Mr Knightley’s Tomatoes

“Hardly three weeks ago, they were so green,” Knightley said. “And now look at this one. Red as an apple and even larger.”

The head gardener stared at it with deep suspicion. “Is that what a tomato is supposed to look like?”

Knightley shrugged. “It has grown and softened from greenness, so one must assume the fruit is ripe.”

“But is it safe?” This was the question that had long plagued the head gardener. “My gran always said they’re poison.”

“They eat them in the New World.”

The gardener made a sound that suggested people in the Americas might do any sort of lunatic thing, whether making war against their Crown or eating poisonous fruit.

Knightley tried again. “Apparently tomatoes are becoming quite popular in London – used in soups and stews and all sorts of dishes.”

“They’re even crazier in London than in America,” the gardener said, apparently considering the tomato absolute proof of this assertion.

But Knightley was not to be so easily dissuaded. This was the third year he had attempted to grow such plants, and the first any of them had survived to be fruitful. Besides, after the unceasing tension and gloom of the past few days, he wished to enjoy this one small satisfaction. So he lifted it to his mouth, ignored the hardener’s panicked expression, and took a bite.

His first thought was that tomatoes were apparently extremely messy.

His second was that it was delicious.

Knightley chuckled as he pulled away the juicy thing and grabbed a handkerchief to wipe his mouth and chin. “It’s wonderful. Tastes like summer itself. But there must be some trick to eating them which I have not yet learned.”

…Such a triumph begged to be shared… “Mr and Mrs Brandon!” he called. “I’ve grown a tomato from the Americas, and it’s marvellous.”

The murder of Mr Wickham, by Claudia Gray

Reading this passage immediately had me craving my favourite tomato recipe of all time – the tomato recipe that I’m convinced can cure anything and everything: the Roasted Tomato Salad from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection.

Published 29 years ago this month, Summer Collection was one of the first real cookbooks I bought and, it’s fair to say, working my way through it, Delia taught me to cook.

I remember making the peaches baked in marsala with mascarpone cream (such an exotic ingredient in 1993), the vanilla terrine with raspberry coulis, and the oh-so impressive jelly terrine of summer fruits.

For years the only way I’d roast lamb was the way she did, and Grant used to request pork saltimbocca or chicken with sherry vinegar and tarragon sauce every time we prepared a special dinner. Delia taught me how to make twice-baked goat’s cheese souffles (not as difficult as you might think), an easy (fool-proof) foaming hollandaise sauce, and rather posh looking Thai flavoured salmon filo parcels.

the souffle before being taken from their ramekins for the second bake

While there are some dishes that need to stay back in the 90’s, there are still recipes in this book I make from time to time that over the years have become my own.

Pesto rice salad

Aside from the tomato (which I’ll tell you about shortly), there’s the Pesto Rice Salad (which is something even Sarah makes regularly now), the fried halloumi cheese with lime and caper vinaigrette (perfect on its own as a starter or with a salad as a light meal), the roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic.

Roasted red onion salad

There’s also the Piedmont Roasted Peppers (which I made only last week for lunch) and the Roasted Red Onion, Parmesan and Rocket salad (ditto).

Piedmont Roasted Peppers

Mostly though, there are the roasted tomatoes.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made this dish over the years. These days we don’t make it look pretty and I certainly can’t be faffed peeling the tomatoes, but whenever we have good tomatoes (although this makes even ordinary tomatoes better) and good bread, it will be on the menu.

It’s also super easy. Tomatoes slow roasted with some basil and thyme, a couple of cloves of grated garlic, a good glug of balsamic vinegar and a bigger glug of olive oil. If we have any in the house, some black olives are tossed in. Finished off with more basil and served with excellent bread, it’s truly medicinal in its goodness. Almost thirty years on…

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

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