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My book was always going to focus on both fresh tomatoes and processed tomatoes. Despite being a summer fruit, their culinary use straddles the seasons, proving they’re a vital, year-round ingredient. Processed tomatoes, by which I mean canned, bottled or puréed, are not inferior to fresh, and I would encourage anyone to use the best-quality processed tomatoes they can.
Look for plum tomatoes – San Marzano, in particular. I also like to use canned cherry tomatoes. The contents of every can – plum or cherry – are made up of two separate ingredients: the tomatoes themselves (usually four or five plum tomatoes, if that’s what you’re using) and the juice. You can use the entire contents of a can, or, if you want to use canned tomatoes like you would fresh (perhaps in a cooked dish), you can pop them in to cook without the juice – but do save the juice for a later date. Processed tomatoes have already been cooked just a little to preserve them, which means they taste more intense than their fresh equivalents.
Think of tomato purée as concentrated tomato. The good stuff should taste great, just as it is, squeezed straight from the tube… like tomatoes left to dry in the sun for maximum flavour. I’m duty bound to encourage you to steer clear of freighted, out-of-season fruit – all you need to do is to switch from fresh to preserved and back again, as the seasons dictate.
Tomatoes are one of a handful of ingredients that envelop four of the five flavour profiles – sweet, sour, bitter and umami. The fifth is salt, which we all know tomatoes carry beautifully. Crucially, cooked in dishes, tomatoes provide body, enriching a sauce as it bubbles, the tomatoes breaking down and thickening to give viscosity. If you blend a tomato sauce that has been cooked in oil or butter, for example, you will end up with something deeply creamy and velvety.
Tomatoes are one of my top three ingredients. The other two are olive oil and lemons – I could not be without them. I will stand by the fact that my favourite kitchen task of all time is to make a nick on the skin of a perfectly ripe, but still firm, fresh tomato, then plunge it into rolling, boiling water for 10 seconds. Then, I immediately transfer the tomato to a bowl of iced water, leaving it for 10 seconds, only for the skin to slip easily away like thickly waxed paper. What emerges is a flesh that is smooth, pink-tinged and almost iridescent.
Inspired? Here Are Four Of Claire’s Favourite Recipes…
Baked Tomatoes & Eggs With Basil, Chilli & Parmesan
This is exactly the sort of breakfast or brunch I would like to eat after a very late night and too much to drink. It’s effortless to pull together, looks inviting and demands to be eaten. Best of all, it calls for great hunks of bread, blasting through the barely set egg yolks and tomato juices. This dish makes having a hangover worth it – well, nearly
Fried Potato Cakes With Tomato & Parmesan
You will need floury potatoes for this recipe to turn into meltingly soft potato cakes topped with peeled, thinly sliced tomatoes, a good amount of herbs and some parmesan. It’s the contrast between crisp, soft fried potato and the raw peeled tomato on top that’s so appealing.
Roasted Tomato, Fennel & Potato Soup With Fried Sourdough, Pumpkin Seeds & Halloumi
Blended super-smooth, the tomatoes in this soup are impossibly rich and glossy, blitzed as they are with the fennel and potato. Roasting the tomatoes intensifies their flavour. Fennel is part of the parsley family and shares that same anise-type characteristic, which pairs so beautifully with tomato. As for the scattergun of toppings, these are by no means set in stone. I’m just suggesting this combination. Switch to feta if you prefer, or leave out dairy entirely; likewise the croûtons, and use whichever seeds or nuts you have to hand.
Tomato, Chipotle Chilli & Oregano Soup With Feta & Black Beans
If you have the time and inclination, it’s worth soaking and cooking your own black beans for this recipe. However, you can make it just as well with a can of black beans and some stock. Adding tomatoes to this bean soup brings out a velvety, fruity acidity in the creamy black beans. My serving suggestion is quite lengthy, but absolutely worth it. The soup would go especially well with a dollop of hot sauce to serve.
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