Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A glut of tomatoes

It's getting to the time of year when you might, if you're very lucky, have a bundle of tomatoes leftover and, if you're unlucky, slowly edging towards a state of inedibility in the larder. I'm not going to pretend you're having a headache about what to do with them, as there are a million freezable things to do with a tomato. Pasta sauce bases are the obvious ones - in Italy they might set three or four days aside for the annual tomato prulping, dragging dusty machines from the cupboards that will skin and seed the fruits quicker than you can say 'penne alla arabbiata' (not that quick, then) and making enough passata to last till the following autumn.

But I can't be doing with the faffing about of skinning and seeding the things. It's certainly worth it in some circumstances. A tomato salad, for example, is improved immeasurably by being skinless. To peel a tomato, by the way, you want to cut a cross in the skin at the base of the fruit, pour boiling water over it and leave to sit for a minute or two - a riper tomato shouldn't need more than a minute. Drain the water, allow to cool and pull off the skin. But I'm not doing that now, because it's a weekday evening and I can't be arsed. I just want something quick and delicious to go with the sea bass I am eating for supper. This recipe can be made in the quantities you are dealing with - it's really a case of approximation, feeling your way through quantities. This is for 500g tomatoes or so, but if you have 5 kg, go for it. As long as you are careful with the vinegar and chilli you will be fine. The jam is absolutely delicious with fish, sausages, cold meat, or added to a pasta sauce.

Oh, another note on tomatoes. They are best kept as far away from the fridge as possible. Picture biting into a cold tomato - not very nice eh? Hard and insipid, not exactly an enjoyable mouthful. Stored at room temperature, or even above (as, of course, it would be on the vine) a tomato will ripen, redden, and be a completely different eating experience.

Tomato chilli jam

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 sprigs rosemary
2 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
500g tomatoes, cut into chunks
50 ml red wine vinegar
200 ml red wine
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper

In a non stick pan, heat the oil over a medium heat and add the rosemary and garlic. Stir for a minute or two and add the tomatoes, vinegar, wine, sugar and chilli flakes. Season well with salt and pepper and bring to a strong simmer. Leave to bubble away for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced completely and you have a thick, dark, unctuous consistency. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more sugar if necessary. Serve hot or cold.

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