While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact globally, few industries have been as hard hit as restaurants and hospitality. Our restaurant is closed for the foreseeable future, our events industry has been shut down, corporate events cancelled, and any type of mass gatherings are no longer able to take place leaving thousands of small catering businesses struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel
I’ve spoken to so many of my fellow chefs and colleagues over the last couple of weeks and we are all trying to remain positive in the knowledge that we will have a huge fight on our hands to survive this after the lockdown. But I’m sure the hospitality industry will eventually bounce back from this and, if I’ve learnt one thing from my recent conversations, it is that our business is full of warm, kind-hearted people who love nothing more than bringing people together sitting around a table sharing great food, wine and conversation and receive great satisfaction from seeing people having a fantastic time in their restaurants. So we will still be here on the other side of this pandemic, looking forward to welcoming everybody back with generosity, a warm reception and a big smile.
I’ve also learnt during the lockdown that the larder starts to look worryingly bare when you've run out of tinned tomatoes. They are the cook's comfort blanket and one of the most unassuming and versatile ingredients in our kitchen cupboards. Tinned tomatoes an essential element of so many recipes and of any number of soups, sauces, curries, tagines and stews, so if you are one of the lucky people who are sitting on a hidden stash…it’s time to make a large batch of tomato sauce and get creative for the rest of the week.
Although I wouldn't say a tin of tomatoes is better than a handful of fresh, juicy red ripe ones straight off the vine in summer, not much is, but they do have the power to transform a recipe with their closeted freshness and vibrancy. Where possible, I would always go for plum tomatoes. Whole tomatoes tend to be less processed than chopped ones, which means they have a fresher flavour and keep more of their natural sweetness. Chopped tomatoes also release more water so whole plum tomatoes give you more flesh and far more flavour for your money. Also, when using tinned instead of fresh tomatoes you normally need to counteract the acidity with a large pinch of sugar.
MY BASIC TOMATO SAUCE
This really is a simple and satisfying recipe to make. I normally use fresh cor de bou tomatoes, but tinned plum tomatoes work perfectly well.
Cooking time: 40–45 minutes
Preparation time: 10 minutes
100ml olive oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tins whole plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 basil leaves, torn
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over a low-medium heat, add the onion and garlic and sweat until they just start to break down, about 3–4 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the sugar, vinegar and herbs and cook slowly for 30–35 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve (strainer) and season to taste.
Mallorca’s version of ratatouille, “Tumbet”, is a wonderful vegetable dish consisting of layers of roasted peppers, aubergines and potatoes in a rich tomato sauce.
Ingredients: serves 6
6 aubergines (sliced)
4 red peppers
2 green peppers
8 large potatoes (peeled and sliced)
6 garlic cloves (crushed)
200ml olive oil
500ml fresh tomato sauce
Fry the potatoes in hot oil until golden brown. Add 3 garlic cloves and cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove the potatoes and place half of them in a large earthenware dish, forming a layer on the bottom of the dish.
Fry the aubergines in the same oil for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove and place then on top of the potatoes to form another layer.
Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Slice them lengthways and fry them for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the rest of the garlic and cook for a further 30 seconds. Place the peppers over the aubergine slices and then top the dish with the remaining potatoes. Pour the tomato sauce over the vegetables and bake in a moderate oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.