Today I ate tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Squashed on to bread with oil, salt and a little cheese on the side in the morning; at lunch, in heavy wedges with a dousing of sea salt alongside a simple chickpea salad; and, at supper time, cooked down into a warm salsa to eat with potato tortilla.
I am in Portugal and the tomatoes here are worthy of all the superlatives you could bestow on a fruit or vegetable, but at home the season is in full swing too. Last week, I counted 24 different tomatoes in my local (admittedly very good) greengrocer, but even on the supermarket shelves it’s possible to find tomatoes beyond the bog-standard (which are picked unripe and never get to their best) and ubiquitous vines and cherry varieties.
I am not a tomato purist: I do eat them outside of summer, and I do look forward to the first crop of hardy, salty, winter tomatoes. But, for now, I will feast on them while they are truly at their best, often with nothing more than salt and olive oil. To fully capitalise on this short time, here are a few more ideas.
One tomato salad – four ways
This is the tomato salad I make the most. Eat it simply as it is or take it in one of four different directions for a bit more of a meal.
1kg mixed ripe tomatoes, different shapes and colours
Flaky salt and black pepper
1 tbsp red-wine or balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and chopped
1 Depending on the size of your tomatoes, slice some in half, some into quarters and the others into uneven chunks. Straight away, this will give you the beginnings of a tomato salad that’s really brave and exciting to look at and eat. Put the tomatoes into a colander and season with a pinch of salt.
2 Give them a toss, season again and toss a few more times. The salt won’t be drawn into the tomatoes; instead it will draw any excess moisture out, concentrating all the lovely flavours. Leave the tomatoes in the colander on top of a bowl to stand for around 15 minutes, then discard any juice that has come out of them.
3 Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl, add all of the other ingredients and mix well. Eat just as it is or take it one of the following four ways.
1 Popped chickpeas and Israeli spice
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Toss a drained can of chickpeas with a pinch of dried chilli, 1 tsp cumin seeds and 1 tsp coriander seeds, salt, black pepper and olive oil and roast them at 180C/350F/gas 4 for about 20 minutes, or until crisp. Toss the warm chickpeas with the tomatoes, a finely chopped shallot, 1 tbsp sumac and some chopped parsley.
2 Summer herbs, lemon and mozzarella
Pick the leaves from a bunch of mint and one of basil or marjoram. Roughly chop most of the herbs and add to the tomatoes with the zest of an unwaxed lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Lay on a plate next to some torn, seasoned mozzarella and finish with a little more oil and the rest of the herbs.
3 Corn, croutons, lime
Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Tear 4 slices of bread into small pieces, toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Cut the kernels from 2 ears of corn and add to the tomatoes with the zest of 2 limes and the warm croutons. You can add a little more red chilli here too, if you like.
4 Goat’s curd and toasted seeds
Toast 3 tbsp pumpkin and 2 tbsp sunflower seeds in a dry pan until they smell toasty. Add 1 tsp caraway or fennel seeds and toast for another 30 seconds. Add 1 tbsp maple syrup then take off the heat to cool and set. Once cool, roughly chop the seeds. Serve the tomatoes with a spoonful of goat’s curd per person and the seeds for sprinkling over the top.
Grilled green tomatoes with feta and watermelon
Here I use green tomatoes, which are a verdant and altogether different affair from the red ones. Make sure that you use unripe tomatoes here – not the heirloom green variety, which are different. If you can’t get unripened ones you can use red: just don’t grill them. The resulting salad will still be totally delicious.
6 unripe green tomatoes in 1cm slices
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
400g piece of watermelon, cold from the fridge, chopped into bitesize chunks
1 green chilli, thinly sliced
100g unsalted, roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
Juice and zest of 1 unwaxed lime
A small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks finely chopped
200g feta cheese, crumbled
1 Heat a griddle pan or grill to medium-high. Brush the tomato slices on both sides with a little oil. Grill until softened and lightly charred, which should take around 4 minutes per side.
2 Transfer the tomatoes to a serving platter and drizzle over the vinegar and 2 tbsp oil. Season with salt and pepper.
3 Toss the spring onions, watermelon, green chilli and almonds in 3 tbsp oil. Add the lime juice and zest, season well, mix again, then add the coriander and crumbled feta. Toss again to bring everything together.