The day before I cooked this tomato recipe to be photographed, I tested it with friends. I wanted a dish of slow-roasted tomatoes to eat outside under a tree, for people who hadn’t met before. We ended up picking out of the pan until most of the afternoon was lost. Lunch turned into dinner and dinner turned into martinis at a bar down the street.
The recipe is derived from a preparation of slow-roasted tomatoes I cooked years ago, which I then marinated and used in a mozzarella salad. I have always grown tomatoes at home – and in the past, when I didn’t have room, always in pots. Now the idea of tending the plants and picking a vine-ripened tomato before the possums get to it is a joy. As soon as a tomato has seen a fridge I find it has the tendency to go floury. Often commercially grown tomatoes have been picked too early and ripened en route, killing the texture and retarding the flavour. The best alternative, if you don’t have a vine yourself, is a farmers’ market or stealing from the neighbours.
One of the best things I ate last year was at a not-so-humble 12-seat restaurant in Sweden, named Frantzén. In a procession of eight courses, the most satisfying dish was a salad. It was sophisticated in the way it was composed, the execution was a labour of love. There were 50 vegetables and herbs, impossibly fresh, many of them grown by the chefs themselves – marinated, grilled, pickled, raw. Each component was treated individually, with each stroke considering the final composition. It was this perfect thing – a beautiful sum of its parts, nothing dominating, no overwhelming feature. Obviously a small army of chefs was required to produce a dish like this, but it was astounding that a salad could be the standout in such a restaurant.
Particularly of note was the way the Frantzén salad was dressed. It helped bring the dish together. When selecting salad ingredients, for me the season usually dictates. What are considered compatible flavours and textures are up to the individual, but the balance of the dressing or vinaigrette is paramount to the success of the final dish. Delicate leaves require less acid and a less aggressive dressing. The more robust and reliable iceberg or cos lettuce, however, can handle a little more punch. The addition of one surprise texture is sometimes all it takes to complete a salad and, despite what I’ve just described, often less is best.
One final element that is often overlooked is seasoning. The addition of salt and perhaps some fresh ground pepper can bring the various flavour of the leaves and herbs alive.
Slow-roast tomato, tarragon and olive toast
Do not mistake tarragon for Russian tarragon – a painfully bland and coarse substitute. It is important that the tomatoes bake slowly; if you are in a desperate rush and time is against you, do not attempt this recipe.
- 8 various tomatoes, totalling about 600g
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- pinch of sugar and salt
- 3 sprigs tarragon, fronds removed and roughly chopped, yielding about 1 tbsp
- fresh ground white pepper to taste
- 4 slices quality fresh sourdough bread
- 70g olive tapenade
- Preheat oven to 110ºC.
- To help peel the tomatoes, first plunge them one at a time into boiling water. As soon as the skin begins to split, refresh the tomatoes in a large bowl of iced water and, when they are cool, peel and halve, or leave whole if they are small.
- Lay them in a tray in which they fit snugly. If it is not a stainless steel or enamel tray, line it with baking paper. Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes and season with a pinch of sugar and salt.
- Place in the oven and cook for two hours. The tomatoes should start to dehydrate and shrink a little.
- Sprinkle the roughly chopped tarragon over the tomatoes and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave in the pan to cool to room temperature, using the olive oil and pan juices to baste the tomatoes from time to time.
- Grill or toast the bread and spread with the olive paste.
- Serve the tomatoes straight from the pan at the table. Spoon the tomatoes onto the bread and serve extra bread to soak up all the lovely juices.
Radicchio, fig, fresh ricotta and purple basil salad
- 8 red radishes
- 100g fresh ricotta
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ½ radicchio lettuce
- 2 sprigs purple basil, leaves picked (green basil is an acceptable substitute)
- 2 figs
- 1 tbsp almonds, roasted, skin on
- Slice the radishes on a mandolin or as thinly as possible by hand. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and set aside to drain for half an hour.
- In a bowl, vigorously whisk the ricotta, and season with salt and a pinch of fresh ground black pepper.
- In a little jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake the olive oil and vinegar together. Remove the outer leaves of the radicchio and set them aside for another salad if you wish. Pull apart the heart, wash, dry and tear the larger leaves in half.
- To serve, toss the radicchio and basil leaves with two tablespoons of the salad dressing, and a pinch of salt. Lay the leaves on a serving platter. Slice the figs and arrange on and around the lettuce, and top with the whipped ricotta.
- To finish the salad, sprinkle with the salted radish. Using a microplane, grate the roast almonds over the salad (or chop them roughly and sprinkle). This salad could also be presented in single servings.
The Jamsheed Garden Gully riesling from Great Western in Victoria ($32) – Liam O’Brien, sommelier, Cutler & Co.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 28, 2014 as "Rich pickings".
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