Celebrated Aussie cartoonist and poet Michael Leunig (2006) was bang on when he declared, "We salute the tomato: cherry, fragrant morsel, beloved provider, surviver and thriver and giver of life." For me there is no tomato that deserves bigger praise and salutation than the homegrown Tommy Toe tomato. They’re small in size but they pack a punch of juicy, sweet flavour especially when picked off the vine and consumed on that very same day.
Tommy Toes are close to my heart as I grow these juicy fruits in my backyard. The Toes are planted in spring and following a few months of sunlight, water and patience the scarlet bombshells are ready for harvest by mid-late summer.
Friends will move mountains to score a seat at the table when my simply titled Summer Pasta dish is on the menu. Simple by name and by nature, the hero of this dish is of course the freshly picked, soft skinned Tommy Toes. All that’s required is to throw olive oil, a crushed garlic clove, a chopped wedge of brie or camembert, torn basil and the tomatoes in a bowl. Brie or camembert is the perfect match with this dish because of their subtle, luscious flavour profiles and of course they melt beautifully once mixed with the warm pasta.
Let the flavours amalgamate whilst cooking a good serve of linguine to satisfy your awaiting guests. Once cooked and strained, pour the tomato mix in with the pasta, toss and top with cracked pepper. Voila! Summer Pasta is that easy and totally delectable provided you are working with premium produce.
It would be almost criminal not to have at least one glass of wine to complement this Italian inspired fare; and you don’t need to ask me twice if I’d like a tipple. My old rule of thumb is if it grows with it, it goes with it, and this truism is never more appropriate than with Italian cuisine. Hence, my perfect wine for tomato based dishes is a Sangiovese. Its naturally high acidity can handle the tartness of the tomatoes but its medium weight and light cherry fruits means it won’t overpower the sweet flavours.
I urge readers in the US to visit your local farmer’s market quick smart to pick up a bag full of Tommy Toes before the season wraps up. And for readers Down Under, why not have a go at planting some of these bad boys come springtime?
These tomatoes are a signpost of our summer eating; if they are not in the pasta dish then they are livening up a salad, or served with some buffalo mozzarella for an aperitif. In all their forms they are such a key ingredient and are so full of flavour when grown with love, care and sustainability in mind. So “let us Rejoice! Let this rejoicing be our thanks for tomatoes.” (Leunig, 2006)
Reference: Leunig, M (2006) When I Talk to You. Andrews McMeel Publishing.
There’s nothing that says summer quite like a garden-grown tomato. Subtly sweet and juicy with just a hint of acidity, tomatoes seem to be a part of every plate throughout the season.
In my garden, I grow organic heirloom tomatoes. Heirlooms have been pollinated openly by wind and bees. Unlike hybrid varieties, they grow from seed and have been cultivated for more than 50 years. They’re true-breeding plants, which means that every generation of an heirloom tomato has all the same characteristics of the original parent plant. It’s one of the reasons many people say heirloom tomatoes taste like the tomatoes they used to eat when they were young.
The flavour varies greatly between different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Below are a few of the most common and some of my all-time favourites.
This classic tomato dates all the way back to the 1800s. It’s large with a red to purple flesh that’s juicy and super sweet. It’s often considered one of the best-tasting tomatoes around.
A newer variety, the green zebra is a small round yellow heirloom with bold green stripes and dark green flesh. The flavour is a touch more tart than other varieties making it a beautiful option for a bright summer salad.
This bright red Italian heirloom has a distinctive ribbed appearance and a deep tomato flavour that works well in a fresh sauce.
These bright yellow cherry tomatoes are a burst of sunshine. Sweet and full flavoured, they make the perfect snack just as they are.
Taste the beauty of these juicy gems in this Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad with Pepper-Crusted New York Steak.
Butter is a chef’s secret weapon. It gives dishes unmistakable creaminess and depth and provides the perfect foundation for so many flavours. While some people worry about butter’s saturated fat and cholesterol, you really only need a bit of the flavourful fat to elevate your dishes.
For me, margarine is never a substitute, especially in baking. Margarine is basically vegetable oil that has been processed, so if I’m looking to lighten a dish, I’ll reach for olive oil. As a rule, 1 teaspoon of butter equals ¾ teaspoon olive oil.
How it’s made
Butter is so simple to make. Raw milk that hasn’t been homogenized separates into a top layer of cream and a lower layer of low-fat milk. Churning the cream layer makes a semi-solid butter as well as some liquid known as buttermilk. Artisans do this process the old-fashioned way using a churn, which can tire out your muscles, but gives you a lot of control over consistency. Using an electric mixer, butter can be made in a flash. Anyone who has accidentally made butter from over-whipping cream has seen how fast it can happen!
How it tastes
Butter essentially tastes like cream, but depending on the quality of milk and what the cows were munching on, the flavour and colour can really vary. Just think how different the grasses, herbs and grains grown in the South of France are from those found in the Midwest. In Australia, for instance, cows graze on grasses that are pretty high in beta-carotene, the same nutrient that makes carrots orange, so our butter tends to be deeper yellow than the European and American varieties.
How to store
Butter absorbs the flavours of other foods, so be sure to have it covered when it’s in the refrigerator. Butter will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month and in the freezer for 6 to 9 months.
Also known as European butter, cultured butters are made from fermented cream, which gives the butter a slightly tangy quality. A number of artisan dairies are making beautiful cultured butters in the US and Australia, but take note that these are super flavourful butters, so reserve them for finishing dishes or buttering your toast rather than cooking them into recipes.
Clarified butter is butter that doesn’t have milk solids, which means it can handle higher cooking temperatures (up to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) without scorching. It’s a great choice for frying fish, scallops and steaks. It’s also the only type of butter to use in a hollandaise; regular butter has too much water, which will cause the sauce to break.
To make: Melt a pound of unsalted butter over medium-low heat in a heavy saucepan. When it starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low. Use a spoon to remove the white foam that begins to form on the surface, doing your best not to mess with the melted butter below. This white layer is milk solids and you’ll need to keep skimming it off until the foam stops forming, about 10 to 15 minutes. Then, remove the pan from the heat. The water and any remaining milk solids will sink to the bottom. Carefully pour off the clear fat into a measuring cup or container, leaving the solids and water behind. One pound of butter will get you roughly 1½ cups of clarified butter.
To store: If you’re going to use it within a day or two, you can leave it out at room temperature. Any longer, put it in the fridge. It’ll solidify like butter and should last about a month.
Brown butter is the result of toasting the butter’s milk solids. It gives dishes a deep nuttiness and it’s worth mastering this simple technique. Brown butter transforms simple dishes: use it to sauté scallops or drizzle it warm over grilled veggies.
To make: First, use a stainless steel pan so you can see the colour. Trust me, colour matters; if the butter gets too dark brown, it will taste bitter. Heat the pan to medium and add your butter. It’ll begin to foam as the water evaporates. When the foaming stops, the milk solids will start to brown, and you’ll begin to smell the classic nuttiness of brown butter. When the butter turns amber coloured, remove the pan from the heat. Use right away or pour the butter into a bowl and allow to cool before storing in the fridge. It’ll keep for about two weeks.
Remember I said that butter picks up flavours easily? Well here’s where it comes in handy. You can blend practically any herbs into softened butter to make an aromatic spread. Try dill, rosemary, capers, chives, chilies, lemon zest, thyme or rosemary. Compound butters are classically served on top of steaks and chops, but you can use them in any dish in place of plain butter. Toss compound butters into freshly cooked pasta or place on top of steamed veggies or grilled fish. Just be aware, that many of the additions you will add to your butter won’t be able to bear the high temperature of cooking, so only use them to finish a dish.
Salted or Unsalted
There’s nothing quite like a thick slice of warm homemade bread slathered with salted butter. But when cooking, go for unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt in your dish. Keep in mind that salt acts like a preservative, so unsalted varieties will perish sooner.