Tuesday 22 March 2011

First, smoke your tomatoes

I’ve been leafing through my Christmas present copy of Movida Rustica, a cookbook dealing with regional Spanish recipes given a modern twist by chef/restaurateur Frank Camorra. As a premise this is irresistible to me: 1) Spanish, therefore 2) rustic, whole-hearted food, but 3) with some innovative additions as well.

It doesn’t disappoint. There are recognisably authentic recipes for chickpeas with spinach and salt cod, and rice with crayfish. There is a gazpacho with broad beans which I will surely get around to trying one day. But I couldn’t flick past anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet.

In Movida Rustica, smoked tomato sorbet is deceptively simple: 250g smoked tomatoes and 75g liquid glucose; blend and freeze in an ice cream maker. However, I don’t have an ice cream maker, I finished the jar of Terre a Terre smoked tomatoes shortly after Christmas and I don’t think my local Waitrose stocks liquid glucose*. The only thing to do was to start from scratch – first, smoke your tomatoes.

After a bit of experimentation and two separate goes, one with raw tomatoes and one with slow-roasted tomatoes, this is my smoked tomato sorbet using easily sourced ingredients. If it can taste this good made with out of season supermarket tomatoes, think how good it would be in August/September with freshly-picked homegrown fruits.

Tea-smoked tomato sorbet
250g tomatoes, about 6-7 medium-sized fruits
¼ cup tea leaves
½ cup raw rice
¼ cup soft brown sugar
100ml cold water
150g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white sugar

First, smoke the tomatoes. Put the tea leaves, rice and brown sugar in a jar or Tupperware container and shake to mix. Take a piece of silver foil, fold it into a square and turn up the corners about 2cm so that you have created a makeshift dish. Place this in the bottom of a pan which will take a steamer basket. Pour the smoke mixture into the foil dish.

Peel the tomatoes: nick a small cross at the stalk end of each tomato with a sharp knife, then drop the tomatos into boiling water – simmer for around 30 seconds then remove them with a slotted spoon and slip off the skins. Halve the tomatoes, and place, cut side up, in a single layer in a bowl that will fit into the steamer basket. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar.

Place the pan with the smoke mixture over a medium heat. Once heated, insert the steamer basket with the bowl of tomatoes and a tight-fitting lid. Turn the heat down slightly, and turn the extractor fan on. Open doors and windows too as the smell of smoke will be pervasive.

Once you can see smoke swirling around the bowl of tomatoes, continue the smoking process for five minutes for lightly smoked tomatoes, 10 minutes for a stronger flavour. Once done, remove from the heat, and discard the foil dish with the smoke mix. Let the tomatoes cool.

Make the sugar syrup by pouring 100ml water into a pan and add 150g sugar. Set over a medium-low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Then bring to the boil and bubble until the liquid is clear. Let it cool slightly. This will almost certainly make too much sugar syrup for this recipe, but you can store it happily in an airtight container in the fridge.

Once the tomatoes have cooled down, place in a blender, including any juice that has leached out into the bowl, and whizz to a puree. Pour through a fine sieve into a clean bowl or measuring jug to remove the pips.

Stir the tomato liquor to mix and measure it. You need half this volume in sugar syrup. So, if you have 150ml smoked tomato puree, pour in 75ml of sugar syrup. Return the tomato puree and sugar syrup mixture to the blender to whizz again. Taste it to see if it might need another pinch of salt.

Pour the sorbet mixture into a bowl, cover with tight-fitting lid and place in the freezer. After two hours, remove from the freezer, scoop the sorbet into the blender and blend again. Replace the sorbet in the lidded bowl and return it to the freezer to carry on freezing.

Take the sorbet out of the freezer about 10 minutes before serving. Scoop again into a blender (or food processor, this time, as it will be frozen solid) and process for about a minute. Serve.

Smoked slow-roasted tomatoes
250g tomatoes, about 6-7 medium-sized fruits
Half a teasp salt
Half a teasp sugar
A  pinch of freshly ground pepper
Tea-smoking mixture, as above

Preheat the oven to 120 degrees C. Halve the tomatoes and place, cut-side up, on  a baking tray in a  single layer. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar and pepper, making sure each tomato gets its fair share. 

Place in the oven for about two hours. The tomatoes shouldn't burn but they will shrivel a little at the edges. Remove and let them cool a little. Set up the pan and steamer for smoking as above and transfer the roasted tomatoes carefully to a bowl that will fit into the steamer basket. Smoke, as above, for about five minutes.

These tomatoes are fantastic in a salad with mozzarella and avocado (or just with mozzarella, frankly), or chopped roughly on top of pasta as a garnish.  

*Actually, as it turns out, it does. But I didn't discover this until after I had used the sugar syrup instead.

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