Cooking Local with Francesca – Lovely Tomatoes


You say tomayto!..I say tomahto! However you may say it, we can all agree that there is nothing better than a beautiful, red, ripe tomato. Talking ‘tomatoes’, awakens memories of the big juicy ones growing on the vines of my vegetable garden back in Italy and of my grandmother making ‘conserva’, the tomato sauce preserved in jars for the winter season. The humble tomato is a staple in everyone’s kitchen and is used in countless dishes and sauces the world over. Our love affair with this fruit (yes, it is a fruit!) started in the late 1400s when ‘Cristoforo Colombobrought tomatoes to Europe from the newly discovered America. Now up to 7,500 varieties of the fruit have been developed and used as food and ornamental additions to gardens. Here in Vanuatu the markets abound with red, shiny tomatoes of several kinds, especially when in season. From the plump, big, red ‘globe’ to the ‘Roma’ tomatoes used for sauces, lovely ‘Cherry’ and ‘Arka Ananya’ green, yellow and red tomatoes for salads, and the funny shaped ‘Beefsteak’ I normally use for baked dishes. These trusted friends in the kitchen rarely disappoint when one seeks to bring flavour and freshness to a dish and satisfaction to the tastebuds. The firm flesh and vibrant colour is inviting to the eye, it has a sweet yet assertive aroma and the gentle nature of its flesh make tomato one of the most versatile additions to any meal.

For the perfect refreshing tomato salad I use the greenish-red Arka Ananya small tomatoes, quartered and mixed with thinly sliced red onion and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of dried oregano, a drop of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Using ripe and juicy tomatoes you can make ‘pane e pomodoro’ (bread and tomato) by just slicing them in half and squeezing and rubbing the pulp onto a thick slice of crusty soft bread and seasoning generously olive oil, dried oregano, salt and pepper… an easy feast!

When it comes to making a delicious tomato sauce for pasta and pizza I use the plum or ‘Roma’ tomatoes, recognisable by their shape, which are generally higher in solid content which makes them suitable for processing. The famous ‘San Marzano’ are used in Italy to make ‘passata di pomodoro’ (crushed tomato sauce) which I prepare by quickly simmering the chopped tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little water until the pulp had dissolved to a sauce, which I then store in small containers in the fridge or freezer ready to use as needed. To peel the tomatoes before preparing the sauce just dip them in boiling water for half a minute then transfer them to cold water and voila, easy peeling trick!

One of my favorite dishes is tomato ‘gratin’ for which I normally use the ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes as they have numerous small seed compartments and they are easy to season. I slice the tomatoes along the side and make a few cuts on the pulp before pushing in a seasoning of breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I bake in the oven until the seasoning is golden and the tomatoes just soft for a tasty side dish you will love.

Surprisingly, you can even use tomatoes for desserts. Once I created a simply stunning tomato sorbet using vanilla beans, ginger, cinnamon and lime juice. But… this recipe is one of my best kept secrets and although I cannot share it, now you know the ingredients it is up to you to experiment with it!

Tomatoes are a good source of Vitamin A and C, beta-carotene and the carotene lycopene which is considered one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. Studies have revealed that tomato cooked with olive oil for a long time helps blood circulation and prevents heart disease, making the Mediterranean cuisine one of the healthiest in the world. So call it ‘tomato’ or call it ‘pomodoro’ but make sure you cook and eat plenty of it!

By regular contributor Francesca Grillo. Find her at her restaurant, Francesca’s, in lovely Havannah Harbour.