As the last of the summer fruit shows up in the stores, it’s time to grab some inexpensive, over-ripe tomatoes & whip up your own home-made tomato sauce.
Well the new kitchen is up and running, albeit with raw, scarred walls where the old tiles were removed, which is pretty ugly – so I have no update on these images just yet (except for a tiny hint I shared on Instagram last week).
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There’s a growing move amongst consumers towards organic food as more people recognise the value of eating chemical and additive-free food. The organic food industry has been recognised as one of Australia’s top five growth sectors and Keane’s Organic Food, which was originally a small part-time business for Melissa and Simon Keane, is now a full-time proposition for this Adelaide couple.
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Like everyone else in this world, I’ve gushed about spring in the past and droned on rapturously about the sunshine, flowers, birdies, bees, blah, blah, blah. That’s all lovely, of course, but there is another side to spring that has slightly fewer charms. I’m talking about the swallows which insist on annually nesting on my outdoor blinds, pooping all over said blinds and the table and chairs below. Or how about the changeable weather with it’s sunshine, gentle breezes, howling gales and pouring rains – often all in the course of just a few hours, meaning I am continuously underdressed or overdressed. Last week the evening temperature up here plummeted to 5C – just when we’d run out of fire wood. Then there’s the skyrocketing pollen counts and the subsequent cost of boxes of tissues and giant economy-sized packets of anti-histamines. And, most exciting of all, the sudden appearance of hungry and aggressively bad-tempered brown snakes who, combined with the triffid like growth of the grass/plants/weeds around our property, make my trips to the hen house to collect the eggs an anxiety-ridden scuttle, complete with long rubber boots and a machete. I’m telling you, it’s not all beer and skittles up here in springtime in the hills.
There – I’m glad I’ve got that little moan off my chest.
One thing I always welcome at this time of the year, though, is the reappearance of the first of the seasonal tomatoes. Tomatoes in general are mostly a disappointment these days, with even the pricey, vine-ripened ones failing to deliver much in the way of flavour, and my complete and utter inability to grow them up here means that I’m reliant on those I buy at the farmers markets. However, I recently made a slightly happy discovery with the purchase of a punnet of the mini Roma tomatoes from my local Foodland store. They seem to have a little more flavour than other commercially available tomatoes and really come into their own when slow roasted.
This recipe uses the tomatoes after they’ve been slow-roasted and, with frozen puff pastry and lots of fresh herbs from my garden, is another of my lazy-girl cheats dishes. I made it for my dear friend Liz for lunch the other day, along with a big plate of brownies for dessert and we were both pretty happy with the meal. Just one tip, watch the baking of this tart like a hawk. I didn’t and let it go just a little too long – it tasted great, but didn’t photograph so well.
- 300 gms mini Roma tomatoes, halved
- 50 mls olive oil
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 bunch fresh oregano
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
- ½ cup of grated cheese (either mozzarella or cheddar, you decide)
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 100 gms goats chevre or feta
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat oven to 150C (300F).
- Toss halved tomatoes, ½ the bunch of thyme leaves, ½ the bunch of oregano leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl, then place the tomatoes on a lined baking tray, cut side up. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour. Leave to cool slightly.
- Raise oven temperature to 200C (400F).
- Place thawed pastry on a sheet of oven-proof paper, cover with another sheet and roll out gently to a rectangular shape.
- Leaving the pastry on the bottom sheet of paper, place it on a baking tray and using a sharp knife score a line 2 cms around the four sides of the inside of the pastry, making a 2 cm frame around the edge of the pastry.
- Sprinkle the interior rectangle with the cheddar cheese and the parmesan cheese and dot with the slightly cooled, roasted tomatoes.
- Sprinkle with the remaining thyme leaves and brush the pastry edge with egg wash.
- Bake in oven for 15-17 minutes - no longer or cheese will overcook.
- Scatter the tart with crumbled goats chevre or feta, then sprinkle with the remaining oregano leaves.
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Summer seems to be lingering in Adelaide at the moment. Not in a nasty “Oh, my god it’s going to be how hot today?” kind of way, but in a very pleasant warm, sunny “I think we’ll have lunch outside again” kind of way. Never mind that my summer clothes are starting to look just a little tired or that I am unable to get away with the five day stubble on my legs – I might as well enjoy the weather while it lasts. Although, if the weather gods are listening, it would be totally perfect if we could have some rain at night. My poor garden is very thirsty.
There are still lots of lovely, ripe tomatoes to be found and I’m happy to eat them while I can, but I haven’t quite finished stocking up on some for the duller days ahead. One beautiful way to save the fresh taste of summer tomatoes is to slow cook them in the oven and store them in oil. I used cherry tomatoes for this. These small, red bombs are gorgeously sweet and intense. Cooking them in this way deepens and compounds the taste, making them little explosions of potent summer flavours in your mouth – evoking the sunnier days gone by. I’m not too sure how long they will keep in your fridge as I’ve never had the opportunity to find out in this house – they are snapped up pretty quickly.
I’ve been known to eat these with a spoon straight out of the jar, but they are also good in salads, tossed through pasta or on foccaccia. For this batch I added fresh thyme and garlic, but rosemary, oregano and/or chilli flakes would be quite wonderful too. The taste of the olive oil will be important here, so try not to skimp on the quality. Make sure that your jars are very clean – wash with hot soapy water and dry in the oven, or run them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher. Like so much of my cooking this recipe is dead simple, but the end result is really, really more than the sum of it’s parts.
- 1 kg ripe cherry tomatoes, stalks removed, halved
- 100 mls good olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and very finely sliced
- Sprigs of fresh herbs of your choice (thyme, rosemary or oregano are great)
- Sea salt
- ground black pepper
- Extra olive oil for storing
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Drizzle some of the oil over the base of an oven-proof dish and spread to make a film over base of dish.
- Place tomatoes cut side down in dish.
- Sprinkle with garlic and herbs, then drizzle with remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cook in oven for 40-50 minutes until tomatoes are soft and just collapsing, but not charred.
- Cool, then place in jars and cover with extra olive oil.
- Store in refrigerator.
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My Easter break this year was a little different from usual – and significantly quieter. I have finally managed to convince the very hard-working Husband that it is okay to take a break and enjoy some time that is just for him – no work, no kids, no me – although it wasn’t easy to start with. Last year we managed to persuade him (or bully him, depends who’s telling the story) to accept an invitation to go up to the Byron Bay Blues Festival with a group of friends.
Our family are all big music fans and have been WOMADelaide devotees (or tragics, again it depends who’s telling the story) since it began here, taking the kids in backpacks when they were small. We all knew The Husband would love Byron Bay, but it took all sorts of cajoling, nagging and manipulation to get him to agree to go away for a week without us and there were even unfortunate scenes in the car on the way to the airport, as he resisted to the bitter end. Contrary to his expectations, the world did not cease to turn, either in a domestic or commercial sense, he actually relaxed and enjoyed himself and happily set off again last week, leaving me with the assorted offspring.
Given that our eldest has moved out of the familial nest, our son is at the age where he disappears for days at a time and the youngest had an hour-long general anaesthetic to dig wisdom teeth out of her jaw on the Wednesday before the Easter break, I knew things were going to be pretty uneventful over the weekend. Glad of an excuse to do very little – and to have the remote control to myself – the four day break looked quite good from where I was sitting. (Perhaps less so for my poor, swollen and bruised baby, though.)
I happily engrossed myself in the pile of books by my bedside, the menu of murder mysteries on the television, the thorough perusal of Paula Wolfert’s book “The Food of Morocco” to select the lunch menu for a family meal on Easter Sunday (harcha, vegetable couscous and salmon poached with preserved lemon, raisins & pine nuts, followed by cheese and chocolate) and the big box of late, cooking tomatoes that I purchased on Thursday afternoon. In between the above, plus playing on the internet, tending to my daughter’s needs for nourishing, but soft, foods and administering pain relief I had a lovely time turning these bruised and over-ripe fruits in to chutney, tomato sauce (ketchup) and tomato sugo. I now have a fridge and freezer full of summer ready to brighten up the winter months.
The tomato sugo recipe I use is one that I’ve posted before here. It is a simple recipe, but oven-cooked, thus maximising the sweetness of the tomatoes, and is a rich base for soups, casseroles or pizzas. I made the tomato sauce (ketchup) in my trusty Thermomix using my modified version of a gorgeous recipe from the very clever Quirky Jo – check out her version here. The chutney was my own recipe. I like a bit of spicy flavour with chutney, but not too much heat, so I’m generous with the ginger and spices, but less so with the chilli. Chutney is simple to make, keeps for ages in the fridge, is a deliciously tasty addition to a cheese platter and, like so much else, always nicer when you make it yourself.
- 1 & ½ kgs tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used Romas)
- 2 chopped onions
- 3 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 cup sultanas
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1½ tsp cumin
- 1½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 level tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a pot, bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1-1½ hours until thickened.
- Sterilise jars by scalding with boiling water or running through a hot cycle in a clean dishwasher. Dry by standing upside down in warm oven.
- When cooked, pour chutney into hot jars (pouring hot chutney into cold jars will make the jars crack), seal, cool and store in fridge.
That’s how I filled in my delicious four days. How about you, my lovelies – how did you enjoy the break?
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Before I tell you all about this fabulous event to celebrate a wonderful fruit and one which is probably a staple in most kitchens, I must come clean. Down on the plains I used to grow lovely tomatoes with almost no effort at all. Each year I’d pop in a few plants, throw some water and fertiliser on them and watch them grow like triffids, eventually harvesting bucket-loads of fragrant, red and flavoursome tomatoes. There would always be too many to eat so I’d cook the extra up into a simple sauce and freeze it ready for the wintry, tomato-free days ahead. I guess you could call those my salad days. 😉
However, since our tree-change into the Adelaide Hills, my tomato mojo has up and left me high and dry. I’ve tried repeatedly, and in many different positions around our house, to grow them here with absolutely no joy whatsoever. In fact, the only constant I can cite in my tomato growing attempts over the last 10 years has been the dreaded tomato wilt which has followed me from garden bed to garden bed. After extensive efforts to combat it last year I have now conceded defeat and won’t try growing tomatoes again. So if my words on the Tomato Festival seem slightly tinged with wistfulness and disappointment I hope you’ll understand. Sigh.
Held at Adelaide Botanic Gardens and following the success of the first Tomato Sauce Challenge in 2012, which received 113 home-made tomato ketchup entries, this event has now grown into the weekend-long Tomato Festival which will be celebrated on 23-24 February, 2013. The South Australian climate is ideally suited for tomato growth (except for the area around my house, apparently) and this ubiquitous fruit is an essential part of the cuisine of many of the cultures which now call Australia home. For many of us, our knowledge of tomatoes is confined to the limited range available in supermarkets. We have little knowledge of the huge number of heirloom tomatoes available but the Tomato Festival will bring together well known cooking and gardening experts, including Maggie Beer, Simon Bryant, Clive Blazey, Jon Lamb, Sophie Thomson, Rosa Matto, Walter Duncan and Jane Doyle, to discuss and share their passion and expertise with a range of activities which will occur throughout Adelaide Botanic Garden, including the Schomburgk Pavilion, Plane Tree Lawn and North Lodge, showcasing different areas of the Garden.
In partnership with Diggers Club (Australia’s most popular gardening club with the largest range of heirloom vegetables, cottage flowers and fruit plants available) and the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, the weekend will feature the Tomato Sauce Challenge, the Best in Show competition, tomato-themed workshops, the Great Tomato Debate, cooking demonstrations, the Tasty Tomato Trail, fun activities for kids, a tomato taste test, special guided walks and a tomato themed luncheon in the award-winning Botanic Gardens Restaurant. As general interest in home food production gathers steam,the aims of this event – to bring together tomato gardeners and home cooks from across South Australia to share the benefits of home-grown produce, promote the diversity of tomato varieties and inspire cooks to embrace the versatile tomato in new ways – couldn’t be more relevant today and the extensive Tomato Festival program promises to have something to interest every one.
If you fancy yourself as a crack tomato sauce maker, the Tomato Sauce Challenge will be judged by an expert panel, including champion tomato sauce maker Walter Duncan, SA Life resident chef Rosa Matto and Gardening Australia’s Sophie Thomson. The registration for this event has now been extended to February 15 2013, so you’ve still got plenty of time to be in the running.
An interest in food security seems to be becoming a more prominent community concern and sharing our food knowledge, skills and cultural history is one very real way to help protect and fortify our collective capacity. One of the primary objectives of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide is to advance knowledge of the plant world through botanical, horticultural and ex-situ conservation programs. Botanic gardens are imperative to our future. Their role in helping us to understand the connection between plants, people and culture is vital in creating sustainable communities for generations to come.