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Tomatoes from the Garden

Tomato sorbet, tomato powder, pickled tomatoes

Garden Tomatoes-8

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. 

Garden Tomatoes-3Garden Tomatoes-7Two 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.

Garden Tomatoes-28 Garden Tomatoes-19The 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.

Pickled Tomatoes

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.

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Pane di zucchine

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As the courgettes keep on growing and the weather begins to turn, it was time to think of more substantial uses for them and their flowers. I was reminded of a bread I once had in Rome that used elderflowers and decided that grated courgettes could take their place. They sit happily between the saltiness of some cured ham and the freshness of ricotta and basil. The result is somewhere between a bread and a savoury cake – fairly dense but happy sitting on a table amongst salads or as a side to soup. It also looks pretty great, I think.

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Pane di Zucchine

Makes one loaf in a 23cm cake tin or large loaf tin

250g plain flour

100g corn flour

5g dried yeast

3 tablespoons grated parmesan/pecorino

100g cured ham such as speck cut into small pieces (optional)

500g grated courgette

80ml good quality olive oil

3 tablespoons ricotta (optional)

230ml milk

handful chopped basil

generous pinch of salt

courgette flowers (optional)

Mix the grated courgette with a pinch of salt and leave for 10 minutes before wringing out moisture with a clean tea towel.

Combine well all of the ingredients in a large bowl except the salt and courgette flowers, if using. It should be of a cake mix consistency – add a little more milk if it isn’t. Add the salt and stir in before placing in a greased non-stick cake or loaf tin. Add the flowers on top. Leave to rise slightly in a warm place for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a rack before removing from tin.

This is a soft bread so keep it in the fridge. Also great toasted.

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A Lunch to Remember

This is the first post I write in the UK, for after an incredible year in Spain I find myself back to a reality I had almost forgotten about. A year in which I learnt more than in any other, that changed the way I think and the way I want to live my life. Never had I imagined it would be so difficult to come home, but in a way I now feel very distant from home. Distant from the life and friends which made me happier than ever in Spain as I return to a grey normality that I have yet to adjust to.

I recount to you here a snippet of my experience and a lunch I had in the last few weeks of my time there with two stall owners in the market and two of the most enthralling people I have ever met.

“I’ve worked here for 21 years with my own stall and whenever I could before then at my mother’s. I’m up before the birds six days a week but never have I been tempted to miss one day here. I feel like I am the luckiest man alive; that everyday meets special people; works in a place with a wonderful, unique atmosphere; providing experiences and happiness through food which I grow, pick and sell; then every evening I return to a beautiful family and home”

I could not recall anyone speaking so passionately about their job as Rafa had just done, whose spoken Spanish dramatised the whole thing further. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but there was an atmosphere in the room that I could only have dreamed of before this lunch. There I was, sat with two people that for almost a year had befriended me, inspired me and educated me; and as the late afternoon sun filled my living room with a warm glow and glinted off the market below, a wave of happiness spread over me. No photograph could have captured the afternoon for me and I’m glad the image I have of the lunch remains so perfectly vivid in my head and nowhere else.

For the past four months I had spoken with these two nearly everyday, sometimes to buy from their stalls, sometimes just to chat, to laugh or share a glass of wine. For this is the true beauty of the market. Once you can draw your eyes away from it’s beautiful design, it’s detailed ceiling and ornate windows; once you can get over the sheer quantity and quality of products on offer in the expanse of stalls; and when the beginnings of personal relationships form, this is when it’s true beauty is exposed.

It excited me every time I set foot inside, when the hustle and bustle filled my ears and my eyes were able to gorge on the visual feast that awaits. What started as a nice idea to invite them to lunch had suddenly become a reality.

Rafa #1 I have referred to here before as my ‘go-to man for herbs’ but his offerings stretch much further than locally collected herbs. Large boxes of sorted salad leaves, edible flowers, rare fruits and vegetables available only there, and a daunting display of mushroom species. Selling them all is a man with a beaming smile and a humbling knowledge of food. He has introduced me to countless new tastes and flavours, wanting me to try any new products with a childlike excitement.

Rafa #2 sells cured fish, but that doesn’t really sell him or his products. He is the only person I know who has given up everything to chase a dream. Who gave up a comfortable life in technology to pursue a passion for curing the best fish money can buy. His little stall is fronted my a glass cabinet with around 15 preparations of fish neatly displayed. If one day you happen to stumble upon his stall, you, like I, may eat your first anchovy. For I’d thought I’d eaten anchovies before, the salty, small fillets that come in tins, but I was wrong. ‘From Cantabria’ he exclaimed when I had composed myself. His big grin reveals missing front teeth which aired with a bandana gives a distinct man-o-the sea look. I shall soon post on his other offerings.

I digress.

The food wasn’t of highest importance here as I wanted to spend as much time as possible at the table. So I just prepared a few quick dishes in the morning that were basically all ready for when they came. I felt the following simply exhibited some of the freshest ingredients in the market:

That they liked the food I prepared was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received, for they talk about food and cooking in a way that makes them seem like veteran chefs. And as topics moved from rice to the best time for collecting snails, and dessert moved to coffee and then to much whisky, not once did it feel weird to be sat with two middle aged me I had known for barely half a year. I was let into a different world and felt privileged to be sat with such personalities.

None of us realised the time until nearing 8pm and as they both left after lengthy goodbyes and thanks, it dawned upon me that like this lunch, this year had passed by in no time at all. That in a week the life I woke up to everyday would be a life that remained in memories and no longer a reality. That these experiences that may seem quite minor to anyone who has managed to read this far (thank you), have impacted me hugely and will shape my future in some way or form. If I can ever speak about my life in a similar way to them, or live and share a passion for anything in the way that they do, I will be very content.

I am already making plans to return there for a holiday later this year and to go on a hunt with both of them in the beautiful Valencian countryside. But for now I will adjust back to life here again for the next year until I can live away again, and learn to look a bit harder for some inspiration and goodness; for god knows it’s not going to come from the supermarkets.

It begins…

So the time has come for me to enter the blogging stratosphere, more precisely the well established food blogging world. Many an hour I have passed on food blogs around the web, getting inspired and getting hungry; and many an hour I have passed in the kitchen re-creating what I have seen. So much so I thought I could give it a go myself. So here I will be posting my food ideas, recipes and thoughts and hope to give to those that find this blog a little of the joy that I receive from food.

I am a UK student currently fortunate enough to have spent the past year studying in Valencia, Spain, overlooking one of the world’s greatest food markets – the Mercado Central. It has been a great inspiration and opened my eyes to how good food can actually be; the importance of eating with the seasons; of quality produce; of relationships with suppliers and how it can bring people together in a magical way. Not long remains of my time in Valencia, but I will try to convey my experiences to readers through seasonal Mediterranean cooking in the time I have left there and adjusting to the kitchen and food availability back on home soil.

MW Kitchen opens its doors…