Tomatoes are right in season, with British varieties growing in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. But what’s the best way to eat a summer glut of tomatoes? How do you check for ripeness? And should you store tomatoes in the fridge? We ask Jessica Dennison, cook and author of Salad Feasts, for her top tomato recipes and tips.
Tomatoes bookend my daily routine over the summer. After switching on the lights and coffee machine in our Edinburgh cafe, Elliott’s, my first job each morning is to marinate our delivery of tomatoes for the lunch service ahead. I’ve found that when in their prime season, these versatile fruits (often misclassified as vegetables) require very little preparation to create a real crowd-pleaser of a meal.
Keep it simple: summer tomato salad
The simplest way to tease out their naturally sweet juices is with a splash of vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, then a pinch of sea salt and sugar. Even just five minutes in this storecupboard-based mixture will give your tomatoes a fragrant, self-saucing dressing. They’re just asking to be spooned over a soft cheese like burrata, or mopped up with good sourdough bread. They’re even better if you’ve got a few hours to leave them to sit. My treat at the end of each day, when all my team have gone home, is to pour myself a glass of wine and finish off the final portion that have been intensifying in flavour all afternoon. Summer simplicity at its best!
Think about the following when buying and cooking with tomatoes…
1. Check for ripeness
If you’re eating them raw in a salad, select tomatoes that are plump, with a smooth skin and fresh, sweet fragrance. You’ll sense any that are on the turn, as their skin will begin to shrivel slightly.
They’re certainly not destined for the compost bin however; older ones are ideal for grating over a steaming bowl of linguine or spaghetti. Or if you’ve got quite a few, they make a brilliant pulp for garlic-rubbed toast, blitzed into a chilled cucumber soup, or the base for red-wine steamed mussels.
2. Pair tomatoes with herbs and fruits, too
Of course basil is the obvious match for any tomato-based meal, but you’ll find they match up nicely which all sorts of herbs, both dried and fresh. A few sprigs of tarragon will impart an aniseedy edge, whilst oregano and mint will take them down more of a classic Mediterranean route.
Tomatoes are also brilliant eaten with other summer fruits; think torn ripe peaches and nectarines (see recipe below), or even crushed strawberries, raspberries or cherries. If marinating them as I’ve suggested above, just adapt the quantity of sugar to taste depending on how sweet your other fruit already is.
3. Store tomatoes at room temperature
Since tomatoes are at their happiest and grown naturally in the sunshine, a cold fridge is definitely not the place for storage if you’re wanting to get the most flavour out of them. Instead, I suggest keeping them at room temperature on your kitchen counter, where they can continue to ripen and sweeten before being eaten. Even if you intend to roast them in a hot oven or char them over a griddle pan; you’ll get a better flavour if they’ve been left out for a while.
4. Try different varieties
From cherry to plum, yellow to chocolate… British tomatoes come in all varieties
With so many British-grown varieties now readily available, you needn’t just stick to the familiar red-plum. Putting a few different colours and shapes of tomato on your plate has got to be one of the easiest and simplest ways to offer something beautiful for supper.
The savoury Kent-grown chocolate cherry tomato with its crimson tones works nicely alongside a larger yellow variety for example. Have a play with slicing and chopping them too. Large beef tomatoes naturally suit being sliced into thick rounds as a base for soaking up tinned anchovies or olive oil, while some of the smaller and medium-sized ones look nice cut on a rough angle, rather than in uniform dice.
Tomato, nectarine & burrata,
with sourdough & salsa verde
When it comes to summer eating, I really believe that simple is best, particularly when tomatoes are involved. Tossing the tomatoes in a little salt, oil and vinegar will draw out their natural sweetness, releasing more fragrant juices for you to mop up with burrata and bread. If you’ve never had it before, burrata is like an even softer buffalo mozzarella with extra cream – dreamy with a few spoonfuls of punchy salsa verde.
Remember to use ripe tomatoes at room temperature for this, not unripe and cold from the fridge. It’ll take you closer to the feeling of being on holiday. And if you don’t have salsa verde, or the time to make some, a few basil leaves and an extra splash of vinegar will work brilliantly too.
– 550g ripe tomatoes, at room temperature (a variety of colours is nice)
– 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
– 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
– ½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
– 1 teaspoon sugar (ideally white)
– 2 ripe nectarines, at room temperature
– 4 slices (300g) sourdough bread
– 2 medium balls (350g) burrata
For the salsa verde
– 1 small bunch (15g) parsley, leaves only
– 1 small bunch (15g) basil, leaves only
– 1 small bunch (15g) mint, leaves only
– 1 garlic clove
– 1½ tablespoons capers
– 30g anchovies in olive oil (drained weight)
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
– 120 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1. First, roughly chop the tomatoes – aim for big, random shapes that will hold the salsa verde, not uniform dice. Put them in a medium bowl along with the vinegar, oil, salt and sugar. Halve the nectarines, discard the stones then roughly tear large chunks into the tomato mixture. Gently toss then set aside to quickly marinate. Toast or griddle the bread.
2. To make the salsa verde, finely chop the herbs, garlic, capers and anchovies together on a board then place in a small bowl. Stir in the mustard, vinegar and olive oil.
2. To assemble, spoon the tomato mixture on to a large serving platter, including all the marinade juices. Tear over the burrata then drizzle over the salsa verde to finish. Serve immediately with the bread. Store any leftover salsa verde in a jar or airtight container in the fridge for 3–4 days.
Nectarines: peaches, apricots, strawberries
Red wine vinegar: white wine vinegar, malt vinegar, cider vinegar
Burrata: buffalo mozzarella, feta
Head to Farmdrop.com to find the best-in-season British tomatoes.
Recipe from Salad Feasts: How to assemble the perfect meal by Jessica Elliot Dennison (Hardie Grant, £16.99) Photography © Matt Russell