When I first received Claire Thomson‘s Tomato, it was the beginning of summer and, I was worried that if I didn’t take full advantage of tomato season then my review would be poorer for it. However, what Thomson says in her introduction, “This was always going to be a book of two halves — fresh tomatoes and processed tomatoes — giving plenty of opportunity for both to really shine.”(7), reminded me that tomatoes are such a versatile, almost seasonless, ingredient. Often during any given week, the meals that come from my kitchen rely on the tomato in one form or another — whether they’re fresh or come from a can/jar/tube, they are a key component. Interestingly, Tomato veers away from Thomson’s 6 other books (read my review of Home Cookery Year here) in that this one focuses on a single ingredient rather than broadly looking at home cooking — either way, Thomson is still offering delicious recipes to inspire us.
The book is organized into 7 main chapters: 1) Condiments, 2) Soups, 3) Salads, 4) Sauces, 5) Fried & Grilled, 6) Braised & Stovetop, and 7) Baked & Roasted. While Thomson gives a brief discussion on the tomato — its history, types, and uses — there is no pantry section or section listing techniques/equipment, which I find refreshing. Within the notes and instructions for each recipe, Thomson gives all the vital information, so there is no need to look through other sections. I also appreciate Thomson’s passion for home cookery — her recipe notes often contain such vivid descriptions of the dish along with any personal connections she has to the recipe. Normally a pizza recipe is just that: a pizza recipe, but with her notes for Palermo Pizza, Thomson introduces the home cook to the “train picnic of dreams.” While travelling through the train station in Palermo, Sicily, she bought a thick square of pizza stuffed into a paper bag which was perfect to enjoy during her train ride. Such a sturdy pizza, after making it, I can see why it would be just the thing for a train picnic! It’s thick tomato sauce, liberal sprinkling of pecorino cheese, dried oregano, and breadcrumbs make it such a toothsome meal.
Speaking of when a pizza recipe is not just a pizza recipe, let me tell you about Thomson’s Frying Pan Pizza with Tomato, Oregano and Chilli Flakes. In her notes she exclaims: “Honestly, a brilliant method to cook pizza”(118) and, I wholeheartedly agree! Would you believe that this method requires only a stovetop and skillet? The dough is fried in a hot skillet along with some olive oil. The resulting “crust” is crispy with just the right amount of puffiness and chew. Not at all like the crust you would get from baking, this method yields a different, yet completely delicious crust! So, after the crust is cooked (you flip halfway through to cook both sides), the toppings (tomato sauce and Parmesan) are added afterwards and then the pizza is to be consumed immediately. Such a great way to make a pizza without using an oven (part of me laments the fact I didn’t have this recipe when I lived in student residences with only the George Foreman grill and cooktop to get by on).
Looking out my window at the waning green of the leaves, I’m beginning to search out the hearty and robust recipes that will carry me through the coming months. One recipe that harkens these autumn days is the Tomato and Cheddar Soda Bread. Such a quick and easy bread to make (the soda takes the place of yeast and its long rise times) and, the recipe is absolutely perfect in its pairing of tomato and cheese. Here, both fresh and processed tomatoes are use in the forms of cherry and sundried. When Thomson says she is “…a big fan of sundried tomatoes, tasting as they do exaggerated and so intensely of tomato.” I completely agree that the intensity and concentrated tomato flavour in the sundried version can’t be beat, and, in some ways, they also have an umami quality too. With the cheese, the flavours are sweet and salty — the perfect bread to enjoy with a bowl of soup, or as we did when we made sandwiches (I highly recommend using it for sandwiches because of the extra flavour/texture it adds),
One of the best recipes I’ve made from Tomato is the Zaalouk — a Moroccan dish full of broiled eggplant, tinned tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices. Here, the eggplant is broiled until its skin is blacken and its flesh has gone soft, which is then added to a bubbling pot of roughly chopped tinned tomatoes, onion, and garlic. The dish is served with warmed flatbread, fresh cilantro, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Eggplant is one of those ingredients that my husband and daughter could take it or leave it, but in this recipe, the eggplant flesh adds a velvety texture to the zaalouk that I found they asked for more! Such a rich and comforting dish!
Since we’re at the tail end of tomato season, and if you’ve got some garden-fresh gems to enjoy, I suggest trying Thomson’s recipe for Burnt Tomato Salsa. Whole tomatoes, onion, and garlic are put into a dry pan to cook over high heat until the skins are blistered and charred. Cooking the main ingredient in this way lends a smokiness to the salsa and takes it beyond your typical mix of uncooked ingredients. I served the salsa along side some quesadillas, and I wondered if my family didn’t love the salsa more than the main here!
Tomato is one of those cookbooks which offers such an extensive array of recipes for one of the most versatile ingredients around. Thomson’s approach to develop timeless recipes for home cooks to enjoy is, again realized in her latest book. As always, I appreciate Thomson’s enthusiasm and delicious recipes that encourage us to love this kitchen hero — the humble, tasty tomato.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Quadrille Publishing and Raincoast Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.