I’ve just been handed a large punnet of tomatoes. Hoorah you might think…but these are forlorn examples, embarrassed by their own fraudulent content, swollen with water and if the sun did actually kiss these it did so in a way akin to a self-conscious teenager forced to peck the proffered rouged cheek of an aged aunt.
Tomatoes used to be like this all the time – water logged and flavourless – but times have changed. Due to new growing techniques and an actual desire for a tomato tasting tomato (shock, horror!) there are now lots of different types and tastes available. British growers are increasingly selecting better flavoured tomatoes and perfecting them. For those of us living in the UK the tomato season is a slightly moveable thing due to the fact that a majority we can buy in our mainstream stores are grown in greenhouses. This of itself isn’t such a bad thing with British tomato growers increasingly growing more flavourful varieties and allowing them to ripen on the vine for longer. Additionally greenhouses mean controlled environments where the fruit can flourish in its super charged pretendy soil (officially referred to as hydroponic) with little need for pesticides – with insects pollinating and controlling pests – it’s all so utopian. The catch is the thorny topic of the heating of the greenhouses which critics say gobble up fossil fuels and release large amounts of climate changing gases. Without the extra heating, however, the tomato season would be a natural sun- fuelled one from only May to October – if the weather is good that is! Heating the glasshouses extend this to at least a ten month season.
Why have I got these dreary excuses…? Don’t ask. Why don’t I just chuck ’em out…? What…?!? Waste food…?!? Come now! But the real question is what the flip am I going to do with them? Actually, I’m being dramatic because at this time of year there is only one thing that is remotely feasible…slow roast the beggars!
If you have some of these in-season lovingly ripened tomatoes then you have many options but if you have a load of slushy, powdery ones like me then roasting is the answer. The ideal thing to do is spend a happy afternoon making these when the tomatoes are lush and flowing with summery ripened flavour and ‘preserving’ them in oil to eat during the bleaker beige-tasting months for a sun drenched burst to catapult you back to those long, warm summer al-fresco nights.
BTW tomatoes are pretty good for you too. These fruits contain vitamins (A,C and E – a tag team of antioxidants that work best together) and flavonoids (anti-inflammatories) and minerals. The biggest fuss is about their lycopene content (the red pigment in the tomato). Cooking tomatoes and allowing them to naturally ripen to their reddest point (even at home after purchase) actually increases their health factor by increasing the levels of lycopene. This is also an antioxidant that mops up free radicals (that damage your cells), and therefore helps in the battle against cancer and heart disease and has been linked, recently, to healthier, less wrinkly skin – score!
Two very important factors to consider are, firstly, the tomato must be eaten whole to get the true benefits (surely life’s too short to peel a tomato anyway…sheesh…!) AND the ‘meddled-with’ tomatoes that arrive from abroad (i.e. out of season ones) have usually been bred to last longer and this can potentially negate their health benefits…so, as I like to say at any opportunity, gorge on them when they are in season and then forget about them for the rest of the year and just eat tinned (surprisingly high in lycopene – so buy the best quality ones you can) OR do as I am, with this pile of slushy tomatoes I’m faced with, roast them.
It’s a simple job and one for a lazy afternoon when it’s grim outside and what’s more this fills the house with a gentle fug of roasted deliciousness. Pre heat the oven to the lowest setting. Halve the fruits and lay them insides facing up on a roasting tray and sprinkle them with a few bits of herbs and salt if you fancy – but you don’t need to as you’re going to store them in oil and herbs later. That’s it really!
Just leave them to slowly dry out and mildly roast in the warm oven for as long as they need or you can bear (ideally slightly longer than in this picture – but I’m impatient!) and when they are cool store them in a air tight jar covered in good quality cold pressed olive oil and some dried herbs to suit your personal taste! The winter dinners will be cheered up no end by the addition of these ruby-red jewels of intense tomato flavour! It’ll sustain you through until the tomato season begins again…! Result…!