Having enjoyed reading the last couple of preserving posts by Martin Dawes, it got me to thinking about my own favourite ways to keep the good stuff of summer and autumn for the long winter nights.
Our Saturday nights for a long while now have usually consisted of some home baked ciabatta (dunked in, yes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar but don’t, for God’s sake, tell that guy who keeps banging on about not doing it!), Italian meats and cheeses and some pickles. Favourite among these are some sun blush tomatoes and little pickled onions.
What DO you do when the last of the summer tomatoes are gone and we’re left with those hard, vapid, water filled, tasteless offerings from Spain until the next summer’s bountiful press arrives?
In warmer climes of course, they leave them out in the sun to dry. Hence sun dried tomatoes. I have to say I’m not over keen on them to eat on their own. If they’ve been really left out to dry they can have an almost toffee flavour to them from the caramelised sugars that doesn’t work for me. Great to add to stews and sauces for depth of flavour but not on their own.
What you can do is tart ’em up a bit, after all the one blessing about them is they’re cheap. Now, of course it’s a bit hard to leave them out in the sun in the UK, they’d rot before they ever got the chance to dry but a low oven works just as well. Here’s my favourite way with them which just removes enough moisture to concentrate the flavour but not so much that they’re unpleasant to eat with cheese etc.
HERB INFUSED OVEN BLUSHED TOMATOES.
- Get a kilo box of the Spanish tomatoes from your supermarket and remove the stalks and quarter them. Then line a baking tray with a double thickness of foil (I’d love to know the physics of how oil can get through a layer of foil when there are no rips in it but it always does), and lay your quarters on it.
- Peel and slice a couple of garlic cloves thinly and scatter over the tomatoes along with whatever herbs you fancy, fresh or dried. I like to use rosemary, because it grows all year round in my garden, and thyme for the same reason. If you do use dried herbs remember to go easy, dried herbs are much stronger than their fresh incarnations.
- Grate a nice lot of black pepper over them and sprinkle liberally with a good coarse sea salt. Finally drizzle over a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.
- Bang them in a low oven at 125 degrees C and leave for around 4 hours with the door held ever so slightly ajar with a wooden spoon to let the moisture out. You want them to have lost most of their moisture but not be too dry.
- Finally discard the sprigs of herbs if you used them and put the tomatoes in a Kilner jar or the like with the sliced garlic which will have become soft and lovely to eat and cover with oil, vegetable oil will do. you just want it there to preserve. Add a good glug of cheap balsamic and leave for a week or so.
The oil and balsamic will mix with the tomato juices over time and give you the best bread dunking goo ever. When you make a fresh batch of tomatoes, don’t throw the old oil away. Put the new batch in it and simply top up with more oil and vinegar if it needs it.
As for the pickled onions, the Italians use baby pickling onions (cipollini) and pickle them in balsamic to make cipollini con balsamico. The process is a little involved and we only tend to get the tiny pearl onions around this time of year but here it is:
CIPOLLINI ARROSTO SOTTO BALSAMICO
500g cipollini or baby pearl onions
400 ml balsamic vinegar the cheapo Aldi/Lidl is great for this
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
10 fresh basil leaves torn
1 bay leaf
- Put the onions in a bowl and pour on boiling water to cover them. After a minute or so drain it off then settle down to the lovely task of peeling them ans cutting tops and roots off neatly. Verdi or some such mood music helps 🙂
- Add the olive oil and basil leaves to the onions and mix well then tip the lot onto a baking tray then put into a moderate oven, about 160 degrees C, for about 15 minutes. You just want the onions to soften, not colour and you also want to drink in the smell of roasting onion and basil (think the smell at the burger/hot dog stall outside B&Q but a million times better)
- Meanwhile, put all the other ingredients into a saucepan, bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar then turn off the heat, cover and leave to cool and infuse while the onions finish cooking
- Put the onions in a Kilner jar and pour over the vinegar. Take out the bay leaf at this point if you like. Leave for a month if you can, longer if at all possible
If that sounds a bit involved a shortcut is to buy a jar of sweet pickled onions from the supermarket, drain off the vinegar and give the onions a wash then replace with cheap balsamic. Works nearly as well.