Happy Monday! Not something often said, but this Monday is different. This week is British Tomato Week, celebrating the best of British tomatoes, which are now bursting onto shelves around the country. And, really, who could be sad when faced with a lovely fresh tomato! One of our recently-published foodie books is The Tomato Basket by Jenny Linford; this book is a veritable celebration of the humble tomato, packed with history, recipes, tips for growers, and loads more.
So, we thought we’d share a few tomato-based goodies with you this week! Why not head over to our brand-new-and-improved Pinterest account where you’ll find a whole board dedicated to the tomato. We’ve also got a very tasty Recipe for the Weekend planned, but today we’re going to let Jenny tell you all about what flavours work well with tomato… Over to you Jenny!
Tomato Flavour Friends
The tomato’s remarkable success as a popular ingredient, widely used around the world, is in large part due to its inherent versatility. Its distinctive yet subtle flavour, combining refreshing acidity with sweetness, goes well with a wide range of ingredients, allowing it to be successfully partnered with them in many diverse dishes. Certain flavour combinations, it must be said, work especially well.
When it comes to herbs that go well with tomatoes, basil leaps to mind as probably the best-known example. With good reason, as the fragrant clove-aniseed-mint notes in basil add a wonderful spicy touch to tomato’s bright, clean flavour. In Italian cuisine, where many recipes use the ripe, flavourful tomatoes that grow so abundantly in Italy, it is noticeable that several of them also feature fresh basil. Classically, of course, there is the salad of juicy, sliced tomatoes, dressed with good olive oil, perhaps enhanced by pieces of soft, moist mozzarella cheese, then topped with freshly torn basil leaves. Sicily’s supremely summery version of pesto combines sun-ripened tomatoes with almonds (which grow locally on the island), olive oil and basil. In Naples, pizza is traditionally made by smearing a thin, circular dough base with a tasty tomato sauce, baking it briefly in a hot wood-fired oven, and, for a final flourish, topping it with fresh basil leaves. Use basil to aromatise tomato-based dishes such as soups (hot or cold), sauces, salads, salsas or dressings. Do bear in mind, however, that basil quickly loses its aroma when cooked, so add it in towards the end of the cooking process to maximize its impact.
Garlic and tomatoes are another much-loved flavour combination. With its pungent and powerful taste, garlic works well, rooting the tomato in savouriness. Garlic and onion, fried gently in olive oil until softened and mellow, forms the tasty foundation of many classic tomato dishes, such as a tomato sauce to serve with pasta or use on pizza. For a simple and effective way of using the two together, draw inspiration from Catalonia’s pa amb tomàquet. Served as a popular bar snack, this is made from slices of rough-textured country-style bread rubbed with raw garlic and then juicy fresh tomatoes, so that their juices infuse the bread, finished off with a sprinkling of good quality olive oil. Try Jenny's recipe here.
Ginger is another fundamental flavouring that marries well with tomatoes. One only has to think of the many Indian tomato-based curries that begin by frying onion, garlic and ginger together. The two ingredients combine to be at once aromatic and refreshing, contrasting well with rich meat and poultry such as pork spare ribs, braising beef or duck.
Just as herbs go well with tomatoes, so do spices, adding fragrance and perfume. Chillies and tomatoes, which both have their roots in Mexico, are another excellent partnership. Think of flavourful salsas, made from raw tomatoes, which are combined with refreshing citrus elements such as lime or lemon juice to give a tang, and chilli to give a piquant punch. Famous dishes including Singapore’s famous chilli crab or drinks like the Bloody Mary use the natural sweetness of tomatoes to mellow the hot chilli kick.
Many salty ingredients work well with tomatoes. The complex saltiness of anchovies is a good example, adding deeper bass notes to tomato’s naturally delicate, acidic flavour. Use them to enrich tomato sauces, as with Italy’s gutsy puttanesca sauce or fry them gently in oil until they ‘melt’ before adding tomatoes for hearty stews or braises. Olives work well with tomatoes too; their umami richness contrasts nicely with the freshness of tomato in dishes such as crostini or tarts made with tapenade and tomatoes. Bacon, ham, pancetta and guanciale, again from the same salty umami flavour family, offer much scope for tasty meals, whether in a robust all’Amatriciana sauce or as part of a savoury breakfast, with fried tomatoes nestling alongside slices of ham or bacon.
The tomato’s ability to cut through rich ingredients with a zip of acidity makes it an excellent partner with cheese and rich dairy products – try cheese and tomato flans, pasta bakes, toasties or cheese-filled pancakes in a tomato sauce. Vice-versa, a spoonful of double/heavy cream, crème fraîche or natural yogurt stirred into tomato-based dishes such as soups or tomato sauce both enriches and contrasts. For similar reasons, tomatoes are an excellent ingredient to use with pulses, adding a refreshing lift to their characteristic earthy taste. The happy combination can be found around the world, in dishes such as Indian tarka dal, Italian lentil bakes and America’s Boston baked beans.
So many excellent ideas, we’re feeling very inspired and can’t wait to get cooking!
Extract from The Tomato Basket by Jenny Linford. The book is available here.