A Taste of Sunshine
Originally cultivated by the Incas and Aztecs, the tomato is native to the Americas and its arrival in Europe is often credited to the Spaniard Cortez, who in 1521 conquered what is now known as Mexico City.
From Spain, cultivation of the ‘tomatl’ (its Aztec name) spread to Portugal, then to Italy through Naples – which was a Spanish city at the time.
It was in southern Europe that tomatoes established themselves as a food favourite, the Italian ‘pomi d’oro’ (apple of gold) deriving from the fact that most early fruits were yellow. Its popularity in more
northern countries like France and Britain took longer, the English word ‘tomate’ not appearing until the 17th century.
Nowadays of course, the tomato is everywhere we look. Fresh, tinned, chopped, sieved, reduced to a passata, or turned into soup. At this time of year, the focus is on sun-dried as June is the month for making and preserving this useful ingredient.
We asked James Amar of Cooks & Co how it’s done. “The starting point is carefully selecting seeds, so we’ll get flavourful, quality tomatoes. Planted early in the year, by June the tomatoes that are suitable for sun drying are carefully picked and taken to specialist drying stations close by. There they are washed, halved, treated
with salt and spread on white linen to dry out in natural sunlight. That process takes approximately six days, following which the sun dried fruits are taken to be washed again, sieve dried and preserved
in oil. It’s a labour of love for our farmers and we’re proud to bring the results of their efforts to professional kitchens across the UK!”
Sun-dried tomatoes are a colourful, tasty and natural addition to any number of dishes. You can make semi-dried ones using your oven.
To make oven-dried cherry tomatoes
· Lay a silicone mat onto a baking tray, slice tomatoes in half and
place flesh side up on the sheet
· Drizzle with olive oil, season and put in oven at 150°C for 1 hour
· Check after 30 minutes and again after 45 minutes as ovens vary
· When done – tomatoes should be slightly shrivelled and beginning
to brown at the edges with a moist centre
· If you don’t need the oven for anything else, let tomatoes cool
· When cool, store in fridge for up to a week or cover with olive oil to
· Bring back to room temperature before serving