THE 1998 British tomato season has been launched with aplomb – and the effervescent enthusiasm of celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott. Ainsley was among those taking part in the fun and the tasting at the Festival of Tomatoes in Londons Covent Garden Piazza.
The festival emphasised the variety of British tomatoes. There are six different types of tomato available in shops:
• Classic are the familiar round ones, good for salads, grilling, baking or frying.
• Cherry and cocktail tomatoes are much smaller, very sweet and with a concentrated flavour. Cherry tomatoes are best eaten whole and raw, and may be red, golden, orange or yellow. Cocktail tomatoes, which are slightly larger, can be halved for salads or skewered whole for grilling.
• Plum and baby plum tomatoes are oval, firm and have less liquid. They are ideal for pizzas and pasta dishes.
• Vine tomatoes are the deepest red and have the best flavour.
• Beef tomatoes are large, round and excellent for stuffing and baking whole.
There is also a wide range of sub-varieties, some only recently introduced to the British market.
"Flavour has been an incredibly important focus for the industry over the past few years in response to customer demand," says British Tomato Growers Association chairman Alan Parker. "We can confidently say that the range of British tomatoes available is not only fresher at point of sale – a major plus with customers – but also tastes better than most other tomatoes available, especially long shelf-life types which are being imported."
Which ever type of tomato you chose keep it in your fruit bowl, at room temperature, and not in your fridge. Research carried out by Dr Sally Anne Burnett of Manchester Universitys Department of Food and Consumer Technology has shown that storing them in the fridge impairs their flavour.
Remove tomatoes from their plastic bag or packaging and place them in a bowl at room temperature. They are a sub-tropical fruit and dislike the cold. Over-ripe tomatoes will go soft even more quickly in the refrigerator.
The Tomato Growers Association. which comprises more than 130 growers and represents about 85% of the industry, has published a leaflet giving recipes, hints and ideas for getting the best from British tomatoes. Two of the recipes are reproduced here. To get a free copy send an A5-size stamped, addressed envelope to British Tomato Leaflet Offer, 133 Eastgate, Louth, Lincs LN11 9QG.
Delicious! say Tomato Growers Association Alan Parker (top) and tv chef Ainsley Harriot (above). There is a wide choice of British tomatoes available these days as the display (below) illustrates.
Tomato and mozzarella salad
Prepare tomato salads at least four hours before the meal to allow the flavours to develop and blend.
25g (1oz) pine kernels (optional)
700g (11/2 lb) British classic tomatoes
350g (12oz) mozzarella cheese
30ml (2 tablespoons) fresh basil leaves
60ml (4 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
Toast pine kernels (if using) until just golden. Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Arrange on serving plates and season. Tear the larger basil leaves and keep the small ones whole, then scatter them over the tomatoes and cheese. Drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle over the toasted pine kernels, if desired. Serve with warm ciabatta or French bread. Serves 4
Tomato pasta sauce
Two sliced chillies or 5ml (1 teaspoon) hot pepper sauce can be added to the tomatoes. Alternatively, add 15ml (1 tablespoon) capers or six black olives chopped with the oregano.
45ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1kg (2lb) British plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 stems fresh oregano
2.5ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
1.25ml (1/4 teaspoon) each sugar and black pepper
5ml (1 teaspoon) red wine vinegar
500g (1lb) packet fresh tagliatelle
Heat the oil in a large pan. Fry the onion and garlic for 5min. Add the tomatoes. Bring slowly to the boil. Cover and simmer for 8min. Strip the leaves from the oregano stems and chop leaves. Add to the tomato sauce with the salt, sugar, pepper and vinegar. Simmer for a further 2min. Serve with cooked tagliatelle. Serves 4