Make the most of the season’s produce with the help of chef and food writer, Gill Meller. This month, he celebrates the start of British tomato season with his truly local Margherita pizza recipe. Slow-roasted Isle of Wight tomatoes, British buffalo mozzarella and plenty of fresh herbs and garlic. Need we say more?
Gill Meller’s British Margherita Pizza (and no, you don’t need a wood-fired oven)
Photography: Gill Meller
When asked about my favourite way to cook, serve or eat tomatoes, I’m often whisked back to snippets of my life I remember fondly. It seems, at those moments, it’s always warm, the sun is shining down on me and I don’t have much to do.
To illustrate, I recall arriving late one evening to a house set in an olive grove in the Peloponnese in Greece. The little shops in the nearest town were all closed but the owners had left some ripe tomatoes for us in a bowl and in the cupboard some of their own olive oil and salt. It was one of the happiest, most delicious meals I’ve ever had. It may seem strange to give a humble supper like this such a glowing review, but it’s true.
The tomatoes were of course the showstopper. Soft, sugary, sun-ripened to bursting, fleshy and rich. They wanted for nothing bar the peppery green olive oil and that all-important pinch of salt which brings out all their hidden secrets.
Delicious-tasting British tomatoes? Find them on the Isle of Wight…
The Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight produce some of the UK’s best-tasting tomatoes
I admit that it’s simple to find wonderful tomatoes in warmer climes. Those that have enjoyed soaking up the sun while still on the vine, slowly, naturally. It’s more difficult in England, because of our rather unpredictable summers and generally duller climate. That said, there is a place producing tomatoes just like the ones I ate in Greece all those years ago. In the rich, fertile soils of Arreton Valley on the Isle of Wight you’ll find a small business, The Tomato Stall, run by a team of dedicated farmers and growers producing some of Britain’s tastiest heritage tomatoes.
The island’s unique maritime climate and southern location boasts some of the best sunshine levels in the UK, which in turn produces exceptionally sweet, ripe and characterful tomatoes. It’s exciting because Isle of Wight tomatoes are just coming back into season now and for the most part I like to treat them pretty simply.
Make the most of tomato season on this Margherita pizza
In many cases I’ll serve ripe, in-season tomatoes straight up, like I did back in Greece. But occasionally I’ll make more of a fuss over them. What better way to celebrate good tomatoes than on a Margherita pizza, or (for fear of rattling the purists) my own unique take on the classic.
The all-important sauce is made by gently roasting trays of these Isle of Wight tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, fresh thyme and basil, and plenty of salt and pepper. The low heat from the oven intensifies their flavour and accentuates their personality. I like to cook them until they are soft and blistering.
“I like to cook them until they are soft and blistering” – Gill Meller
This edge of colour brings a hint of bitterness to the sauce, which plays so wonderfully against its rich sweetness. While warm, I push half the tomatoes through a course sieve. The resulting purée is deeply flavoured, thick, sweet and incredibly savoury. This is what I use for the pizza sauce.
The remaining tomatoes are used to top the pizza along with some Laverstoke Park organic buffalo mozzarella, more fresh vibrant basil and a generous scattering of grated White Lake Dairy goat’s cheese. You couldn’t get a more British pizza if you tried!
For the best-in-season British tomatoes this summer, go to farmdrop.com.