“The tomato imparts its delicious taste, at the same time acid and slightly sweet, to so many sauces and dishes that it can fairly be classed among the best of condiments. Happy are those who understand how to use it judiciously”
Ernest Verdier from Dissertations Gastronomiques (1928)

Early autumn and the last of the precious tomatoes are collected.

A large bowl of tmatoes is always a wonderful sight, as those remaining specimens, cossetted by the warmth of a greenhouse, make their way to the kitchen. With the burden of Monsieur Verdier’s dictum piled high upon my shoulders, I strive constantly to use them as judiciously as he would demand. In high summer, thanks to my uncharacteristically shrewd purchase of a small greenhouse, we are lucky to lay hands on an abundant supply. This results in us eating tomatoes in almost every form, and on almost every day during their season. From a simple tomato salad, dressed with myriad vinaigrettes, to Niçoise, Panzanella, Horiatiki, Fattoush and beyond – tomatoes really become something of a culinary beacon for the summer. When offered up to heat, in pasta sauces, soups, pizzas, provençales or casseroles, the tomato is always capable of offering its unique flavour to something, somewhere, in every kitchen. Oh did I leave out gazpacho, passata, ketchup and purée? Nevertheless I still search for additional recipes, and this dish, which I remember eating in an outside restaurant in Milan and was a familiar summer alternative to the better known Vitello Tonnato from nearby Piedmont, took an age before I located a published recipe here in England.

From an impenetrable forest of tomato plants during the first year of the greenhouse, I have curbed my runaway enthusiasm for seed buying and planted more wisely. I now grow Gardener’s Delight, Red Zebra, Sungold and Black Opal for the plate and San Marzano and Marmande for the pot (and for a Bloody Mary).

My gastronomic life would be unimaginable without tomatoes, but opinion remains divided as to how and when they reached us from darkest Peru (followed by Paddington Bear, apparently). Some claim Columbus brought some back in the late 15 century, others that Cortes smuggled a cache in during the 16th century. Whatever the answer, I am surprised to find that nobody in Europe got particularly animated about their gastronomic potential until well into the 18th century.

But where on earth would anyone’s kitchen, let alone a visitor’s ramble through a Mediterranean market, be without the versatile tomato today?

Tomato Tonnato from On the Side (2017) Ed Smith

Serves 6
6 medium (about 500g) tomatoes
2 tbsp capers
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Tonnato sauce
50g tinned anchovies in oil
160g tinned tuna, drained (120g drained weight)
2 tsp fish sauce
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tsp red wine vinegar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
100g olive oil
Put the anchovies with their oil, along with all the other sauce ingredients except the olive oil, in a blender or small food processor.
Pulse, then blitz for about 1 minute, or until smooth.
Add the olive oil in a steady drizzle until the mixture has completely emulsified and is smooth and glossy.
Transfer it to a bowl and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
Spoon 4-5 tablespoons of the tonnato sauce over a large serving plate.
Slice the tomatoes thinly and layer them on top of the sauce.
Add a good grind of black pepper, and just a little salt (the sauce and capers are themselves quite salty).
Sprinkle the capers over the top and serve.

Wine thoughts

Sauvignon Blanc has something of a recognisable, one -dimensional style coupled with a background packed with refreshing acidity. This attribute happily matches the natural acidity of our tomatoes. My preference would be a cool climate version displaying aromatic intensity and crisp, racy, vegetal flavours such as the wines of the Loire valley, especially the Touraine region.