Few things demarcate summer to me like a really good tomato. Ideally seven or eight, in a paper bag, nestled at the top of my rucksack gently so they won’t get squished and leak sumptuous but ultimately annoying juices through the paper and all over my laptop. That’s how ripe I’d like them to be – so ripe that leakage concerns me.
Ideally, too, in more colours than I thought possible. That peculiar shade of mottled reddish brown, that is vividly more than the sum of its colour-chart parts. An orange-shade of crimson, simultaneously deep and neon. And then we get to the bright greens, those the shade of Apple Sourz bottles but much more nutritious, or the flecked yellows, or startling oranges.
God, that’s how I know it’s summer.
And when they’re like that, I don’t want to tamper with them. They’re not watery, just soft. Cooking them down would be a crime, the only defence that you wanted to intensify them with a long and slow cook, or to open them up with the gentlest of heat, slick them with olive oil and serve them alla checca. Personally, I think tomatoes this good should always be served at room temperature, and tend to improve when prepared and left out in the sunshine for an hour or two.
Honestly, when it’s hot and the tomatoes are like that – nothing makes me happier than chopping them roughly, sluicing a little olive oil on top and sprinkling flaked sea salt. I’d eat them like that with my fingers.
These aren’t so much recipes as a cobbled-together collection of nice things to serve on plates (or in bowls). So, from simplest to simple, I’ve set out three of my absolute favourite tomato salads for sunny days. Feel free to leave them in the sunshine before serving.
Simplest: Tomato, Oregano and Crispy Caper Salad
If you can get fresh oregano, this is a dream. If not, basil or a very fresh parsley will do. Simply slice your tomatoes and lay them on a platter, drizzle some olive oil on them, grind a lot of black pepper and sea salt over them, scatter some chopped oregano leaves (or your herb of choice). If you like you can mix the olive oil with some red wine vinegar.
Fry some capers in a little olive oil until crispy and scatter on top.
A classic. I can hand-on-heart say I have made this at least five times a summer since about 2014.
It’s a sneaky one, though, because I really don’t think it tastes right without a sunny day. The real flavour comes from everything melding together underneath the rays of the sun: the juices of the tomatoes mingling with the oil and vinegar, the basil gently wilting, all seeping into the slightly stale bread. You can try that on an autumn day, but it’s just not the same.
Only a tad more complicated, this is a moreish, mouth-puckering way to give those tomatoes the Venetian treatment. Skye McAlpine writes that she had vitello tonnato – cold, sliced veal served like this – on the night before her wedding, and where Skye leads, I’m keen. I believe Ed Smith of Rocket and Squash fame (another ex-lawyer, and a very nice bloke) also has a recipe for this in On the Side – but I don’t have a copy so can’t tell you how his goes.
Anyway, tomato tonnato sounds fishy: it is and it isn’t. It’s a whack of umami and a salty freshness, and it actually goes with most things.
Let me know, as ever, how you get on.