I will never advocate out-of-season food purchasing. If you are disappointed by how hard and tart strawberries are in January, you deserve everything you get. October really is the cut-off for English tomatoes-these beauties above were part of the final glut from my mother-in-law. I say glut but due to another ‘glorious’ and slightly hypothermic British summer, it took until early September for any of the fruit to ripen and then there was a distinct lack of good looking crop.
So that’s it for the home-grown ones for me. If you look hard you can find good Isle of Wight ones, but really, it’s now up to Holland and Spain to send us over their poly-tunneled supply. Look for fruit on the vine which has firm and unblemished skin, a nice sheen and a deep, rich colour. Pome dei Moro, Red Robin and Gardener’s Delight are all usually a good bet if you can find them. There have been stories about the scent of tomatoes being sprayed onto supermarket fruit to encourage purchase. This scent is intoxicating, but actually comes from the stalks rather than the fruit, so don’t despair if you cannot smell it.
I love good tomatoes so much I could just eat them from the vine, but knowing that this was the last hurrah for 2012, I thought I would make one of my favourites.
I make this recipe at least once a week in the summer-it is a great way to celebrate great toms, but it’s also a really effective method to bring out the best flavour when they might be a bit wooly or lacking in juice. The Italians call it ‘Crudaiola’, as in raw, but I call it just delicious. There aren’t many ingredients, so try and get the best you can afford-it will make a big difference.
220g Tomatoes-any will work, but ideally cherry or baby plum
Extra Virgin Olive Oil-3 tablespoons
2 Fat Garlic Cloves-minced
Handful of Fresh Basil-torn
Salt and Pepper.
Chop the tomatoes into small pieces if they are cherry or baby plum, cut into 8. Put in a bowl with all the juices, add the olive oil, garlic and quite a bit of salt and pepper. Salt will bring out the juices in the tomatoes, so add a bit more than you think you need. Now leave it-half and hour is ok, but a few hours is even better. The tomatoes should now be swimming in juice and smell incredible!
Crudaiola is traditionally eaten with pasta. Simply cook the pasta, retaining a small cup of pasta cooking water, then combine the pasta and the tomatoes, adding small slugs of water if the pasta looks a little dry. Adorn with a generous scattering of more fresh basil leaves and freshly grated Parmesan and black pepper. You will be amazed how such simple ingredients taste so good. It tastes amazing cold, so is good for pasta salads too.
This mixture goes so well with simply grilled chicken or a firm white fish. It also perfect on bruschetta; simply toast ciabatta bread and top liberally.