I’ve just picked my first tomato, and yes I’m feeling quite proud about it. I walked into the house beaming from ear to ear and everyone thought I’d won Lotto. Instead, I’d hit the growers’ jackpot – three little cherry tomatoes. Reaping the rewards of your own efforts in the vegetable garden gives a wonderful sense of achievement but particularly so with a tomato. It’s watching it flower then fruit, the slow turn from green to red and if you’ve done everything well and it has drunk its fill of the sun, then the result can be spectacular. Sweet and juicy, a little tart and incredibly versatile.
My husband treats tomatoes literally as fruit, eating it like an apple, usually leaning over the sink with juice dripping all over my nice clean kitchen bench. My first cherry tomatoes didn’t get any special treatment, I ate them, just popped them in my mouth and it was glorious. And that was my reward for the hard yards, every Saturday I fed it tomato fertiliser, I staked it and picked off leaves to let the sun shine on the bunches of fruit. I nurtured it and it in turn, is now nurturing me. Delicious!
Recently on a research trip to Sydney (it’s a necessary part of food development...) I experienced a dish that took tomatoes to a whole new level – an heirloom tomato salad at Becasse. Becasse is Justin North’s restaurant, the Blenheim born chef who won last year’s Sydney Morning Herald Chef of the Year. North has an intensely romantic relationship with food, he is full of respect and awe for the simplest of ingredient and his menu reflects that. Working with boutique suppliers and markets, he selects the finest examples and then works to enhance natural flavours. And thus, it is Justin North who has ruined me for every tomato salad.
JUSTIN NORTH'S HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD AT BECASSE, SYDNEY
Heirloom tomatoes are growing in popularity; traditionally naturally cultivated they are not the stuff of commercial growers. North’s tomatoes were bright red and yellow, green striped, deep plum, there was olive oil sorbet and the most intensely flavoured basil pebbles (a touch of molecular gastronomy). It was simply spectacular and as you can see, exceptionally beautiful.
We all have tins of chopped tomatoes in our pantries because it’s a meal in a can – soups, pastas, slow braises, a quick Spanish chicken or an Italian inspired fish casserole. But if you’re growing them, or buying them cheaply at this time of the year when they are most abundant, you can preserve them yourself to enjoy them all year long.
I’m giving you a Middle Eastern inspired summer tomato jam recipe because it goes spectacularly well with so many things, and is as valuable in my kitchen as tinned tomatoes. Spoon it over grilled or roasted chicken, fish or lamb. Pour it over browned chicken thighs and bake for a great casserole. Pile on top of hot grilled garlicky ciabatta with your own beef burger and haloumi for a stunning Sunday night open sandwich. Heat the tomato through slightly and dollop it on toast with poached eggs and toasted cumin for a seriously good brunch (accompanied by a bloody Mary.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about it...so I’m off out the back garden to the tomato vine. Bottle this jam and seal it, it keeps for at least 6 months. Cook it & Love it.
SUMMER TOMATO JAM
2 tablespoons oil
1 onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoons turmeric
1 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1.5 kg tomato, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
freshly ground white pepper
Place the onion, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon in a pot with the oil and cook for 5 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients and slowly bring to a simmer, reduce for about 30 minutes and check seasoning.
The amount of cayenne, salt and pepper is entirely personal.
The jam is ready once it has thickened.