Tomato sorbet, tomato powder, pickled tomatoes
This is my take on one of those plates of food that should only be served as part of many courses in a well-heeled restaurant. But with kilos of tomatoes ripening at the end of summer last year and limited desire to turn them all into passata, there was an opportunity to try some new techniques and play around a bit. One of the most surprising things was just how well the elements work as preservers. A sorbet whose refreshing tanginess could be paired sweet or savoury; pickled tomatoes pack a punch to lift salads up a notch; a tomato powder that uses leftover skins and seeds to deliver an unami hit to anything it’s sprinkled over.
The stars of the show are all out of season in Europe now but hopefully this will serve friends in warmer climes at this time of year. Besides, it’s nice to bring some summer back now the weather has turned.
Two chefs inspired these. Firstly, Quique Dacosta’s restaurant in Denia which I was fortunate enough to visit last summer. His playful and minimal approach to Mediterranean cuisine is a showcase of creativity and innovation, and one of the highlights for me was a plate that explored many interpretations of the Spanish staple: the tomato. Secondly, Thomas Keller’s book ‘The French Laundry’ captures life inside and the inspiration behind an American institution. Although TFL is rumoured to be on the slide and its sister restaurant Per Se was ruthlessly taken down in the NYT this week, the book is one of the best kitchen companions for fine-tuning technique, inspiring pairings and impeccable presentation. His respect for ingredients and the importance of deriving pleasure from cooking clearly come through in every recipe and the refreshing first course tomato offerings are no exception.
The elements of the dish work well on their own in other dishes or together, so here’s the recipe for the sorbet, powder, and my own for the pickled tomatoes. The basil oil and parmesan crisps can be found in TFL book or elsewhere online…
Tomato Sorbet (from The French Laundry)
1kg ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
50g yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
pinch of chopped tarragon
pinch of cayenne
210ml simple syrup
1/2 orange zest, julienned and brought to a boil in cold water, strained three times
Simmer the tomatoes for 45 minutes on a medium heat, stirring frequently until reduced by half.
Meanwhile gently cook the onion in the oil for around 7-8 minutes until tender
Blend the onions and tomatoes until smooth and pass through a tamis or fine sieve. Return 240ml of mixture to the blender, add the remaining ingredients and blend again before straining in a chinois. Cool in the fridge before freezing 350ml in a prepared ice-cream machine.
Tomato Powder (from The French Laundry)
1/2 cup finely chopped tomato pulp (from a peeled and seeded tomato)
Squeeze the tomato pulp in a towel to extract the excess moisture. Line a microwave tray with parchment paper and spread the tomatoes on in a thin layer. Microwave on the lowest possible power for 30 minutes, or until the pulp is completely dried out (also possible to dry in a low oven). It should retain its vibrant colour. Let cool to room temperature.
Grind the dried pulp in a coffee or spice grinder until very fine. If the mix is too wet, return to the microwave for 1-2 minutes more. Sift through a sieve to separate any remaining unbroken bits and store in a plastic container.
The tomatoes can be peeled for a quicker brine.
15-25 cherry tomatoes
250ml red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons salt
2 garlic cloves, peeled
sprig of rosemary or thyme
Sterilise the jars the pickle will be in. Peel the tomatoes. Combine the vinegar, sugar and 250ml of water in a pan an simmer for 5 minutes.
Place peeled tomatoes in the sterilised jars, add the garlic, herbs and any other seasonings you’d like. Pour over the pickling solution to the top of the jar and seal. Peeled tomatoes should be eaten within a week or they’ll go too soft.