From the same family as peppers, chilli and aubergines, tomatoes originated from the warm climates of South America, reaching European shores in the 16th Century. Only becoming popular in Spain, it took another 3 centuries before tomatoes became a staple ingredient throughout Europe.
They remain to this day a primary ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine with a vast array of varieties available today. Although officially a fruit, tomatoes are often classed as a vegetable for their signature savoury flavour that is enjoyed both in cooked and raw form.
A warm, sunny environment helps to intensify tomatoes’ flavour and sweetness making them rich pickings in late summer after a long season of sunshine.
Seasonal period: June to October
Flavour friends: Tomatoes are very high in glutamic acid – it is this trait that is often associated to ‘umami’ (savoury flavour) – one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. This make tomatoes the perfect flavour enhancer for meat and fish.
Fresh herbs such as basil, thyme and mint help to increases tomatoes’ aromatic flavour, along with peppers, onions and garlic that bring out their sweetness.
Buying, storing and preparing: Choose slightly firm, heaving feeling tomatoes that are particularly aromatic.
Ripen your tomatoes by leaving them out of the fridge and placing them in a fruit bowl. Avoid storing them in the fridge – although this slows down their deterioration, they loose flavour. It is best to buy fresh, keep out of the fridge and eat as soon as possible.
Cooking: For ultimate flavour, cook with the skin and seeds still intact.
To skin and de-seed: Score a cross on the bottom of the tomato before blanching in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain from the water and gentle peel away the skin. Slice into quarters and scoop out the seeds using a spoon.
Roast: Keep the tomatoes whole and roast on a medium heat for 20 minutes.
Grill: Slice in half and place under a medium grill for 4 – 5 minutes.
Words by Helen Upshall