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.
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Wow – this is looking like it might start to become a habit! Here I am with a post ready to go for Celia’s – Fig Jam and Lime Cordial – regular, monthly segment where we indulge in the more inquisitive side of our natures and have a quick sqizz around each other’s kitchens. This is the second time in a row that I’ve managed to join in!
I’ve been waiting ever so eagerly for the first tomatoes of the season so I could make a delicious rose-water scented Moroccan salad from Paula Wolfert – one of my favourite experts on modern Moroccan cuisine. Obviously, this is the before shot – I was a little to too eager to eat them once they were done – and is a stunningly different way to prepare tomatoes.
My friend Liz has been traveling in the US of late and came home with some genuine Boston Tea Party tea for me – although I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been dredged up out of the harbour! She also bought me these gorgeous coasters woven in the style of Persian rugs, just to add a little bit of style to my cuppa.
I’ve been living vicariously through my friends holidays of late. This beautifully packaged little ceramic box is full of Kampot Pepper and was brought home to me from Cambodia by another friend. It is reputed to be the very best pepper in the world and is famed for it’s delicate and enthralling aroma. I’m quite shallow, so I just love it for the box it came in.
The delightful people at Adelaide’s famous Haighs Chocolates sent me a little surprise in the post, a sample of their newest treat – the very sublime Creme Brulee Truffle. I had to hide these from my loved ones, but it was worth it – I’d love to know how they get that delicate little crunch into this rich, creamy, decadent, indulgence.
The wicked folk at Loving Earth had a special on a while ago and I was powerless in the face of two words close to my heart being used in the same sentence – chocolate and sale. They sell these raw chocolate blocks in packs of 11 – but they’re raw and sweetened with coconut nectar, so that makes them a health food really – right?
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Check out the link to this weeks boxes here.
Another month gone – but where?!! The contents of our boxes are slowly changing as the season turns and my thoughts will turn from salads to dishes that are a little more warming, although we’re not quite ready for the full-on, hearty stews and casseroles yet. This is really where the fresh vegetables that we are lucky enough to have access to will really come into their own. In our house, we are still happy enough to have a barbeque or a grill to deal with the protein side of the meal, but I am enjoying actually cooking some of the veggies, rather than just slinging them together in a dish or bowl. And, if I’m perfectly honest, I tend to get a bit over lettuce and cucumber by this time of the year.
The autumn veggies are gorgeous and the carrots we got last week were fantastic – I caramelised ours with butter and a bit of honey as a side dish earlier this week. This week’s potatoes and leek will be made into a sinfully creamy gratin – just perfect for our very chilly hills evenings, now. I was delighted to find some of the very late plums in my box this week. I’m thinking of making some kind of upside-down tarty kind of thing. Shortcrust pastry placed over the plums, some brown sugar and some butter in a tarte tatin pan should do the trick. Maybe using some of Careme’s delicious chocolate shortcrust pastry – now that would really be something!
As you may have seen in my blog post, wild Porcini mushrooms have been found here in the Adelaide hills and are causing quite a thrill to ripple through the foodie community. Most of us are not going to be able to get our hands on them in the short term, but here is a way I tarted up a fairly plain dish during the week using The Mushroom Man’s Porcini Salt. This dish is open to loads of variations, but it was inspired by a recipe I found in last month’s Delicious. magazine.. I think eggplant would work well in it or as a substitute for the zucchini and thyme would be just as nice as oregano. You could also chop and fry a couple of swiss brown mushrooms to add to it – really the possibilities are endless.
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 small – medium zucchini, medium diced
- 5 roma tomatoes, medium diced
- 50 ml olive oil
- fresh or dried oregano
- Porcini salt
- ground black pepper
- 150 gm feta cheese, cubed
- 1/2 preserved lemon, peel only, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup toasted breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
- Preheat oven to 180C
- Heat oil and fry onion over a moderate heat until golden and caramelised. Add the garlic when the onion is quite soft, to prevent the garlic from burning. Remove from heat.
- Toss the vegetables in with the onion and garlic, adding the feta and lemon a good sprinkle of the pepper, oregano and mushroom salt.
- Spread in an ovenproof baking dish, sprinkle with crumbs and parmesan cheese.
- Bake 15-20 minutes.
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The smell of fresh picked basil and ripe, red tomatoes evokes summer for me in a way unlike any other! A whiff of basil conjures up images of hot sunny spots in the garden and the smell of damp earth in the evening as I recall standing with the hose, hand-watering my precious summer vegetable patch.
The flavours and aromas seem to belong together so completely that it may come as some surprise to find that it was only relatively recently that the two plants met. Tomatoes are native to South America, where they had them all to themselves until some time in the 16th century. It is believed that either Cortez or Columbus first introduced them to the rest of the world, via the Spanish colonies in the Pacific and the Caribbean, through Asia and then into Europe. They were cultivated in the Mediterranean and began to be introduced into local diets in the late 16th century, although in some parts of Italy they were only used as decoration and not incorporated into the cuisine until the late 17th century.
The origins of basil have been traced to India, where it was considered to be sacred, and it was also native to Iran and Africa. It, too, was introduced to Europe some time in the 16th century, becoming a popular plant to grow in the warmer, Mediterranean climate. It is considered a symbol of love in some parts of Italy, so maybe that is why it was originally paired with the pomme d’amour – the name given by the French to the tomato?
In summer, tomatoes and basil are generally plentiful and at their peak and this following recipe takes advantage of this. I know that I have been banging on about using the best possible products in your cooking, but this is one occasion where this is just not at all necessary. At the height of summer tomatoes can be bought in bulk at very reasonable prices. These fruit are often not in their best condition, with spots and bruises, but that doesn’t matter at all for this super easy and very versatile little recipe. I generally ignore most of the small marks, just cutting away anything too squishy or icky and cook up a great big batch and freeze it in individual containers, giving me a taste of summer all through winter. You may peel the tomatoes if you can be bothered – I have never bothered. This can be cooked on top of the cooker in a saucepan, but I would urge you to find a big ovenproof dish and cook it in the oven to get the very best, deepest flavour. This sauce can be used in as many ways as you can think of – as a pizza base, a base sauce for pasta, as a flavour base in soups or casseroles or as a soup itself!
One other thing – I never add the basil until after the sauce is cooked as that maintains the freshness of the basil flavour.
- 1 kilo ripe tomatoes
- 2 onions
- 2-4 cloves garlic
- olive oil
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Large bunch of basil
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds and pulp.
- Peel and slice the onions.
- Crush or finely chop the garlic.
- Toss all in a large baking dish with several good glugs of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Bake for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the tomatoes have collapsed and the juice is running.
- Tear the basil into bits and add to tomatoes, then push the whole lot through a food mill, or process in manageable amounts until completely smooth.
- Put into containers and freeze.