I say tomato, you say tomato

No matter how you look at it, there can be little debate about the profound influence that tomatoes continue to have on the culinary world.

How many foods taste so good and are so good for you? How many foods ignite core tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami? How many foods have developed an identity crisis because they’re neither fruit nor vegetable? The point I’m trying to make here is that tomatoes are a beautiful thing and I’m about to try and explain why exactly I feel that way right now.

Prepping to make tomato focaccia in Sol’s Kitchen

My love affair with tomatoes

As with many love tales that eventually culminate in happy endings after a rocky start, so it went with me and tomatoes. As a kid I would habitually remove them from all of my meals, insisting that they go nowhere near sandwiches and when I was in primary school, sandwiches were basically all I ate. If tomato was cooked into a bolognese I was willing to negotiate, but raw tomatoes in a salad? Forget about it. To my horror, Chef Solon (a man who I have known for over two decades) would bite into raw tomatoes as if they were apples. Roughly 20 years ago, we spent time together over the holidays in Cederberg’s mountains and he caught me discarding the tomato from a roll, lovingly made by his mother. For some reason, both of us still remember that moment and I’m not really sure why. The moral of the story here is that sometimes you think that you hate something but, in reality, you don’t hate it at all, you just haven’t learned to appreciate it yet. That sentence sums up my tomato timeline.

Sol’s antipasti

Tomatoes: My Lockdown Saviour

Fast-forward back to the future and I’m a fanatical tomato supporter. Ever since I belatedly got my paws on a hand-blender, I’ve probably cooked with and eaten tomatoes every single day this year. Shoutout to my sister for the Christmas gift. Roasted garlic, peppers and cherry tomatoes blitzed up by hand provide an essential basis for any tomatoey pasta sauce, and that selfsame concoction can be used to spread over a pizza base. Because of lockdown restrictions, I’ve eaten a lot of pizza and a lot of pasta. My pizza bases might not be at Chef Solon’s level yet but I’m willing to keep improving. Frankly, tomatoes have been the most important and consistent foodstuff in my cupboard for over a year and although it may be an exaggeration to say that they have been the SOLE lockdown saviour, they’ve been huge.

Mountain scenery

How many tomatoes are there in a bottle of All Gold?

According to this classic 12-year-old commercial, the number is 36. But are there actually that many tomatoes inside each and every jar of All Gold tomato sauce? Probably not. Maybe. Who knows for sure actually? One thing is for sure though, and that is the fact that tomato sauce/ketchup is a staple in pretty much every household in South Africa. I’m not actually a fan of ketchup (unless it’s on skinny, salty french fries) but its ubiquitous nature means that it’s part of the food ecosystem. Homemade tomato sauce on the other hand? That’s something I can buy into.

What are the best types of tomatoes?

Two of my dad’s best friends grow a variety of tomatoes in the Karoo and I’ve been blown away by how different a “real” tomato tastes compared to those easily found in supermarkets. From the mainstream options such as Roma, cherry & plum, to the exotically named Beefsteak, Green Zebra and Mr Stripey, there are probably more tomato types than there are minutes in a day. So how does one find the best tomato for one’s taste buds? Find and eat as many types as you possibly can and be guided by your taste buds.

Cheeseboard accompanied by slow-roasted tomato

Tomatoes in pop culture

This bucket-list item will have to wait a while yet, for obvious reasons, but La Tomatina sounds like a good time. It’s a festival held in the Valencian town of Buñol, in which participants throw tomatoes and get involved in a state-sanctioned tomato fight purely for entertainment purposes. Maybe my daily DuoLingo lessons will come in handy one day when I’m pelting tomatoes at a stranger’s head.

Good “clean” fun at La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain

Classic tomato combinations & matches

Tomato goes with absolutely everything so it’s pointless to start listing all the best combinations and matches. I’m not going to suggest something like combining tomato with apple, but I’m also not going to not suggest doing that either. Tomato on sandwiches is pretty much a no-brainer, and my obsession with sourdough means that open-face sandwiches are now the way to go, they also look good and you can marvel at the thing you’ve constructed. So my CURRENT favourite thing is Sol’s slow-roasted tomato on sourdough and cured meat and whatever else is in the fridge that will enhance it all.

Open-faced sourdough sandwich with slow-roasted tomato

Slow-roasted tomato soup recipe

I’m probably biased, but Sol’s slow-roasted tomato is one of the most mind-blowingly delicious things I’ve eaten in quite some time. I made the sandwich in the last paragraph, but I haven’t yet made this slow-roasted tomato soup and should probably get on that.

Sol’s slow-roasted tomato soup

Three cheers for tomatoes, the versatile food that’s always there to make everything a bit better.

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