Saturday, December 5, 2009

Making tasteless tomatoes tasty

I know as a cookery writer I shouldn't be advocating using produce out of season and by and large I don't. I don't want strawberries or broad beans in December or parsnips in June. But I do crave fresh tomatoes and judging by how many are available even at this time of year I suspect I'm not alone.

The problem is they don't really taste of anything much - except the vastly expensive imported ones so what is a tomato lover to do?

The other day I bought a reduced pack in our local Co-op and decided to see how good I could make them taste. I halved them horizontally and put them in a tray with a good glug of olive oil and 3-4 smashed cloves of garlic. I seasoned them with salt, pepper and some herbes de Provence, bunged them in the top AGA oven till they got going (5 minutes) then transferred them to the slow oven for just over an hour. (You could of course do this on a low setting in a conventional oven.)

We had them on sourdough toast but you could equally well use them for a pasta sauce or a soup. They would have caramelised even better with a pinch of sugar and/or another 15 minutes or so in the oven.

An alternative and even quicker strategy is to use cherry tomatoes and simply tip them into a frying pan in which you've heated some olive oil and cook them for a couple of minutes shaking the pan until the skins start to burst. Turn the heat down, give them another 5 minutes or so then season as above with salt and pepper. You could also stir in some chopped fresh thyme or parsley or, even better, wilt in a handful of fresh basil leaves but that's obviously out of season during these dark days too. It does recapture just that little bit of summer . . .

Where do you stand on eating produce like tomatoes out of season? Do you do it or eschew it?

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