What a wonderful fruit, with their great aroma, wonderful flavours, so many colours, shapes and sizes.
Yes, the tomato is botanically a fruit, a berry to be precise, but as they are mostly used as a vegetable they are classed as a vegetable.
Tomatoes are probably the most popular of all home grown vegetables. When organically and home grown, they provide us with the best, most intensely perfumed aroma, flavour, taste and colour. Recently, at casual dinner with friends at Kureelpa we enjoyed an entrée of these superb, organic, local tomatoes, served at room temperature, sliced, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves. It was the aroma which hit us most – it filled the room and was breath-taking. And then the flavour, absolutely delicious and so memorable – I think they were the best tomatoes I have ever eaten.
And now for ‘tomato powder’. Last week in cooking class we peeled the tomatoes for one of the entrées, ‘Tomato petal cakes with peppered soft curd goats’ cheese’, the recipe is in the recipe collection on the website. Later, I dehydrated the skins and ground them into a fine powder. This tomato powder is wonderful as a garnish or to add an intense flavour to sauces, soups, salads. Try it. If you do not have a dehydrator use the oven at a low temperature, 60°C, overnight.
With the many different varieties of tomatoes available we are able to buy them all year round, with the best coming towards the end of summer and into autumn. Often the smaller varieties are preferable for raw eating, and the larger for cooking. Good cooking truly does begin with the quality of the produce and this is especially true for tomatoes. Select some of our locally grown tomatoes, drizzle with a local olive, macadamia or avocado oil and top with some torn fresh basil leaves – a taste sensation!
Tomatoes form the backbone of many dishes, providing flavour, sharpness, liquidity and colour. It is important when using fresh tomatoes in a dish to allow them time to sweat out their juices to intensify the flavour. It is tempting to add water to minestrone or stew in which you are using fresh tomatoes, as at first the dish will appear dry, but adding water will only dilute the flavour. Add the smallest amount of water or stock, then leave the lid on and cook the raw tomatoes for about 20 minutes over the slowest of heat – you will find they will release their abundant juices, the liquid ratios will be fine and you will be rewarded with an intensity of flavour.
Some dishes are best made with a tomato sauce made from scratch – lasagne, parmigiana or pizza for example. Although it does take time, the taste and quality will be better than anything you can buy. Well ripened Black Russians are excellent for a great sauce. You can make a good sauce with tinned or cooked tomatoes, but one made with fresh, very ripe, organic tomatoes embodies the essence of the tomato.
The flavour of tomatoes will also be deepened and intensified by roasting; they are a beautiful addition to a salad, platter or hot dish. A salad or dish that has the addition of roasted tomatoes will be far rounder and brighter in flavour than if they were just added raw. Commercially dried, or even semi-dried tomatoes, do not compare with those that you dry or roast yourself using very ripe, organic tomatoes. You can use a conventional oven, a dehydrator or the sun.
You may also preserve tomatoes for the winter months, including bottling them as they are, or as a sauce, ketchup, chutney or relish. Chutney and relish in particular are an excellent way to use up the very last of the tomatoes – those that are still green and without enough sunlight left to ripen, and those that are bruised.
With their myriad of uses, tomatoes are invaluable in the kitchen and they are the essence of summer food. We use tomatoes constantly in our classes at Cooking on the Bay – fresh in salads, coulis, gazpacho and for entrée dishes and cooked in sauces, relishes, soups, with pastas and in tarts.Two special favourites in our Taste of Melbourne – Modern Australian Cuisine cooking class are ‘Tomato petal cakes with peppered soft curd goats’ cheese’ and ‘Tomatoes and prawns with horseradish Chantilly’ both perfect for the Christmas table too. You will find them in the recipe collection on this website.