Executive chef Christiaan Campbell and horticulturist Megan McCarthy talk about how best to grow and enjoy tomatoes.
Christiaan: Tomatoes are at their best mid to late summer. I’m very passionate about where our food comes from and obviously the health of the soil. Of all fruit and vegetables, the tomato is a very interesting plant in that it apparently puts into its fruit whatever is in its soil – including heavy metals and toxins. You need to know where your tomatoes are grown if you are particular about what you put into your mouth. The tomato will gladly pass on the general soil health – so it’s good to know your tomato’s origin. Obviously, it’s important to buy organic and from a farmer that is concerned about soil health.
Tomatoes need to be naturally ripened and some tinned tomatoes are artificially ripened. I question the nutritional value of artificially ripened tomatoes (and all fruit not naturally ripened). So cooked sun-ripened tomatoes, as in the recipe below, are naturally good but especially for men due to lycopene (red carotene and carotenoid pigment) content.
Overdose on tomatoes when they are in season, so that at the end of the season you don’t want to see another tomato. And then you can’t wait until mid-summer until the tomatoes are ripe. I don’t necessarily agree with importing our food out of season.
Megan McCarthy: Tomatoes specifically pick up lead from the soil so when you grow tomatoes you must avoid them coming in contact with car fumes – don’t grow them on the side of the road. People growing tomatoes in the cities and urban areas need to be particularly aware of this. Also bear in mind that because of their acidic nature, tomatoes start breaking down the BPA in tins and releasing it back into the fruit.
I like growing tomatoes with basil and chives because chives keep the bugs away and basil gives them flavour. Beans are nitrogen fixers and should be planted close to tomatoes. Predominantly legumes have a relationship with soil-fixing bacteria and some have a relationship with nitrogen-friendly fungi and these live in the nodules in the fruit. When they break down the nitrogen they release it to the tomatoes.
The problem with commercial tomato farming is that we don’t know if the crops have been exposed to harsh chemicals, and the use of herbicides is scary because tomatoes hang on to herbicide residue. Even if you peel them, I’m sure the herbicide goes right through the skin.
Growing your own veggies is the thing to do – or at least know where it’s grown. Last year we had a good crop and I like the novelty and heirloom tomatoes, but they have low yields. This year we planted more, but due to strange rainfall and terrible heat, we had a blight – a fungus that attacked the fruit. That is very difficult to control as organic farmers, so we lost a lot of our tomatoes. And then we had a late frost. So it was a really bad year for tomatoes. We did a second planting and that will be ready in March, but I obviously don’t have the quantities I would love to have had. But you have got to stay flexible and persevere – as you do in organic farming.
Tomato, watermelon, goats’ cheese, pumpkin seed brittle salad
Pumpkin seed brittle
- 100 ml green pumpkin seeds
- 100 ml sugar
- 100 ml water
- 5 ml sea salt
- Sprig of rosemary
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 8 whole peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- Combine the sugar, water, herbs and peppercorns in a saucepan.
- Over a medium heat stir and devolve the sugar.
- Bring to the boil for one minute.
- Remove from the heat and add the pumpkin seeds.
- Stir through the sugar syrup.
- Allow the mixture to cool.
- Drain the seeds through a sieve.
- Arrange the seeds in a single layer on a greased baking sheet.
- Bake in an oven set to 140 oC for approximately 20 minutes.
- To check if seeds are ready, carefully remove a seed from the oven and allow to quickly cool on a solid cold surface.
- If the seed is crisp and crunchy they are ready.
- Once cool, store seeds in an airtight container.
- 400 g watermelon, without skin, cut into large cubes
- 40 ml aged hibiscus balsamic
- 200 g fresh goats’ cheese, broken into rough pieces
- 250 g selection of ripe tomato varieties sliced or chopped
- 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
- Two pinches of flaked salt
- 5 ml of cracked pepper
- 6 leaves of fresh basil, torn
- A handful of edible flowers or squash flowers, torn
- A batch of pumpkin seed brittle
- Toss the watermelon and balsamic together.
- Allow to marinate for an hour in the fridge.
- Select a beautiful serving dish.
- Loosely arrange the tomatoes, the marinated watermelon (reserving the juice that would have collected in the bowl), and the rough pieces of fresh goats, cheese.
- Dribble over the salad the olive oil and the reserved marinade juice.
- Sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds, the torn basil, the two pinches of flaked sea salt and the cracked pepper.
Tomato & buffalo mozzarella tart
- 110 g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 190 g stoneground bread flour
- 40 g shredded parmesan cheese
- 5 ml ground black pepper
- 75 ml cold water
- 3 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1 cm thick
- 7 plump cherry tomatoes, top and tailed
- Two pinches of flaked sea salt
- 50 ml dried breadcrumbs
- 2 large shallots thinly sliced
- 10 ml fresh thyme leaves
- 1 ball of Buffalo Ridge Mozzarella sliced into five slices
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 15 ml milk
- Add the flour and butter to a food processor.
- Blitz until small crumbs form.
- Add the parmesan and pepper and sprinkle over the mixture half of the iced water.
- Blitz briefly.
- Add the rest of the chilled water.
- Blitz briefly again.
- Empty out the dough mixture and lightly press into a thick flat form.
- Wrap in food-safe plastic and chill for one hour or preferably overnight.
- Place the sliced tomatoes on a rack and sprinkle with salt. Allow for the tomatoes to weep for an hour.
- Roll the dough into a 32 cm circle.
- Place dough circle on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
- Leaving a 3 cm border sprinkle the breadcrumbs on to the dough sheet and arrange the tomatoes on top of this.
- Arrange the disks of mozzarella haphazardly on top of the tomatoes.
- Fold the 3 cm edge of the dough over the tomatoes, crimping the pastry slightly.
- Sprinkle sprigs of fresh thyme over the tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Mix the egg and milk together and brush the edges.
- Bake in a preheated oven set to 175 0C for approximately 35 minutes.
- Once removed from the oven, allow the tart to cool slightly before serving.
Free run tomato juice
- 1 kg sun-ripened cherry tomatoes
- 800 g large over-ripe large heirloom tomatoes
- 1 small fennel bulb sliced
- 30 ml red wine vinegar
- 2 celery sticks
- 100 g red shallots
- 300 g red pepper flesh
- 10 g basil leaves
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- 5 garlic cloves
- 20 g chives
- 10 g flaked salt
- 2 g peppercorns
- 1 red chilli
- Roughly chop all the ingredients, reserving the vinegar, salt and peppercorns.
- Stir through the salt, peppercorns and red wine vinegar.
- Place the mixture in an airtight container in the fridge overnight.
- Blend the tomato mixture in a food processor the following morning.
- Line a colander with cheesecloth placed over a glass bowl.
- Empty the processed tomato mixture into the lined colander.
- Draw the corners of the cloth together and tie with string to form a sealed tight ball.
- Leave to drain slowly till the following morning.
- Store the free run tomato juice in a clean glass bottle in the fridge.
To serve: you can enjoy the free run tomato juice just on its own or garnish with a selection of ripe baby tomato varieties.