Tomatoes

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Fresh tomatoes are one of those ingredients that, despite being eaten all year round, taste their very best in summer. No doubt it’s the sweetness they gain after being ripened under the sun on the plant as opposed to being picked unripe from a greenhouse but perhaps it also has to do with gorgeous summer dishes using tomatoes and lots of salads eaten outdoors. The pairing with basil, another high summer ingredient, is guaranteed to whet the appetite every time (try replacing the mozzarella in a classic Insalata Caprese with creamy Burrata!).

During the tomato growing season, there are several highlight moments: when the first flowers appear on the plant, when they start turning to fruit, and biting into your first sun-ripened tomato from the plant (like the cherry tomatoes in the photo). Some people pinch, others don’t but generally the fruit will be fewer but bigger when you pinch the offshoots.

My favourite time of tomato season is now: the moment of overabundance! At the end of summer, there is always a glut of shiny, ripe tomatoes to snap up at the markets for rock bottom prices, especially at the end of the day. And it doesn’t matter if they’re on the riper side if you’re planning to cook them. So buy your boxes of tomatoes to make passata, chutneys, salsas and tomato sauce or soups and sauces to freeze. Or just freeze the tomatoes themselves or oven/sun dry them.

What I love about the tradition of making passata – and also preserving and foraging – is that it is done together with the family and friends in order to preserve big summer harvests for the winter. While processing a few hundred kilos of tomatoes is probably not possible in most of our kitchens, it’s really worth taking the time to make (and share!) your own tomato preserves and sauces: your stomach will thank you for that little taste of summer during the dark, grey Dutch winter months (as which we all know, can last a very, very, very long time).

PS I had a couple of requests for a good tomato sauce recipe: I love the Jamie Oliver one here  (I left out the water as the tomatoes produce a lot of it themselves during cooking).

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READY THIS WEEK

The Dutch summer continues with a string of lovely warm days to come this week. It’s not time to put away the barbeque yet!

Don’t miss out: catch the very last of the plump Dutch cherries before you have to say goodbye to them for another year.

Just arrived: the first of the wild blackberries have already been sampled by yours truly! More to come.

Plentiful: blueberries are still going strong and the Dutch plums have arrived with a bang in all colours. Head to the farmer’s market or other markets to find lesser known varieties (Opal and Victoria are the most common in the Netherlands).

Stock up big on tomatoes for preserving (for home made ketchup!!), broccoli and cauliflower are super tasty right now, get into summer beetroot and cabbage (not just winter veggies!), silverbeet, fennel, and green beans. Enjoy the lettuces for salads and cucumbers on the warmer days this week and pak soy is delicious for stir fries. Lastly, the new potatoes are just yum – simply steamed and dressed hot with dill and mayonnaise.

A Forest Full Blueberries

blueberries1There is no other word than PHENOMENAL to describe this year’s wild blueberry season in the Netherlands. Everywhere, the forest floor is literally a sea of blue, each shrub filled with clusters of fat, juicy blueberries dripping off each branch. No kidding (see all the dark blue dots in the photo?).

In my first post on wild blueberries, I wrote that they were notoriously hard to spot. Well I take that back: obviously I was in the wrong forest or I was too early. This second blueberry expedition brought me to blueberry heaven. Now I understood what the blueberry picker was made for (to comb the berries from the plant). If you can, head to the forest this week to pick your own. Blueberry seasons like this don’t come by very often anymore!

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And in case you’re stuck for ideas for what to make with all your blueberries, what about: blueberry jam, blueberry pie, blueberry crumble, blueberry muffins, blueberry cake, blueberry clafoutis, blueberry liquer, blueberry pancakes, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry ice cream…is that enough to get you out there picking?

(PS wash them very very well before eating or cook them)

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The Cherry Orchard

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Cherries are one of those fruits that are inseparable from summer: like with strawberries or watermelon, it feels totally wrong to eat fresh cherries at any other time of the year. I look forward to the Dutch cherry season like an impatient kid counting down to his or her birthday, or to be more precise, to the presents. For me, the plump, juicy, crunchy cherries that await are better than any shop-bought ‘cadeau.’

The Dutch cherry season lasts 5-6 weeks starting somewhere around mid July. Due to the long cold spell, they were a couple of weeks late, but it was more than worth the wait. The weather conditions this year – favourable to the fruit but not to us poor humans –  allowed the cherries to flower and fruit very well, and in copious amounts too!

For me, no cherry season is complete without a trip to the cherry orchard. Besides buying cherries for feasting, I usually buy a massive box for jam or preserving in port. A cherry orchard feels romanic and alluring: perhaps Chekhov’s play has something to do with this.

When cherry trees are fruiting in full, it’s a sight to behold: groups of shiny, black cherries hang in clusters along the branches over the whole tree. The abundance is overwhelming and it’s pretty hard at this stage to hold back and not just want to eat them all. Eating cherries straight off the tree is one of the biggest pleasures I can imagine. It can’t get any fresher, which perhaps explains the Dutch phrase ‘kers vers’ (cherry fresh). “Pick me, pick me!”, they’re all saying. And so I did. Six and a half kilos later, I left the orchard with my hands and mouth stained black from picking and eating the sweet cherries. I cycled away with the box strapped on the back of my bike (praying it wouldn’t fall off), dreaming about the delicious pots of jam that would soon follow….

Thanks to Vera and Dirk from Eerlijk & Heerlijk in Zuidoostbeemster for hosting me on their beautiful orchard!

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Ready this week…

After a toasty few days, the Dutch summer is back to more ‘normal’ temperatures in the low 20s, which – I never thought I would say this – is a welcome relief. There is beautiful summer fruit and veg in abundance and there’s more to come: due to the slow start to the summer, everything has been delayed for one month. Here’s a selection of what’s good this week from the Dutch soil:

Don’t miss out: the berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants) are SUPER right now but don’t leave it too much longer to stock up on the berry abundance for jams and for freezing.

Plentiful: Outdoor courgettes and tomatoes are ready, perfect paired with fresh Dutch garlic (yes it grows wonderfully here!). The cabbages are squeaky fresh and cauliflower, broccoli and fennel is good. The lettuces just keep on growin’, enjoy beetroot and silverbeet of all colours, and the new potatoes are ready to go! Go crazy with the beans: green beans, broad beans and peas. And a MUST DO this week: stuff your face with plump, black cherries which are at their very best now.

Still to come: Look out for blackberries and the gooseberries seem to be a bit more shy this year at the markets. Plums should be ready in a couple of weeks.

Redcurrants

Redcurrants are in the full glory right now. Get ’em before the birds do!
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Broccoli

Broccoli

Dutch Broccoli season has well and truly begun and they are growing outdoors so beautifully right now. This is the first time that I saw a broccoli plant and it was wonderful to see the flower together with the plant.

Silverbeet / Swiss Chard

IMG_1623 IMG_1624Swiss Chard or Silverbeet as it’s also known is a little friendlier for the mouth than Spinach – you’ll not have that yukky furry teeth feeling  after gorging on these gorgeous greens (or reds or yellows). You’ll have a hard time finding Silverbeet at the supermarket so the farmers’ market is your best bet. They should be available into the early autumn. Look for shiny, squeaky leaves, and if picking yourself, take the big outer leaves if you can so that the young inner leaves can mature. Use in quiches and pies  – in combination with feta in a spanakopita is  a hit – or a favourite is to pan fry with garlic and finish with raisins, toasted pine nuts and a dash of balsamic. Mouthwateringly good…

Wild Blueberries

The picking of wild blueberries requires two essential skills: sharp eyes and truckloads of patience. The forest is now ripe with these little blue gems that grow on low shrubs. The past few Dutch summers were not the best for wild blueberries but I heard through the grapevine that this is the best season since a couple of decades!

These wild blueberries are smaller and tarter than their tamed supermarket cousins so be in for a little surprise when you take your first bite: a taste explosion! While picking, they are notoriously hard to find in the mass of green: lift up the branches of the shrub or better still squat down to shrub level (who needs the gym?) to spot them. Once you have your blueberry ‘eyes’ on, you’ll see them everywhere. Pick a big handful before stuffing them all into your face and remember to check if your teeth are still stained blue before meeting anyone in public after leaving the forest. Delicious for wild blueberry sauce (over a pie or cheesecake for example) and jam. Oh, and you won’t get anywhere fast: estimate about half a kilo every hour by hand (faster with a berry picker but I prefer it the hard way). Happy picking!
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