I am in love with this watercolour ‘The Greenhouse: Cyclamen and Tomatoes’ (1935) by Eric Ravilious. You can just smell the pungent, grassy fragrance that tomato stalks and skin produce in a greenhouse.
Mastering the Art of Tomato Sauce – or, Learning How to Cook
Learning how to master tomato sauce made with a single tin of tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, lots of olive oil, lots of salt, and basil if some was available, was a watershed moment for me. It taught me the importance of tending to a few elements with a great deal of precision and care – no matter now modest the component parts – and, the transformative effect of seasoning.
This recipe is remembered and adapted from an article I read in The Guardian 7 years ago. In it, Ruth Rogers of the River Café described what she cooks for guests when they come to eat at her home: they always expect something elaborate, but she presents them with this.
Ruth Rogers’ message of closely attended-to, simple cooking made a huge impression on me.
Serves 4-6 people:
8 tablespoons of good olive oil
2 garlic cloves, very finely sliced
400g tin, good quality chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
handful of basil leaves
In a heavy-bottomed pan place the cold olive oil with the garlic. Heat up very gently. When the garlic is aromatic and perfuming the air, with a very slight golden colour, add the tomatoes. Cook gently, with a slight bubble for 20 minutes until the oil rises to the top. At this point, season well with salt: keep tasting and adding until you are satisfied. Add a grind of black pepper. Tear in some fresh basil.
Mix well with spaghetti cooked al dente in a very large pan of boiling, well salted water (e.g. 1 litre water / 100g pasta / 10g salt).
Tomatoes and Eggs
Cooking tomatoes to eat with eggs is what I make most often because I just love the combination.
The three main methods I use are: Fresh, ripe tomatoes cooked in a pan very gently and lightly with olive oil for poached eggs; roasted herby tomatoes for poached eggs; spicy tinned tomato sauce in which to bake eggs. The versions I make change with different herbs and the addition of differing amounts of vinegar and the occasional touch of sugar. During the last year, perfecting spiced tomato sauces in which to bake eggs for breakfast has been an obsession – some of the instances of which are recorded on this blog.
Roasting tomatoes in a gentle oven to intensify their flavour has been my preference this summer – with lots of herbs like thyme, oregano, sage and bay leaves, vinegar, the odd chilli flake and or course, salt and olive oil. At home using my parents’ aga and my Dad’s tomatoes for example, I cooked a large tray of cut up tomatoes with olive oil, a tablespoon of vinegar, thyme, bay, sage and oregano, and salt in the oven on a low temperature (160C) for 30 minutes, then grilled them for 15 minutes on a medium grill. We ate them with poached eggs.
Tomatoes and Cod with Chorizo, Fennel and Lemon Mayo
Applying methods of roasting tomatoes to go with eggs that I’ve been using this summer, I made this fish dish last night which was a real hit with my brother Guy and his girlfriend Georgie at her house. Key to this supper was to make something that didn’t require attending-to much so that we could relax and chat. No one wants a mid-week supper to stress them out and create lots of washing up. This dish ticked both of those boxes and was still a big hitter on the flavour front – they said they would happily eat it in a restaurant. It could easily be scaled up or down too.
around 500g ripe tomatoes
1 bulb, fennel – outer layer removed and sliced quite finely
6 fresh chorizo sausages
bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
3-4 bay leaves
5-6 garlic cloves, bruised with skin on
1 tablespoon, vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
4 cod fillets
knob of butter
½ cup white wine
To make your own:
2 egg yolks
175ml sunflower oil and 75 ml extra virgin olive oil mixed together
2 teaspoons of vinegar and a squeeze of lemon
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, if desired
Mix the egg yolks well in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Pour in the oil very VERY slowly drip by drip at first, mixing thoroughly with a fork or a whisk as you go. When it is all incorporated, whisk in the vinegar taste for seasoning, and add more salt if needed and a squeeze of lemon if desired. Stir in smoked paprika
A few tablespoons of good shop mayo, a decent squeeze of lemon juice and ½ teaspoon, ground paprika
Boiled new potatoes
Warm crusty bread
How to make:
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
In a large roasting tray, place all of the tomatoes, cut up roughly into large pieces with: the whole chorizo sausages, fennel, roughly chopped parsley, bay leaves, garlic cloves, pinch of chilli flakes, paprika, the vinegar, several good glugs of olive oil and salt.
After 20 minutes cooking add slices of ¼ lemon and half a cup of wine.
After 30 minutes since the start of cooking, lay the fish, seasoned with salt and pepper on top of the tomato mix with a knob of butter and a slice of lemon on each piece.
Cook for 10-14 minutes depending on the size of the fillets. Check that it is cooked after 10. If the flesh is still translucent it is not cooked yet, it should just have turned white all the way through.
Remove from the oven, top with more fresh parsley and check the seasoning of the sauce and add more salt if desired.
Serve a fillet with lots of sauce, some green salad and bread and/or potatoes, and the mayonnaise. We drank rosé.
Dressing for the green salad was: juice ½ lemon, splash of vinegar, teaspoon Dijon, salt and pepper, 3 tablespoons of olive oil – mixed well.