when they are very ripe and generally have a better flavour.

For something different, what not try Raf tomatoes? They are obtained by selecting and crossing different breeds and are normally cultivated in greenhouses.
Unlike other varieties of tomato, the ripening process occurs from the inside out. So the best time to buy them is when Raf tomatoes begin to display orange streaks on the green skin. Everything is a matter of taste: as it matures, the reddish streaks on the green skin become a deeper red. The flavour is equally delicious, but you will sacrifice some of the crisp texture.

For a quick and delicious tomato dish, try the Mallorcan classic known as “Pa amb oli”: literally meaning bread with oil, the meal is something of a ceremony among locals these days. Simply crush the thin skinned “ramallet” tomatoes with a garlic clove, sea salt and a generous glug of olive oil and serve on a slab of rustic bread. A variety of toppings can then be added from slices of locally cured hams, chorizos to sobrasadas and cheese.
With an abundance of tomatoes around at the moment they are well worth preserving or drying as their concentrated flavour will almost certainly be superior to fresh during the winter months and you’ll get a true taste of a Mediterranean summer all year round.



OVEN, SUN-DRIED TOMATOES

Ingredients:

2kl       ripe plum tomatoes
6          garlic cloves, crushed
6tbsp   chopped oregano
1tbsp   sea salt (flor de sal)
            freshly ground black pepper
            Extra virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to the lowest heat setting.
Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally and scoop out most of the seeds.
Salt the insides and turn the cut side down on a wire cooling rack- leave for half an hour, then rinse and dry.
Mix the crushed garlic with the oregano and black pepper. Spread this mix over the cut side of the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes cut side up in a roasting tray and dribble over olive oil into the tray. Cook in the oven for 4-6 hours or leave in the sun for up to two days, taking them in at night. Place the tomatoes in a sterilized kilner jar and cover with extra virgin oil. Use in any recipe that requires sun-dried tomatoes. Store in a cool, dark place, the tomatoes should keep for 6 months. Refrigerate upon opening and keep for 1 month covered with olive oil.

SUMMER MINESTRONE


Ingredients:     serves 6
2          leeks
3          celery sticks
2          medium Carrots
1          large potato
1          large courgette
1          green pepper
1          garlic clove, crushed
1 litre    vegetable stock
3 tbsp  olive oil
400g    tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2tbsp   tomato puree
            seasoning
100g    macaronis
1          rosemary stick
10        basil leaves, torn
200g Parmesan cheese shavings

Cut all the vegetables into dices, about 1cm thick.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sweat the leeks, celery, peppers and carrots for 6-8 minutes until softened. Add the potatoes, garlic, tomato puree, rosemary stalk and courgettes, and then top with vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and macaronis, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes until the pasta is just cooked. Remove the rosemary stalk and add the torn basil leaves.
Serve immediately, topped with freshly shaved Parmesan.


RATATOUILLE

Ingredients:     serves 4-6

1          large onion, diced
2          cloves of garlic, crushed
2          aubergines, diced
1          red pepper, seeded and diced
1          yellow pepper, seeded and diced
200g    tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped
1tbsp   tomato puree
2          courgettes, diced
100ml  olive oil
            Fresh herbs
            Seasoning

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Turn down the heat and sweat them slowly over a gentle flame for 2-3 minutes until they are soft and just turning gold. Add the diced peppers and gently cook for 5 minutes.
Add the aubergines, tomato puree and tomatoes; cook gently until the tomatoes are reduced to form a sauce. Now add the courgettes and cook gently for around 30 minutes, until the vegetables are just soft.
Season with a little salt and black pepper, add the fresh herbs and serve.
 

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