Tag Archives: Tomatoes

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

 

Advertisements

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!