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).