Favourite Five Tomato Recipes

favourite fiveTomatoes were one of the things I enjoyed in Sicily, the area around Siracusa is famous for a variety of cherry tomato which are the sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Back at home it’s harder to find the range of different varieties and flavours, but at least those picked straight from the vine are pretty good.

Simple Tomato Salad – Simply, tomatoes sliced or cut into chunks, seasoned with a little sea salt and pepper, with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.

Tomato, Lentil and Pesto Soup – A great way to get some additional protein into little ones diets, and show off the delicious flavour of tomatoes. If I have fresh tomatoes then I use fresh, but otherwise its a can of tinned tomatoes. Cook a chopped onion until softened and translucent, add a handful of red lentils and cook for a little longer, then pour in the tomatoes (chopped if using fresh). Add a little stock, then simmer for 15 minutes. Whizz the soup in a blender and serve with a spoonful of pesto on top.

hunters chickenHunter’s Chicken – A delicious stew for a colder day which gives the tomatoes a real intense flavour. The full recipe can be found here.

Roasted tomato and Pesto Tart – Cut some tomatoes in half, splash a little olive oil over them and season with salt and pepper. Put into a roasting tin and roast until softened and beginning to brown on top. Take some puff pastry and roll it out to a couple of millimetres thick, lightly score a border around your tart and prick the centre of the pastry to ensure a crispy base. Bake in a hot oven for 20 minute, until lightly golden. Spread pesto on the pastry base, then top with the roasted tomatoes.

Catalan Tomato Bread – Pa amb tomàquet, is the classic breakfast from Catalunya, but is also a great snack. Simply toast a slice of sourdough (cooking on a griddle pan is even better), rub one side of the bread with a garlic clove, then rub with a cut tomato so the flesh and juice are absorbed by the bread. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt before serving.


The Simple Things

Sitting on the roof terrace of our apartment in Ortigia the other week, espresso in hand, sun on my back, and enjoying the kind of noisy peace you get in a town. It occurred to me that one doesn’t need much to be content – happy even. Around me I could hear the bickering of other people’s children, the buzz of the ubiquitous scooter down the narrow streets and the hovering of the local Nonna. But on that terrace I was at peace. All I needed was the time to sit there and let all that was around, wash over me. It strikes me that that is not a bad plan for life in general. Keep it simple.View from apartment roof panaorama

The Italians certainly embrace simplicity with their food. An octopus salad is exactly that; octopus in the form of a salad, with perhaps a little lemon juice olive oil. Famously, pizza should only ever have three topping ingredients; tomato, cheese and one other. If the produce is of the best quality, why complicate it? The core flavours sing all the better.

A simple tomato salad
Tomatoes – a range of colours and sizes are best. Tomatoes always taste better straight off the vine, and certainly when at room temperature. Don’t keep them in the fridge!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & pepper

Slice the tomatoes into fairly thick slices, before tearing a few basil leaves over them. Season and drizzle with a little good extra virgin olive oil. Serve.

I often struggle with living in the moment and keeping things simple, getting caught up in the logistics of the event or the next meal to be planned. Simple meals need less planning, yet somehow bring more joy. Sometimes the simple things are the best.

How to train tomatoes

Whilst tomatoes should have been planted out by now, you can still get them from nurseries and garden centres, ready grown and ready to nurture to cropping. The smell of fresh tomatoes, let alone the unbeatable taste of fruits picked from the vine, makes growing them well worth it.

Once your tomato plants have grown to about a foot in height, support them with a cane or stick at their side which you can use to tie them into as they grow. It’s importance to tie the. plants to a cane before they have a chance to drop, as this encourages them to grow up and produce more fruiting spurs. As they grow, pinch out all side shoots of your cordon tomatoes, but you can leave the bush types well alone to fill out. Once cordons have formed six or so fruiting trusses you should pinch out the tops. In reality I tend to let them hit the roof of the greenhouse, then pinch out the tips.

I under-plant my tomatoes with basil, as basil and tomato go together. It makes it easy to make a basil and tomato salad, but also has a preventative effect on aphids. Companion planting with French marigolds – tagetes – also works as the aphids will be repelled by their smell. Watering is crucial for consistently good fruits. Before the flowers have formed, water once a week or so and feed once a fortnight. Once the flowers and fruit have formed, water twice a week and feed once a week. What tomatoes don’t like is inconsistent watering, this tends to lead to splits and problems with bottom rot. Like children, they appreciate a routine and will repay you when they are looked after in a consistent way.

Once ready ripe, keep picking, this will help to extend the harvest as long as possible. It also means you can use them in a range of delicious recipes. Check out some tomato recipes here.

New Baby Chicken

It’s amazing how a situation, and experience, can change how you perceive things. Its definitely the case with food. Fish and chips for example always tastes better on the beach, and the memory of the ice cream I had relaxing on the walls of old Dubrovnik is undoubtedly effected by my happy memories of that holiday.

When our daughter was born, my wife and I returned from hospital with our new baby desperate for a good meal. Hospital food is not necessarily the best, although I remember my wife gobbling down all the food given to her during her time in the hospital. So, on our return I set to work making a decent meal.  I don’t recall why, perhaps it was suggested by my wife, but I ended up making a Jamie Oliver recipe (from one of the comic relief mini-books). A tray bake chicken dish, which used pancetta wrapped around chicken stuffed with basil butter. The herby butter oozed out of the chicken, helping to keep the chicken moist, but also infusing the potatoes with a delicious basily butteriness. It was exactly what was needed for a mother recovering from childbirth, and a father coming to terms with the enormity of parenthood. Comforting and buttery, yet fresh with the acidity of the tomatoes and the vibrant flavour of basil. We’ve had the same dish, or very similar versions of it, many times since, but its never ever come close to matching the first one. That’s why it will forever be known as New Baby Chicken.

New Baby Chicken

You will need (serves 2)
600g potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
salt and black pepper
olive oil
Small bunch fresh basil
50g softened butter
2 skinless chicken breasts
6 slices streaky bacon
Large handful cherry tomatoes, halved
Small bunch of salad leaves (whatever you’ve got, but rocket or watercress go well)
Juice of half a lemon
4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C and par·boil the potatoes in salted water, then drain and let them steam dry until cool. Toss them in a little oil and seasoning, before baking in a  roasting tray for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, tear the basil leaves and pound them in a pestle and mortar with a little salt until the luscious green juices of the basil are released. Add butter and work the basily liquid into it, to form a green flecked basil butter.

To prepare the chicken turn your first chicken breast over, fold back the small fillet underneath, cut a long, shallow slash into the main breast meat. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of basil butter into this cut and fold the small fillet back into its original position. Next, lay the streaky bacon on a chopping board and, using the side of the knife, flatten and lengthen each rasher. This makes your bacon go further, but also helps it to crispen up better.  Lay out three rashers, slightly overlapping, on a chopping board. Place a chicken breast upside down at the centre of the bacon and wrap the rashers around the chicken breast. Repeat with the remaining chicken and bacon.

chicken and potatoes in the pan

When the potatoes are nearly cooked, throw the tomatoes into the tray with a splash more oil, and place the wrapped chicken breasts on top. Pop back in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Serve with a salad of leaves and a quick lemon juice dressing (mix the juice of half a lemon with 4tbsp. of oil).

new baby chicken


Hunter's Chicken (Pollo alla Cacciatora)

I’m writing this as the skies darken in the late afternoon and outside there is a distinct nip in the air. Not that looking in the greenhouse would reveal the autumnal weather, with all the tomato plants still fruiting, and even flowering. This has been the first year we have really managed to successfully grow tomatoes, not least because its the first year we have had a greenhouse at the plot. Our four plants have kept us in tomatoes for most of the late summer and continue to do so with gusto. So, most meals now seem to have some tomato content. Yesterday’s meal was a recent discovery, and a perfect dish for a chilly autumnal evening. Hunter’s Chicken (Pollo alla Cacciatora), is a traditional Italian dish, cooked and eaten by many families, and as such has many variants depending on what was hunted to go in it. Like Felicity Cloake (whose recipe I based mine on), I reckon rabbit was probably the meat of choice, but chicken legs with their juicy dark meat is what I used.

20131021-113018.jpgWhat you will need(Serves 4) Knob of butter 2 tbsp olive oil 4 chicken legs, divided into thighs and drumsticks. Seasoned flour, to dust 2 heads of garlic, cut horizontally Small bunch of rosemary 1 carrot, peeled and diced 1 stick of celery, diced 1 anchovy fillet (chopped) Half a glass of white wine 250ml decent chicken stock If like me you have a glut to use up, 150g really ripe fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or an equivalent amount of plum tomatoes in juice) 250g quick cook polenta Knob of butter 50g Parmesan Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy-based casserole dish over a medium-high heat. Next dust the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then fry them in batches until golden brown on all sides. Take the chicken out of the pan and set aside. Slowly fry the garlic, rosemary, carrot and celery, until it is softened and started to colour. Pour in the wine and use a spoon to scrape the deliciously crispy bits off the bottom of the pan as the liquid reduces. Add the stock and tomatoes, and return the chicken to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover, turn down the heat and cook gently for 45 minutes, until the meat is falling from the bone.

I served the chicken with polenta (a staple of northern Italy), which I made using the instructions on the packet and added parmesan and butter before serving.

Penne with Cime di Rapa

The Cime di Rapa on the plot has reached maturity and I’ve begun to harvest the quick growing brassica. One of the classic dishes of Puglia is Orichiette con Cime di Rapa and to me it seemed a good plan to start eating the Cime di Rapa in this classic Italian pasta dish.

Looking online (as I tend to do to get ideas for meals) I found that, although the basic recipe was the same, there was quite a bit of variation in ingredients to accompany the Cime di Rapa. Some included cherry tomatoes, and the plot has a surfeit of them at the moment, so I included them. So I ended up with my own version of the dish, which I hope has some authenticity to it.


What you will need (serves 2)
200g Penne (we had Penne in the cupboard, so used this instead of the classic Orichiette)
100g Cime di Rapa (trimmed to include thinner stalks and the floriferous heads)
3 anchovies (finely chopped)
10 cherry tomatoes (cut into halves)
1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
Small pinch of chilli flakes
Handful of chopped parsley and grated Parmesan to finish the dish.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta (adding the Cime di Rapa after the first five minutes). Cook the penne until al dente, draining and retaining a small amount of the pasta water. As the pasta cooks fry the garlic, chilli flakes, anchovies and the chopped tomatoes. Once the pasta is drained, add to the sauce and toss to thoroughly mix. At this point I added a little of the pasta cooking water to bring the sauce together, then stirred in the Parmesan and parsley before serving.