Saturday mornings are my time to sleep in a little - I look forward to them all week! Last Saturday was no exception. Mr. Vanilla got up with Wee One around 6.30am and I slept until 8.30am then lay in bed for another 20 minutes or so…bliss. It was because of this that our decision to go to the farmers market was a bit last minute, but we decided to head down nevertheless and see if there was anything left. Finally arriving at 10.30am (no we don’t live that far away, it just apparently takes us that long to get organised and out the door!) I was delighted to see all of the stalls still overflowing with produce and not because it was quiet (certainly wasn’t!) but because it’s that time of year. The summer has been long and dry and now everything is in full bloom ready to be harvested – from a food point of view, early September has to be my favourite time of year. We went expecting to just have a wander around and perhaps pick up a couple of things, instead we had to leave because our bag was overflowing and my purse empty! Delicious crisp apples; mini summer patti pan’s; luscious red peppers ( named “lipstick” peppers – how could I resist?!); a selection of chillies; deep purple mini aubergines; a loaf of dill and onion bread; a wedge of local garlic and herb cheese; some venison pepperoni and a large bag of tomatoes! (So much for just a couple of things that might be left on the stalls!)
Now although everything we bought had me excited and desperate to get into the kitchen, it was the last item on the list that really made me happy! When I say we bought a large bag of tomatoes, I don’t mean the end of season tomatoes that although taste wonderful, don’t rate highly in appearances and are only good for making sauce, I mean I bought the most beautiful selection of tomatoes I have seen in a while. The trays were overflowing with large red, yellow, orange, green and purple tomatoes all of which had grown right on my doorstep. Does it seriously get any better than that?! Being someone who is possibly addicted to tomatoes, I would have to say no (my other half might disagree since he is not a fan of fresh tomatoes - don’t get me started!!) so for that reason I have dedicated this post entirely to tomatoes!
From a recipe standpoint when you have tomatoes that perfect it’s hard not to just slice them up, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkle of Maldon sea salt and eat (which I have to admit I did). One of my favourite things ever (and would have to feature on my top 10) is tomato and mozzarella salad. It is simple and easy but when you have delicious and juicy vine-ripened tomatoes and a ball of good mozzarella there is nothing better. Of course you can dress it up (and many restaurants do) but sometimes simple is best. I wasn’t going to include a recipe for this salad as really there isn’t one – it’s more of an assembly job - but I gave in and decided since it is one of my top 10 meals I would.
Second on my list of what I could make with my tomatoes had to be my favourite tomato sauce. Again perhaps not very original but another Top 10 recipe for me (two down, eight to go!!) and a meal that I have cooked hundreds of times and have made for all of my family and friends at some point or other. When I first started cooking, this is what I made and I’m happy to say it tastes as good today as it did then!
If I’m being honest I have to admit that I actually have three recipes for making tomato sauce. The first is the original and I have to say, the best. It involves using good quality, fresh and full flavoured vine-ripened tomatoes that you peel and deseed, therefore getting a beautiful sauce that you just can’t beat. When I have such tomatoes and the time and patience to peel and deseed this is definitely what I opt for.
When I don’t have as much time or patience I go for sauce number 2, which is the same as 1 with the big difference being that I don’t peel and deseed my tomatoes. This sauce originated from both my laziness and my sadness about what seemed to be wasting so much of the tomato! When I need my fresh tomato pasta fix but I don’t have much time this is the sauce I go for.
And then there is sauce number 3 which is probably the sauce I actually make the most – my basic tomato sauce recipe. This recipe is for when you can’t get beautiful, ripe tomatoes that burst with flavour and instead use tinned tomatoes or passata.
With the tomatoes I have however, I had no option but to go for sauce number one. I know it’s just a tomato sauce but honestly it is so good (which is why it is on my top ten meals). Seriously, if I could get tomatoes like this all year round I would eat this two or three times a week!
It was a lucky coincidence but in the days following my tomato purchase Mr. Vanilla was away which meant tomato overload for me (if there is such a thing) but no complaints or separate meals for Mr. Vanilla – happy days! So here they are – my favourite tomato and mozzarella salad and the best fresh tomato sauce recipe. Enjoy!
3-4 vine ripened tomatoes (whatever colour & variety looks good)
1 ball of mozzarella (if possible buffalo)
6-8 fresh basil leaves, torn
½ long red chilli, finely sliced (optional but delicious!)
Extra virgin olive oil
Drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar*
Maldon sea salt
Slice up the tomatoes and arrange on a plate. Cut or tear up the mozzarella and place on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle over the torn basil leaves and chilli (if using) then drizzle with good quality olive oil. Just before you are ready to eat drizzle over a little of the balsamic vinegar and a good sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.
*You can use normal balsamic vinegar but for a little extra indulgence I recommend reducing some balsamic vinegar until syrupy and sticky and using that instead as it is amazing. Simply reduce a good amount of balsamic vinegar (don't use good quality aged balsamic – this is perfect for cheaper balsamic vinegar as the acidity reduces it becomes sweet) in a small pan until it has reduced significantly and is thick and syrupy. Leave to cool completely then drizzle over. Keep any extra in a bottle or jar.
Penne pasta with fresh tomato sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
12 vine tomatoes, finely chopped
1 large red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
150ml white wine (or chicken or vegetable stock)
Salt and pepper
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
350-400g penne pasta
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated parmesan, to serve
In a large pan heat the oil and gently sauté the onion for 5 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook for a further minute then increase the heat slightly and add the tomatoes, chilli, sugar, wine, salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time – if it starts to get too thick cover with a tight fitting lid and reduce the heat.
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions until al dente. Taste the tomato sauce to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. When the pasta is ready drain, reserving roughly 1 tbsp of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir well. Finish off by adding the torn basil leaves, a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve topped with the freshly grated parmesan cheese.