Tomatoes are now, perhaps as familiar to an Irish vegetable shopper as a potato. Their lustful association with the Mediterranean lifestyle, greatly accentuated by the sunshine-nostalgia of Elizabeth David, have created much demand; a demand, which on the whole, sterile, factory-line glass houses of Holland, Israel and the Canary Islands seem to have had a monopoly on. They’ll grow just fine on these shores though, but their season is short, often no longer than six weeks or so. The value in the locally grown varieties are that they need not be picked until they have nearly ripened and naturally on the stalk.
Store them outside the fridge, in a dark, cool cupboard. If you’ve no choice but the picked and sprayed while hard-as-a-marble variety, then take them out of their wrapping and leave on the window sill for a couple of days. You may find though that, especially when eaten raw, they have the taste and texture of something closer to a Maris Piper.
The chutney and the tomatoes with the pork are seedless, skinless and stalkless, but that’s not to say they should be binned. In them lies much of the meaty, saliva inducing goodness of the tomato. Pop them in a pan with some basil stalks a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and bring to a simmer for a quarter of an hour. Let it cool to room temperature and press through a sieve for a tomato broth that is delicious warm in a mug with a little rapeseed oil or else it can be reduced, frozen and used like tomato paste – to intensify sauces and stews.
Lamb scraps and tomato on toast
The trick to the dish is time and patience by keeping half an eye on the pot and giving it only occasional stirs as the meat begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pot.
Ask your butcher to hold you back any scraps. The breast and the neck, cheap and underused, would be ideal, as would the shoulder.
Discard any gristle, and if necessary some fat also – so that you are left with about a quarter fat. Chop the lamb to a fairly fine, if a little rough, dice.
Heat olive oil in a medium hot pan and pop in your lamb. Season well with salt and stir. Add to it a big bundle of thyme, a bay leaf and a seedless red chilli.
Summer savoury could be used instead of thyme and a sliver of lemon, orange zest, basil, parsley and mint stalks would all be welcome, though not essential.
The lamb will, at first be quite unappealingly. Start to sweat its juices for which it’s best to keep at a happy heat. Then when its juices have reduced, turn the heat down and the meat will slowly begin to caramelize in its own rendering fat.
Best not to become too attached to watching the pot. If you are happy with the heat (which should be bringing about soft but consistent hisses and pops) engage yourself in a worthy distraction. Once in a while give the pot a stir, scraping up any crust at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Watching it like a hawk creates a temptation to stir it too often and to persuade oneself it’s ready before it actually is.
Timing will always be different, based largely on the amount of lamb in the pot. If the pot is too full of meat it will never caramelize, too empty and it will likely burn.
Anyhow, when you are happy that the mince is about ready – some bits may be crispy, other bursting with fatty juices – throw in a couple of crushed garlic cloves and prepare your tomatoes. Peel them and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut out the core and squeeze out most of the seeds. Fish out the herbs and chilli and add the tomato halves. The fruit and acid of the fresh tomatoes will make for a happy foil to the rich and fatty lamb. Let the tomato begin to break down and then serve on some thickly sliced toast or with a fresh crusty white bread.
A roasted tomato and little gem salad with horseradish yoghurt and mint
Cut your tomatoes in half down the core and bake them with olive oil, salt and pepper for half an hour in a hot oven. Some of their juice will evaporate, and they’ll become more intense, more tomato-y in flavour.
Once the tomatoes have cooled, make a dressing with any oily juices left in the baking tray, some more oil, grated horseradish, some red wine vinegar, a little minced garlic and salt to taste.
Slice some mint and mix it into some yogurt with a pinch of salt.
Pop a large spoonful of the minted yogurt on the plate and on top of it a pile of the gem leaves and tomatoes mixed carefully (so not to crush the tomatoes) with the dressing.
It should make a joyful evolving eating experience – starting of with mouthfuls of crisp gem and tomato halves and finishing with crushed tomatoes and their juices mixed with minty yogurt all mopped up with bread.
Lamb’s tongue with a tomato chutney and herb salad
Best to use tomatoes that are fairly firm to give them a chance of retaining some of their structural integrity. The chutney can be jarred and kept in the fridge where it will slowly harmonise, but after a couple of months it will likely become quite funky. It need not be left for so long. It’s an especially fine accomplice to the finally abundant mackerel, lamb hash (left over lamb roast fried on a high heat with potatoes and onions), and general picnic-y food.
For the chutney, dunk the tomatoes in boiling water and shock them in cold water. Then off with the peel and out with the core and seeds and chop into a large dice.
In a hot pan roast some star anise, mustard seeds and a little dried chilli, when the seeds begin to pop add white wine vinegar (a couple of tablespoons for every half cup of diced tomatoes) and a bay leaf and take off the heat.
While it’s cooling and infusing, stir in a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar to dissolve. In another pan sweat some minced onion with a couple of thymes stalks, another bay leaf and some pounded mustard seeds and a good swig of oil. When the onion is translucent and tender, stir in the tomatoes and raise the heat a little and season with salt.
Add the strained vinegar (and maybe a little reduced tomato stock if you’ve made some from the trimmings) and stir it as it simmers quite quickly. When the juices have mostly reduced, then taste it for seasoning – it should taste a little too salty, too sweet, too acidic so that the flavours can come through when it is served cold – make sure the balance is to your taste and then let it cool a little before jarring it.
Simmer your tongues in water with some herbs and vegetables to help them along. An hour or so should do it, but make sure it is a slow and steady simmer as they can easily become tough. Let them cool in the liquor and then peel the outer skin, sometimes the peeling can be a bit of a struggle – best to do it before they’ve completely cooled and with a spoon to assist.
Then cut the tongue in three, lengthwise, roll it in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, egg, and bread crumbs. Fry, until golden, in butter and serve with the chutney and lightly dressed (oil, salt and lemon juice) parsley leaves or coriander, basil and mint leaves.
[Image by Fiona Hallinan]