As summer heaves into view, Borough Market begins to overflow with beautiful British tomatoes. At her Borough Market demo on 20th May, Beca Lyne-Pirkis will be drawing the very best from these versatile fruits
Without tomatoes, the subject of my upcoming session in the demonstration kitchen, our cuisine would be very dull indeed. Originating in South America, they made their debut in Europe in the 16th century, but didn’t became popular in Britain until the 19th century. A staple of the Mediterranean diet, the tomato is part of the nightshade family of fruit which also includes the pepper, chilli and aubergine.
British tomatoes in season are delicious. Available between June and October, this sweet jewel of the salad bowl brightens up many a dish and gives depth of flavour to many others. A glut of tomatoes will easily see you through the summer months, but there are also many ways of preserving then to enjoy all year round, from sundried and marinated, to chutneys and powdered. In order to prolong or preserve tomatoes, you will need to buy them at their best: fresh, ripe and without blemishes.
I’ll come back to the prolonging techniques shortly, but first let’s talk fresh tomatoes, which are categorised into four types: cherry, plum, salad and beefsteak. Within each category, you then have various varieties, sizes and colours, but when it comes knowing which tommy will suit which recipe, if you go by these four broad types, you can’t go far wrong.
Smallest and sweetest
Cherry or grape tomatoes are the smallest and sweetest, a good all-rounder and my go-to tomato for salads, roasting, sauces and soups. Cherry tomatoes on the vine or cherry plum tomatoes are what you need to look for, and they’re best kept out of the fridge—this goes for all tomatoes, although being in the fridge will keep them fresher for longer. If you keep them in the fridge, make sure you take them out around 20-30 minutes before needing them.
Plum tomatoes are my second choice due to their flavour having more depth than the salad or beefsteak types. Plum tomatoes also tend to be fleshy and have fewer seeds, which makes them ideal for soups and sauces. Beefsteaks are the biggest and most ‘meaty’ of the lot and are great for stuffing, or slicing thickly and frying. And finally, the salad tomato—I find these the blandest as they tend to be removed from the vine, so don’t have a chance to develop their flavour as much as the others.
When it comes to the different colours, green tomatoes fall into two categories—the un-ripened ones, and the variety that ripens but keeps its colour—both of which are great for making chutneys and frying, as they tend to be firm in texture and tangy in flavour. Yellow tomatoes have just been left to ripen until they’re yellow, but are similar in flavour to red tomatoes.
Drying in the oven
When it comes to preserving, the cherry tomato or cherry plum tomato are, in my opinion, the best for making sundried tomatoes—although by ‘sundried’ I actually mean drying in the oven!
Just wash and dry, slice in half and evenly spread on a baking tray with a small drizzle of olive oil and a little salt. Bake in a low oven set to 90-100C for 2-4 hours and once dry and shrivelled, store in a sterile jar with olive oil. Great for adding as a topping to dishes, making pesto and sauces, or simply eating with a selection of charcuterie.
And don’t throw away your tomato skins as they can be turned into tomato powder by again drying in an oven and grinding until fine. A tablespoon of this will add depth to sauces, soups and stews.