Tag Archives: Tomatoes

And more salad…

Poppy in wild flowers June 2017

The hot weather may have come to an abrupt end and the water butts are now replenished, but the salad season continues here. It fits with the burgeoning cut-and-come-again lettuce that reshoots virtually as soon as you’ve picked it – I’ve given bags away to friends and family and still have plenty – with another row coming ready soon. Even so, now, when the heat is off temporarily, is the perfect time to do some more succession sowing of salad crops. Most seeds don’t germinate well in extreme heat and dry conditions, so now’s the time to take advantage of the respite and resow lettuce, rocket, carrots, beetroot, annual herbs and other salad leaves. My parsnip seeds have failed completely this year, both sowings, so I’ll use the space for more carrots and beetroot, both quicker to germinate and grow than parsnips, which need a long growing season. I usually find parsnips incredibly trouble-free, but every five years or so they refuse to cooperate, for whatever reason – growing conditions, the seeds themselves, who knows? Other plotholders have struggled too, so I know it’s not just me.

The tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet, although they are looking phenomenally healthy this year – another couple of weeks, I reckon. I’m growing just two varieties this year, the ever-delicious Sungold and old-fashioned favourite Ailsa Craig. In the meantime, I’ll just have to use bought tomatoes for this recipe, one of my go-to summer salads. I’m not sure where it came from in the first place, as it’s now a much-used page in my recipe scrapbook. I suspect it may have been a Good Housekeeping recipe, tweaked down the line, but basically anything goes.

Warm Mediterranean Chicken Salad (serves 6)

Med chicken salad

200g couscous
300g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red pepper, chopped
50g black olives, pitted and chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp pesto ( I use homemade broad bean pesto, or Delia’s basil pesto, but bought works well too)
9 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 small, hot cooked chicken (or use 3 chicken breasts, fried in strips for 5-10 minutes)
100g feta cheese, chopped (or use goat’s cheese)
Handful fresh basil leaves
Seasoning
Lettuce or salad leaves to serve

Put the couscous in a bowl, then add 225ml boiling water. Cover and leave to one side for 10 minutes or so.
Mix together the chopped tomatoes, pepper, olives, garlic, capers, pesto and 8 tbsp olive oil in a large bowl. If using a whole chicken, strip the meat from the bones and cut into bitesize pieces, then add to the bowl containing the tomato mixture. Toss gently together and season.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil to the couscous and mix lightly with a fork. Combine with the tomato mixture, and finally add the chopped feta or goat’s cheese. Sprinkle basil leaves on top. Arrange in a large salad bowl lined with salad leaves and serve so the chicken is still slightly warm, although it tastes good cold too the following day.

Another favourite salad for summer days is a Roasted Vegetable Salad, again served with couscous, although you could use rice instead. Simply chop courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic into chunky pieces (aubergines work well too), sprinkle with fresh basil leaves (or rosemary works well too), drizzle with olive oil and season, then place in a roasting tin and roast at 180°C fan/Gas 5 for 45 minutes or until just starting to brown. Meanwhile steam the couscous as above (100ml of boiling water per 60g couscous per person is my rule of thumb), leaving to stand for 10 minutes or so. Stir in 1 tbsp pesto, then spoon into a serving dish. Top with the roast vegetables, still warm if you like, and sprinkle over some feta or goat’s cheese. Delicious 🙂

Roast veg salad in bowl

Autumn Glory

ratatouille-ingredients

I can barely believe that September has flown past and here we are in October, summer definitely over, yet the gardens are still overflowing with beautiful produce. The weather is still being kind to us, at least down here in the South-East, so my (late) sweet peas are still going strong, as are the dahlias, and the courgettes are still producing chunky fruit every couple of days! There’s definitely a chill in the air, though, certainly in the morning and evening, and the leaves on my scarlet Euonymus alatus are just starting to turn – a sure sign that autumn has arrived.

euonymus-alatus

The late start to the growing season this year has meant that some crops haven’t done as well as usual: my squashes are very small, for instance, and the runner beans have been sketchy, although the French beans have been magnificent! My two plum trees were cut back hard last year and tend to be biennial in any event, so I haven’t had vast amounts of fruit, but the later Marjorie variety has come up trumps with a few bowls’ worth of sweet and juicy plums.

With all the ingredients for ratatouille to hand, it seemed sacrilege not to make some for the freezer – something you really appreciate in the dank. dark days of winter. In recent years I’ve been oven-roasting the standard veg for a baked ratatouille, but this time I’ve reverted to the traditional method of cooking slowly on the hob – delightfully simple, yet delicious. I used courgettes, aubergine (two types), tomatoes, basil, red and green pepper, red onions and garlic, but the specific vegetables are not set in stone. In fact, I actually used a couple of tins of tomatoes, and a squirt of tomato purée, as my own tomatoes are not particularly prolific this year – that late Spring again! The Sungold and Gardener’s Delight have done well, as usual, but you never get enough to cook with on a large scale as they are cherry tomatoes, after all. The Black Russian, though extremely tasty and fleshy, have fruited very sparsely and I won’t be growing those outside again. Back to the drawing board next year for a larger outdoor tomato…

ratatouille_prep

Starting with the sliced onions, garlic and pepper, I gradually add the remaining veg as I prepare them by chopping roughly, then simmer for an hour or so. The taste of summer… Freezes beautifully, of course.

ratatouille

After the last couple of chillier nights, I removed all the remaining tomatoes from my outdoor plants this morning and have left them in baskets to ripen on the conservatory windowsill. I’ve done the same with some of my triffid-like chilli plants too. This year’s variety, the jalapeno-like Summer Heat, has been very tasty (if pretty hot!), but with very large fruit and leggy plants – not necessarily ideal on the conservatory window ledge!

Fortunately, the allotment is still full of veg for the coming months: leeks, brassicas, beetroot and parsnips are all yet to come – the joys of growing your own! My new autumn raspberries have taken well in their new bed and I’m picking a handful every couple of days – perfect with my breakfast muesli and yogurt. Apples are looking plentiful too and one of this weekend’s tasks should certainly be to harvest as many as I can for storage in the garage before the first frosts. Such a lovely time of year….

Oh, and those plums? Delicious eaten straight from the tree, of course, but this is one of my favourite recipes for a plum-based dessert/cake:

Plum and Almond Cake

plum-and-almond-cake

9 1/2oz caster sugar
7oz butter
10-12 plums, halved, stones removed
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2oz self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 oz ground almonds
4 fl oz milk

Grease an 8″ solid-bottomed cake tin – I use a heavy tarte tatin tin.
Put 4 1/2oz sugar and 3fl oz water in a small pan and simmer gently until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook to a golden caramel colour, watching like a hawk so that it doesn’t burn! Remove from the heart and add 2oz butter, stirring well. Pour into the prepared cake tin and place the plum halves on top, cut side down.
Beat the remaining butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then gradually mix in the beaten eggs and vanilla extract. Add 1-2 tbsp flour if it shows signs of curdling. Then fold in the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk.
Spoon the mixture onto the plums and bake for 45-50 minutes at 160°C / Gas 4 until golden brown, spongy to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.
Cool for a few minutes, then, while still warm, run a knife round the edge of the cake, place a large plate on top of the tin and firmly but gently turn the whole plate and tin upside down. Shake a little and the cake should just turn out of the tin onto the plate. If any plums stick to the tin, just gently transfer them to their position on the cake.
Sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds if you like.
Serve warm with cream or crème fraiche for a delicious dessert or cold as cake – delicious either way!

Incidentally, I’ve also made this with gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and it worked a treat – worth remembering!

Gardening Crescendo

Back garden 2016 June

May/June is the time of year when a gardener’s activity levels reach a crescendo: tender plants to be transplanted outside, frames and supports to be constructed, late summer veg seeds to be sown, containers to be emptied of their faded bulbs and tired spring foliage, then rejuvenated with bright new summer bedding colour…. Inevitably there just aren’t enough hours in the day, especially when you’ve been delayed (again!) by a cold, late spring, and only have the weekend to get on in the garden.

And yet, somehow, it all gets done. Not quite yet, here at least, but it’s getting there. Last weekend I potted on my tomatoes and put up the bamboo frame that supports them against the sunny back of the house. Aubergines, peppers, chillis were all potted into bigger pots and returned to the conservatory. I sowed brassicas: calabrese, cavolo nero and purple-sprouting broccoli, plus a new one for me, cauliflower (Snowball). Last year’s Romanesco experiment was disappointing – very small heads and not much taste, so I thought I’d try the more traditional cauliflowers instead. Wallflower and sweet william also went in for early flowers next spring.

I had intended to plant out my tender courgettes, squash and sweetcorn up at the allotment, but a combination of a bank holiday, family around and other things going on meant I didn’t get chance – and just as well! Temperatures plummeted on Monday and we’ve had the most horrendous cold, wet and windy weather this week, most untypical for June. Judging by the state of my allotment neighbour’s young bean plants, any plants I had dared to plant out would have been whipped to shreds! Instead, they’ve been hardening off in the cold frame and went out in the more seasonal 20°C of this weekend. Second sowings of peas and finally time to erect the bean frame and sow French, runner and borlotti beans direct in the ground.

Germination has been sketchy on salad crops like lettuce and rocket – or more likely the slugs have been feasting yet again, despite frequent applications of organic slug pellets. In desperation I’ve ordered and applied (in the pouring rain, as recommended!) a nematode solution, both at the allotments and at home. Last time I tried, I found it singularly ineffective, but I suspect the soil temperature wasn’t warm enough. This time, that shouldn’t be an issue, but of course these biological pest controls take time to infest the host pests and can’t be expected to work overnight. Cue more slug pellets in the interim…

So what’s left to do? Just the mere task of emptying my old oak barrels of their spring planting schemes and replacing them with new barrels, bought earlier this year, drainage holes drilled and raring to go. The existing ones have been rotting gently for a couple of years now, so about time too – and hopefully getting rid of the decaying wood should eliminate some of the slugs and vine weevil grubs undoubtedly skulking in their depths. That’s next weekend’s job, though – or perhaps one a night in the evenings next week, work and weather permitting? We’ll see…

Strawberry

In the meantime, the first strawberry of the year was a welcome treat yesterday – as was the delightful open gardens tour in my village today: all the best gardeners deserve time off for inspiration! Weather, views and gardens to die for – and delicious tea and cake in the village church too. A gardener can but dream….

Wadhurst open gardens June 2016

 

Tomato Soup, Three Ways

Tomato soup has to be my all-time favourite. I think it goes back to the Heinz cans of tomato soup of my childhood, delicious on a cold winter’s day, even out of a Thermos flask. We never had home-made soup when I was a child, yet I’ve always prepared my own ever since I first started cooking in earnest and there really is no comparison! It’s so easy too, just a case of browning off your vegetables, adding (good) stock and away you go.

I love to stock up the freezer with tomato soup, as the tomato season here in Britain is so short, especially when you’re growing them without a greenhouse. I confess I do cheat and make tomato and lentil soup or minestrone with tinned tomatoes in the winter months, but for me the best tomato soups are those made in the fleeting months of August and September, when fresh, juicy tomatoes come straight off the vine. I don’t have a huge crop of tomatoes these days, and I do favour the cherry varieties like Sungold and Gardener’s Delight which I love to eat just as they are for their incomparable, sweet taste. This year, like last, I’ve also grown the stripy Tigerella, a small standard tomato, which is delicious cooked in soups and sauces, and lends itself to growing outside too. However, I don’t grow nearly enough for full-scale soup production and I’m very lucky this year to have been given bags full of huge, ripe tomatoes by friends with a smallholding and a very large and productive glasshouse!

I can never decide on my favourite tomato soup recipe and have three in contention – so I usually make all three at some point and fill the freezer accordingly for the darker days ahead. They are Delia’s Roasted Tomato Soup, which has a divinely rich and concentrated flavour, but uses a lot of tomatoes for a relatively small end quantity; Tomato, Apple & Celery Soup, another of Delia’s recipes, which originally came from the legendary John Tovey of the famous Miller Howe restaurant in the Lake District; and a simple Tomato Soup made in the slow cooker, originally taken from my very old Tower Slow Cook book. I’ve adapted them slightly, as ever. See which you prefer!

Delia’s Roasted Tomato Soup – serves 6

Roast tomatoes for soup1.5 kg ripe tomatoes

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Handful of fresh basil leaves

200 – 250g potato, peeled and chopped

1 litre boiling water or vegetable stock

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

2 tbsp tomato purée

Seasoning

Cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side uppermost in a large roasting tray with the onion cut into chunky wedges. Sprinkle the roughly chopped basil leaves and chopped garlic on top, season and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Roast at 180°C fan (Gas 5) for 50 minutes to 1 hour until starting to brown at the edges. In the meantime, place the chopped potato in a pan with the boiling water or stock and tomato purée, and simmer until the potato is cooked – about 20 minutes.

When the tomatoes are ready, scrape the contents of the roasting tray into the potato pan and purée the lot in a liquidiser in several batches. I’ve doubled Delia’s recipe here, as I found the original only ever made enough for three – perhaps I’m just greedy or maybe we have bigger appetites these days?

You can now sieve the soup if you wish, or leave it as it is if you don’t mind the slightly chunky texture. It will be even chunkier if you use a hand blender or food processor rather than a liquidiser, but none the worse for that.

Serve with good bread and savour the deep, rich taste – mmmmmm.

The next soup is ideal if you don’t have huge amounts of tomatoes to play with, as it uses equal quantities of apple and celery and gives a really fresh and vibrant flavour as a result. I always have plenty of windfall apples lying around at home and at the allotment this time of year, so it’s definitely on my must-cook list. Once again, I’ve doubled the original quantities – it’s really no effort to make more, fills my trusty Le Creuset casserole and makes plenty for the freezer. This soup is a much lighter colour than the other two, probably because of the apple and celery content.

Tomato, Apple & Celery Soup – serves 6-8

Tomato, apple and celery soup250g onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

4-500g tomatoes, quartered (leave on the skins and stalks)

350g apples, dessert or cooking, quartered (remove any damaged parts if using windfalls, but otherwise leave stalks and cores)

350g celery, including leaves, chopped into 3cm lengths

60g butter

120 ml dry sherry

Freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 litre home-made chicken stock

Seasoning

Melt the butter in a large pan, then add the chopped onions and garlic and cook gently until golden – about 10 minutes. Add the prepared fruit and vegetables, sherry, spices, thyme, tomato purée and seasoning, then place a double thickness of greaseproof paper, dampened with cold water, over the contents, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 1 hour. This method of cooking keeps in the flavours and allows the vegetables to cook really slowly; I’ve never found that it sticks, but you might like to check from time to time in case your heat source is particularly fierce!

After 1 hour, add the stock to the contents of the pan (removing the paper first, of course!) and stir thoroughly. Bring back to the boil for a few minutes, then allow to cool. Liquidise the soup in batches and then you will need to sieve this soup, as it contains all the stalks, pips, etc! Return to a clean pan and reheat.

Serve with good bread or cheese & apple scones. So fresh!

My final tomato soup recipe is made in the slow cooker for convenience, but you could equally well cook it on the hob for 45 minutes – 1 hour after the initial preparation. I often make it overnight, then it has time to cool before being liquidised for lunch. In my original recipe book I’ve noted down to add flour – how times have changed! I wouldn’t dream of adding flour to a soup recipe these days, but tastes were obviously different back in the early 80’s. Another sign of the times was the addition of dried mixed herbs – I really can’t remember the last time I didn’t use fresh herbs in a recipe, but they just weren’t as available in the shops 30 years ago… It works perfectly well with dried herbs if that’s all you’ve got to hand, of course, but fresh are definitely better. This recipe also includes bacon, which I think gives it a nice savoury flavour, but you could always leave it out and use vegetable stock if you’re cooking for vegetarians. It makes quite a thin, but delicious soup, since most of the vegetable content is rather watery; if you’d prefer a thicker soup (and trust me, flour is not the way to go!), just add a medium potato, peeled and diced, with the rest of the vegetables. Alternatively, you could add cream at the end for a cream of tomato soup.

Traditional Tomato Soup

Tomato soup50g butter or olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

(1 medium potato, peeled and diced if you prefer a thicker soup – optional)

4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1.4kg tomatoes, quartered

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 bay leaf

1 sprig rosemary, chopped (or herbs of your choice – basil, parsley and/or thyme are also good)

1 litre home-made chicken (or vegetable) stock

1 tsp sugar

Seasoning

If using a slow-cooker, pre-heat on high if necessary.

Heat the butter or olive oil in a large pan and cook the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and bacon gently for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the remaining ingredients apart from the stock and cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the stock and bring to the boil.

Transfer to the slow cooker if using and cook for 8 – 10 hours on Low – or overnight. Otherwise, turn the pan down to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the bay leaf, allow to cool, then liquidise in several batches. (I say this advisedly – I once asked my teenage son to liquidise some soup for me, but he didn’t read the instructions, didn’t allow it to cool and poured it all into the liquidiser in one go. Result: one extremely messy kitchen – not a pretty sight!) Again, you can sieve if you feel it necessary, but I don’t usually for this one.

Once again, serve with good bread and enjoy the taste of summer!

Feast of plenty

Poppy and Leo with the apple treeReturning home from a 10-day working trip in France this weekend, the garden seems to have been ultra-bountiful in my absence. The Katy apple tree, a delicious red eating apple along the lines of Discovery, has shed most of its fruit now, always an early arrival, and friends have kindly left bags full in my fridge. The tomatoes have also ripened beautifully, despite, or perhaps, because of the plentiful rain, and I haven’t dared check out the allotment yet, but the rather large courgettes taking up residence in my fridge suggest they have been productive too! I’m hoping to spend the day down at the allotment tomorrow, so will doubtless have even more bounty to process then….

Having eaten at rather strange times in France due to my working hours, I’ve been really looking forward to simple fruit and vegetable meals again – just as well, really! For tonight’s meal, after a day getting straight with unpacking, washing, sorting out paperwork and generally relaxing, I had the urge to make something akin to Aubergine Parmigiana, but sadly my only remaining aubergine is just a couple of inches long and probably won’t come to anything this late in the season. I decided instead to create a tomato dish, inspired by the aubergine recipe, but using just tomatoes. I served it with pork and leek sausages from my local farm shop and it was everything I’d imagined: see what you think!

Baked Tomato & Gruyère Gratin – serves 2 or 4

Tomato Gruyere Gratin450g tomatoes (amount not crucial – just use what you need to fill the dish!)

Handful fresh basil

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Balsamic vinegar

200g pot creamy fromage frais (not the 0% stuff!)

About 80g Gruyère

Couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs

Halve the tomatoes and line up in neat rows in a gratin dish. I used cherry tomatoes as that’s what I had most of, but you can use standard tomatoes too – just increase the initial cooking time in that case. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, chopped basil, then drizzle with olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 200°C / Gas 6 for 20 – 30 minutes depending on size of tomatoes. They should be starting to soften and release their juices.

Top with spoonfuls of fromage frais, spreading out as best you can; it doesn’t matter if it’s not all covered. Then add thin shavings of Gruyère and top with the breadcrumbs (I use frozen for ease, prepared in the food processor when I have excess bread to use up).

Turn the oven down to 180°C / Gas 5 and cook for 30 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top.

Serves 4 as a vegetable side dish with meat and potatoes or 2 if just serving as a substantial side with sausages or chops.

Pudding had to be apples of some description, so I looked to Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Puddings for inspiration and adapted one of his deliciously simple apple creations:

Pan-fried apples with Calvados – serves 2

Calvados apples24-5 red eating apples such as Katy or Discovery – choose apples that will hold their shape when cooked

Lemon juice

Knob of butter

2-3 tbsp vanilla sugar

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Dash of Calvados

Peel and core the apples, slicing each apple into 8 or so segments. Sprinkle with lemon juice to stop browning as you prepare the rest.

Melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the apples. Cook over a relatively gentle heat for 15 minutes or so until starting to soften. Add the vanilla sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon to taste, then cook for a further 10 minutes until the liquid looks syrupy. Add a dash of Calvados and cook for a further few minutes.

Serve warm or cold with crème fraiche or clotted cream. Heaven…

My final recipe is one I shall cook tomorrow night to make inroads into the courgette stockpile. It was suggested by a very good friend of mine after we’d shared a foodie/garden-visiting weekend together earlier this year and makes a scrumptious and substantial vegetarian feast. The first time I made it, I adapted it slightly to use up the remains of a Puy lentil and beetroot salad I had in the fridge, but you can equally well use lentils from scratch. Just cook in water for 20 minutes or so according to the instructions on the packet.

Stuffed Courgettes with Puy Lentils & Cheese – serves 2

Stuffed courgettes22 large courgettes

1 large onion

1 clove garlic

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

Handful chopped basil

½ tin chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato purée

100g cooked Puy lentils

Cooked beetroot (optional)

Cheddar cheese to top

Halve courgettes lengthwise and hollow out flesh with a sharp spoon. Chop the flesh and reserve. Blanch the courgette shells in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and place in a rectangular gratin dish.

Sauté the chopped onion, garlic and chilli until soft, then add chopped courgette flesh, cumin and coriander, chopped tomatoes, basil and tomato purée. Cook down for a further 10-15 minutes, then stir in the cooked lentils and beetroot (if using). Cook for another 10 minutes or so until well blended; fill courgettes with the lentil mixture and top with grated Cheddar cheese.

Cook in a hot oven (180°C / Gas 5) for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Serve with a green salad and enjoy!