Winding across the green hilly farmland, through a saltwater marsh and finally threading around a proud wooded hill, the road reaches the point where the forest meets the sea. At this spot where the road levels out, marking the boundary between water and woodland, a modest ferryman's cottage sits nestled amongst old trees on a patch of land that stretches back towards the woods. A small path of ancient limestone slabs leads up behind the house to a little section where the surrounding trees offer a gap to the sky, allowing the sunshine to reach the soil. It is here that my mother keeps her vegetable patch. Taking up almost a quarter of the patch, a scrappy looking glasshouse sits like a little church, roof pointed to the heavens. Within the glasshouse are as many tomato plants as could be reasonably squeezed into such a compact space. This place of dedication to a single, beautiful fruit, is the greatest example of what can be achieved against so many odds when your fingers are as green as my mothers are. The sun may only truly beat down on us the odd time, but when it does, the strategically placed greenhouse seems to soak up its fill, enough to delight us every summer with a bounty of fruit.
Over the years, we have received a good collection of heirloom tomato seeds. The greenhouse currently yields several varieties including some very interesting examples such as ‘Black Krim’ which is a Russian heirloom with dark red/purple flesh. There are also ‘Brown berries’, ‘Russian Emerald’ and the very delicious ‘Gabacho Negro’. We also grow some regular cherry, plum and beefsteak examples. Pulling back the creaky sliding door, bowing your head to fit yourself inside, you are surrounded by a candyshop selection of juicy, beautiful and fragrant tomatoes.
If you happen to find yourself, like we often do, with a large glut of tomatoes, preserving them as a confit is a brilliant method. Tomato confit seems to capture the ripe fruits pure flavour and integrity like a sauce or passata could never achieve. We generally use cherry tomatoes for this because they’re already so packed full of flavour and we usually have a good amount of them. You can of course confit any type of tomato.
500g of ripe cherry tomatoes 10 cloves of garlic 6 sprigs of fresh thyme Good pinch of seasalt 200ml of Good extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 120C.
Get a baking sheet or dish big enough to fit the cherry tomatoes in one layer. Drizzle the olive oil all over them, season with seasalt and throw in the thyme sprigs and cloves of garlic. Bake in the oven for around two and a half to three hours until the tomatoes have become swollen and blistered. The tomatoes juices will have mixed with the oil. Leave to cool and pack into sterilised jars, covering with the liquid from the baking sheet. You can leave it in the fridge for a week or so before eating.
That is the only intervention here, no cooking, no fuss just season and enjoy. It is all about what you pair with your tomatoes and we chose a gorgeous tin of Shines Irish tuna, some dressed leaves from our little roof garden (red mizuna, lambs lettuce, rocket, mustard leaves and tender chard leaves), the very best goats cheese from our favourite Galway Goat farm and some grilled sourdough.
Very good, very ripe tomatoes Creamy goats cheese Good quality tinned tuna A few slices of sourdough Mixed leaves Sea salt Black pepper Good extra virgin olive oil A few basil leaves
Slice the tomatoes and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Arrange in a bowl with some fresh basil leaves and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Open a tin of tuna and place in a bowl or just eat it straight out of the tin like we do. Dress the salad leaves lightly with a little oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Brush some slices of sourdough with a little olive oil and toast on a hot griddle. Arrange everything on a board along with some good goats cheese, mozzarella, ricotta or cream cheese and attack with a knife and fork.
We serve these with a delicious homemade tarragon aioli. The green tomatoes should be very firm.
4 medium to large firm green tomatoes 1 large egg 120ml of buttermilk 150g panko breadcrumbs 150g flour Black pepper Sea salt Vegetable oil for frying For the Aioli:
A good size bunch of tarragon, just leaves A small handful of basil leaves 300ml of olive oil 1 large garlic clove, crushed 2 egg yolks Juice of half a lemon Sea salt
First make the aioli. Place the oil and tarragon leaves in a large glass measuring jug and blitz until very smooth with a stick blender. Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bits. Whisk the egg yolks and crushed garlic together in a large bowl until it turns pale and fluffy. Slowly pour the tarragon oil into the yolks while whisking until the aioli comes together. Squeeze the lemon juice in and whisk. Season to taste and transfer to a large ramekin.
Season the green tomatoes lightly. Arrange three bowls with the flour in one, breadcrumbs in another and whisked egg in the last. Season each bowl generously.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok until very hot. Dip the slices of green tomatoes in the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Fry in the oil in batches. You want them to be golden brown all over. Remove from the oil when done and dry on a wire wrack. Serve hot with the aioli.