At the risk of sounding very middle class, I have to confess that we have a gardener. A gardener who grows broad beans, strawberries and tomatoes in large numbers. Depending on the time of year, he brings over bucketfuls of whichever one he has surplus. So now we are in to tomato season, albeit a polytunnel-induced one.
The wonderful little red and yellow cherry tomatoes are amazingly sweet and always disappear quickly. They have the same addictive qualities as grapes – that is, they are sweet, juicy and there are lots of them. As lovely as they are fresh, I wanted some way of making them last for longer.
So as I was pondering (a terribly middle class word) what to do with them, I stumbled upon a recipe for drying tomatoes in the oven. Even though oven-dried tomatoes are the less poetic cousin to sun-dried tomatoes, I hope the effect will be the same.
I found this recipe in a wonderful cookbook called Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry, all about preserving fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. This recipe was in the ‘under oil’ chapter, along with such mouthwatering things as spiced feta in olive oil and Persian marinated olives. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly, as I am using cherry tomatoes, and I opted to keep the tomatoes in just oil, rather than oil and vinegar, as I didn’t think (correctly) that they would stick around for four weeks.
Many of my friends seem to have some sort of ‘dietary requirement’, whether it is a matter of ethics, such as being vegan or vegetarian, or an allergy to certain foods – I have one friend who is allergic to dairy, cinnamon and tomatoes. My friend Clare fits into the latter category, as she is lactose intolerant. This allergy cuts out a surprising range of things – even some brands of the contraceptive pill.
There is a vegetarian café in Exeter called Herbies, which is something of an institution. It has been running since my parents lived in Exeter some twenty years ago. It became a favourite back in the day (at school), as it was easy to find something nice that didn’t contain meat or dairy.
So when we met up a few weeks ago for a reunion of sorts, deciding where to meet for lunch didn’t take long. The main courses were of the usual salad and falafel variety, but it was the puddings that really stood out. We shared several and galloped them down, fighting over the last pieces, with cries of ‘it can’t POSSIBLY be vegan!’.
One pudding that I vowed to try and replicate was the chocolate chestnut terrine. When I asked what was in it, they cagily mumbled something about chestnut puree being the secret. So, lo and behold, here is my take on a chocolate chestnut terrine. I made mine with a biscuit base to add a bit of textural variation, and added eggs and baked it, to make it more like a brownie. It’s not vegan, but it is Clare-friendly, and she seemed to like it.
The other day a customer came into the café accompanied by a rather large marrow. When I enquired as to what prompted his coming into the café with said vegetable, he replied that one of the nearby residents was giving them away for free, in desperate attempt to get rid of her bountiful harvest.
When I think of a marrow glut, the word that comes to mind is ‘chutney’. Marrow chutney seems like the last resort, when you’ve exhausted all the stuffing and pretending they’re courgettes that you can. The only option remaining is years upon years of marrow chutney with every meal.
With the troublesome connotations of chutney, I decided to call this ‘relish’. The word alludes to a spontaneous creation, and is more satisfying to say. Relish can be eaten straight away, rather than leaving to mature for months, which suits impatient people like myself. This recipe uses balsamic vinegar, which is one of my favourite things, as it goes well with the red onions. This relish works well with goats’ cheese, in a burger, with cheese on toast, or just eaten right out of the jar (and I’m speaking from experience).