Not so long ago I was asked what my favourite food was and I surprised myself by replying swiftly it was tomatoes. I never considered food as rating material: I either like it or I don’t. True, there are things I prefer but I don’t think I could make a list of, say, Top Ten Foods without obvious bias towards the current season. The palate is in my case a matter of season: asparagus = spring, cherries = early summer, sauerkraut = winter to just name a few typical examples.
Tomatoes on the other hand I consume throughout the year in various forms and textures. Guilty as charged. They’re beautiful, red and curvy; they certainly look good, don’t they? I like them raw, cooked or roasted, on their own or in combination. They’re versatile and they taste and smell like summer. Arguably, tomatoes have changed a great deal in the past two or three decades due to intensive cultivation and high demand. I believe they mostly taste like nothing and consider myself lucky being of generation that grew up on seasonable only tomatoes. I can clearly recall the taste of my childhood tomatoes and none of them now are quite the same. Still, when carefully and timely selected one can enjoy them nearly as much.
I love tomatoes just sliced and salted with a drizzle of olive oil. As a child I was used to eating tomato salad dressed with pumpkin seed oil, as it is a customary dressing choice in the East where my mother comes from. Now, I choose a good olive oil any time of the day for my tomatoes. I love a simple tomato sauce for pasta dishes. Actually, if I look closely I can’t imagine my life without tomatoes. Ergo, it’s quite stressful to read about this.
I admit to indulge in the first spring variety known by the pretty name of Marinda and soon other kinds, summery, follow.
I like canned tomatoes as well, they serve us well through winter. I use them to dress pasta (peeled San Marzano is best) or to enhance a legume vegetable stew (passata or polpa brighten the dull fagioli immediately). They’re indispensable in autumn Indian curry or when I crave a plain, good old tomato soup. I add a squeeze of lemon and plenty of chilli to it.
Now, what I look forward to as the summer comes to a close is roasting them (cherry tomatoes or any other variety) in the oven. Roasting deepens their flavour, it somehow intensifies their taste and concentrates them. To make them I roughly follow David Lebovitz’s recipe, which is simple and delightful, but after they’re roasted and still very hot from the oven I spoon them carefully into a meticulously clean glass jar to preserve them. I add some additional olive oil on top and close it up immediately. When it cools, I store it in the refrigerator – it keeps well for several weeks. If you do it sporadically as the tomatoes occur even later in the season (sometimes I get my hands on good tomatoes as late as October), the jars prepared this way may last till Christmas. I find this way of preserving tomatoes to be a smart move this time of year when the prices are more reasonable and one is somehow fed up with eating yet another tomato salad albeit 1001st version of it.
They can be added by spoonfuls to bought canned tomatoes or passata to give a dish an extra homey feel or to any other dish calling for tomatoes. Meatballs for instance. They enhance the flavour of any dish. Plus, you can brag about them being homemade.