Tomatoes are ripe and in season for all of this month and I just love them.
I have a good friend in Ken Holland, my vegetable and specialist producer of all things fantastical grown in your garden.
Over the last 12 months we have been planning together to create a salad to beat all other salads. This has been on our menu now for the last few weeks - I use the best of Ken’s produce combined with variations of cooking techniques to put summer on a plate.
This last week Ken has been bringing me all weird and wonderful sorts of heirloom tomatoes... when I asked Ken to name them for me, he said he had no idea! Apparently the seeds came on order from the USA with 10 varieties - quickly sown and grown without any attention to the name.
Let’s be honest though its the taste that counts - and they are amazing!
Ken has sourced these seeds from a lady called Cynthia at Love Apple Farm, California who is world renowned for tomato growing and her relationship with David Kinch (3 Star Michelin chef at Manresa in California).
Heirloom tomatoes provide far superior flavour than their store-bought counterparts.
If you’re interested in growing heirloom tomatoes, you can buy seeds online.
But what is an heirloom tomato? Many people have heard the term but don’t really know what it means.
Happily, it’s an easy definition: a variety that has been passed down from gardener to gardener. Unlike modern hybrid varieties, heirloom tomatoes come from true seed, making them easy to share.
The main reason I choose heirloom varieties is the flavour. There’s no single heirloom-tomato taste; you’ll find a wide range of flavours in the heirloom-tomato world.
However many heirlooms are prized for having an old-time taste that’s a far cry from tomatoes at the supermarket.
So once again and as I say every week - if you’re making this dish at home, get your ingredients from your local greengrocer not the supermarket!
Supermarket food looks great and that’s the idea, uniform, perfectly formed cellophane wrapped food that fails to deliver on flavour. But at your local veg store, you can pick it, smell it, test for ripeness. Meanwhile the difference in taste is noticeable in almost every ingredient.
One of my ultimate holiday destinations has got to be the Tomato festival ‘La Tomatina’ in Valencia, Spain. Each year around this time the residents of Valencia fill the streets of Bunol and basically have a tomato fight. Over the years it has attracted global interest and now welcomes upwards of 40,000 people... all in celebration of the humble tomato.
So in my own way to celebrate the tomato I have created something wonderful with Ken Hollands’ random offerings and hope that you will enjoy sourcing and combining your own with help of the following recipe.
* James Close is head chef at Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington, 01325 374 237.
Heirloom tomatoes with goats cheese and basil oil
1kg of various odd and un-matching coloured Heirloom tomatoes
100g of the best goats cheese you can find (I use Mont Enebro goats cheese from Spain)
10 full large stems of fresh basil
100ml olive oil (the best you can find)
Pinch of salt, pepper and sugar
Place half of the tomatoes to one side (not in the fridge - we want these at room temperature)
The other half we are going to lightly confit.
Brush this half of the tomatoes lightly with olive oil and season with salt - place in an oven at the lowest setting (80 degrees) for about an hour.
Of course all tomatoes are different sizes and shapes so some will cook quicker - keep an eye on them - we want the skin to be slightly wrinkled and drying out.
For the basil oil: Remove the basil leaves from the stalk - lightly blanch the basil leaves for 10 seconds in boiling water. remove and dry on kitchen paper.
Add the leaves to a blender and blitz adding you olive oil slowly until you create a smooth puree. Set aside in the fridge. (this will keep for 3-4 days if you wish to make it ahead of time)
The uncooked tomatoes now cut in halfs or quarters and season lightly with salt and sugar.
On your plate arrange a mix of the cooked and uncooked tomatoes, crumble over some of the goats cheese and drop a few tea spoons of caviar (optional) over a few of the tomatoes.
Finally drizzle some of your basil oil over the top and serve outside in the sunshine with a nice glass of crisp white wine, sit back and enjoy.