I spent part of the summer holiday at the seaside in Italy. My parents have a lovely house by the sea close to Rome and they adore growing their own vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and pumpkins. They also have a number of fruit trees. Every morning we would pick vegetables and fruit for the day, in particular tomatoes, which grow in four to five different varieties and were abundant.
In only a week we picked 40kg of tomatoes. The smell was delicious. We cooked them in every possible way. We also enjoyed them as a salad, or sun-dried them, and made simple and delicious tomato sauces. One of the ways I love cooking tomatoes is in this easy, hearty Tuscan recipe, pappa al pomodoro. “Pappa” means “mush”, as that is how it looks once cooked. But do not be put off — it is delicious.
Preparation time: 45 minutes. Serves 4-6 people as a starter
● 800g ripe tomatoes or plum tomatoes in tomato juice
● 7-8 slices of dried bread (brown or white)
● 3 cloves garlic
● Bunch fresh basil
● 10 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
● Splash of white wine
● Salt to taste
● Heat the olive oil in a saucepan together with the crushed garlic and some salt.
● Splash a little white wine and as soon as the alcohol evaporates, add the tomatoes — either the fresh ones peeled, diced and seeded; or plum tomatoes from the can cut into small pieces with juices.
● TIP: To peel a tomato, dip it in boiling water for 15 seconds. The peel will come out easily.
● Leave the tomatoes to cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and cook for another few minutes until the sauce reduces a bit. If you are using fresh tomatoes, it may take a little longer.
● To dry bread, ideally leave some left over bread in a paper or cloth bag to dry for a few days and up to two weeks.
● Otherwise, slice fresh bread and put it in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove and leave it to dry until hard.
● Break the bread into small chunks and dip it for a few seconds in cold water.
● Add the wet bread to the tomatoes, add more salt and stir thoroughly. Cover again with a lid and leave it to cook, stirring often, for another 15-20 minutes. The bread should mop up all the tomato sauce.
● If it appears too dry, add a few spoonfuls of water while it cooks
● Add the basil and serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.