Fresh tomatoes are with us all year, but there’s still something about eating them in summer – even late summer – that’s so much better. Flavour, probably. And choice. Shops, markets and allotments are awash with different types – not just plum versus round or beef versus cherry, but named varieties, on and off the vine. I could have specified varieties for all the recipes below, but it’s not necessary and it would be frustrating: Sainsbury’s doesn’t sell the same ones as Waitrose or as the stalls at London’s Borough market. What’s important when choosing is not to be seduced by perfect shape, colour and shine. There are varieties with vibrant flavour that are large, lumpy, lacking in gloss and even slightly scabby. If the skins look scruffy, you can always peel them. It’s quick and easy to do and in some dishes makes all the difference to both texture and taste.
Nothing beats the best fresh, but don’t spurn canned tomatoes for cooked dishes. They’re better than tasteless, underripe C-list fresh tomatoes. If you want to intensify the flavours, add tomato concentrate, a touch of sugar, a splash of red wine vinegar, some herbs (fresh or good-quality herbes de Provence) and seasoning. Simmer slowly to reduce - and there you have it, an instant flavour-booster, topping, filling or pasta sauce. If you’ve got ten minutes’ extra time, begin by softening a chopped onion and two or three chopped garlic cloves in olive oil, then add the canned tomatoes and other ingredients.
Peel me a tomato Life may be too short to stuff mushrooms and peel small tomatoes, but it’s not too short to peel large ones when necessary.
It’s a doddle: you scald them in a large pan of boiling water, take them out, plunge them in cold water and peel off the skin. The only thing you have to work out is the timing, which depends on the thickness and ripeness (or lack of it) of the skins. It’s generally between 10 and 30 seconds, but the best thing is to test one on its own first. If you think the skin is thin and ripe, take it out of the water to test after 10 seconds. If you think it’s tough, try 25 seconds.
Photograph taken in Cahors market in southwest France by Joanna Simon