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Summer Tomatoes
© Sue Courtney - text and photos
25 January 2002

Tomatoes, capsicum and basil

January is the month for vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh garden basil. I've so much basil growing on the pots on the deck; it's become a daily staple.

We didn't plant tomatoes this season - don't know why as we usually do - working too hard, I guess. But not to worry. I live in a rural area and there's a tomato grower not far away, who sells from their gate. They still use the honesty box system! During the year I call in to buy tomatoes, capsicums, telegraph cucumbers and beans.

Here's an easy summer salad.

Festive Salad
4 capsicums one each of red, yellow, green and orange.
500 grams vine ripened tomatoes
2-3 fresh basil leaves
2-3 fresh nasturtium leaves
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Thinly slice capsicums, removing all pith and seeds. Slice tomatoes into wedges (10-12 wedges per tomato, depending on size). Finely chop herbs. Place all in bowl. Crush garlic with the sugar. Add to the olive oil & mix well. Pour over the vegetables, mix well. Prepare a couple of hours before serving to let the flavours infuse.

This salad is very colourful and looks great on the table.

* * * * *

Easy Roasted Tomatoes, Capsicum and Basil (pictured above)
1 kg of vine ripened tomatoes
50 grams of small red capsicums
4- 5 cloves of garlic
a large handful of fresh basil leaves
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

Wash and dry tomatoes, capsicums and basil leaves.
Cut tomatoes into halves or quarters depending on size
Cut capsicums in quarters
Finely slice garlic
Tear basil leaves
Place tomatoes in one half of a large ovenproof roasting dish and capsicums at the other end. Sprinkle tomatoes with the sugar. Sprinkly finely sliced garlic over all the vegetables. Then drizzle over the olive oil and the balsamic. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place in a slow oven (150C) and roast for about 30 minutes.

Serve as an accompaniment to salads or use as a basis for a sauce or soup.

* * * *

One of my favourite recipes for vine ripened tomatoes was inspired by Ferenc Maté's book, 'The Hills of Tuscany'. It's a good read if you are in relaxation mode. In the first half of the book, Ferenc accounts the tale of house hunting in Tuscany with his wife Candace. They eventually find a house in Montepulciano - the home of the famous wine Brunello di Montepulciano. The remainder of the book accounts their first year living there. Plenty of wine and grappa is consumed and fabulous dishes such as Panzanella (bread salad)

There are plenty of variations of Panzanella in recipe books and on the Internet. This is the one I make, however. The key ingredients are tomatoes, cucumber, purple onions left over bread. Here's my version

500 grams of vine ripened tomatoes
half a long 'telegraph' cucumber
1 thinly sliced small purple onion
1 thinly sliced de-seeded red capsicum
Half of a long, crusty bread stick
Handful of basil leaves
1 clove of garlic, crushed,
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar,
Salt and Pepper
Olives (optional)
One tin of 'Tomato and Basil' flavoured tuna.

Peel the tomatoes and chop into chunks.
Peel the cucumber if you want and chop into similar sized chunks.
Slice the onion and capsicum.
Tear the basil leaves.
Cut the bread stick into thick slices, then each slice into quarters.
Mix the vegetables together with the garlic in a large wooden salad bowl. Add the bread and allow the bread to soak up the juices.
Then add the tin of tomato and basil tuna and mix well.
Lastly add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar - watch the oil quantity as there is already oil in the dish, from the flavoured tuna. Mix together well one tablespoon of each and pour over the salad.. Mix in and taste. Adjust to your palate by adding seasonings and more of the oil or balsamic to your taste.
Garnish with olives if you desire.
This dish is just great for a lazy lunch or dinner. try with a sauvignon blanc or a light red.

* * * * *

Pappa al Pomodoro ('Tomato Mush)
I was first introduced to this Italian inspiration from a Metro article sometime in 1995 and just loved the intense flavours. It is so easy to make. You can use a fresh or day old crusty bread stick or use Italian 'ciabatta' if you can find it. The bread soaks up the juice and becomes quite mushy - hence the translation of the name.

You will need
1/2 cup oil of good olive oil
1 finely chopped fresh red chilli (or a tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce)
3 tablespoons of finely chopped garlic
salt and pepper for seasoning
1.5 kg of fresh vine-ripened tomatoes - peeled
one and a half cups of crusty bread, torn into bite sized pieces
a handful of fresh basil leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan. If using raw chilli, add with the garlic and seasonings and sauté for a minute, then add the tomatoes that have been cut into large chunks. Sprinkle over the sugar. If using chilli sauce, add with the tomatoes. Mix well and slowly heat to boiling point, simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat. Cool a little then pour over the crusty bread that you've put into a deep serving platter or bowl. Adjust seasoning to your taste. Sprinkle with plenty of torn fresh basil leaves. Serve warm or cold.

This could be served as a side dish to a main course, or as a course on its own. It is another dish I use for a lazy lunch or dinner. It is important to peel the tomatoes as the skins will come off when cooking. I think there is nothing worse than a curled up piece of tomato skin floating around in the dish. Again this dish would suit a sauvignon blanc or a young red wine.

* * * * *

Chicken Thighs in a tomato, capsicum and basil sauce
Serves 2

This recipe is a little more substantial.

4 skinless chicken thighs with bone in
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500 grams fresh vine tomatoes
1 red capsicum 1 handful of freshly picked basil - about 20 or so leaves
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash and dry the chicken and season with salt and pepper.
Prepare tomatoes by removing skins, then chopping the tomato flesh into chunks. Retain all juices and seeds.
Slice capsicum and cut slices into about 3.
Wash and spin-dry basil leaves. Tear leaves into several pieces.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan.
Add one clove of the crushed garlic and stir.
Add the chicken pieces and coat with the oil and garlic.
Cook for about 5 minutes on each side.
Discard any brown (burnt/overcooked) garlic.
Wipe the pan clean and heat remainder of oil.
Saute the second clove of garlic, then add the chopped tomatoes, the sliced capsicum, the washed and torn basil leaves, the sugar and the balsamic. Stir well to combine and bring to the boil. Lower heat to simmer.

Add chicken pieces. Turn after 10 minutes of cooking and cook 10 minutes more. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with pasta or instead, if you wanted to, you could remove the chicken from the bones and serve as a soup.

* * * * *

Peeling Tomatoes: Don't skip this step if the recipe calls for it. It is so simple to do and saves having rolled up pieces of hard tomato skin floating around a dish.
Boil a jug of water. Place tomatoes in a bowl Pour boiling water over. Leave for a minute. Remove tomatoes one at a time. Split skin with sharp knife and peel skins off. This works perfectly with ripe tomatoes.

Bon Appetit

© Sue Courtney
January 2002.

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