Tom Doorley: When life gives you tomatoes, make gazpacho
It may seem odd that this so called summer of ours is being quite good on the tomato front for me. Needless to say, they are not growing outside but in the shelter of a large polytunnel which really keeps the temperature up.
You seen, tomatoes ripen in response to heat, not to sun. Od-fashioned gardeners used to strip the leaves off their plants as soon as the first truss or two of fruit had set, in the mistaken belief that this would let the sun – if there was any – get to work and turn the green berries to glorious red.
The only problem with my tomato this year has been pollination. I really need to get out to the polytunnel around noon every day and give the plants a gentle shake so as to disturb the pollen and get proper, fertile tomatoes. When I forget to do this they end up very small, but no less tasty, and without any seeds.
I’m growing just two varieties thus year, the old favourite Moneymaker which was a star of the 1950s and 1960s and which used to be condemned for being light on flavour. This was well before the modern tomato came on the scene with its almost complete taste bypass.
The other one is a variety which I call Carrigeen Hill because it kind of appeared here at home a few years ago, as a random seedling, and I’ve been growing it ever since. It’s smaller than Moneymaker in terms of fruit, starts life with a potato-like leaf rather than the usual tomato version, and delivers very well on taste.
However, as they years go by I worry that it might actually be an old variety called Harbinger, which dates from just after World War II and was once the commercial tomato in these islands. Actually, I’m not very bothered, to be honest. Once the fruit is healthy and full of flavour, I’m happy.
The great thing about growing your own tomatoes and cucumbers (despite the fact that they are said not to like the same conditions) is that you invariably end up with loads, which makes you popular with friends and neighbours.
But there are ways of dealing with gluts and one of my favourites, because of its extravagance in a sense, is making gazpacho. Or gazpacho as I understand it. I’m not sure how 'classic' it is.
I put about 2kg of chopped very ripe tomatoes – the sort that you need to cut bits off – into a big stainless steel bowl, followed by a chopped onion and a chopped red pepper or maybe two. I throw in some sea salt and a glug of olive oil and attack this with a hand-held blender until I have a mushy, quite liquid pulp which looks an odd shade of pink.
Then I pour all of this into a sieve and let it drain way for ages. What comes through first is a clear, slightly yellowish liquid which is utterly delicious – a kind of essence of salad, if you know what I mean. Well seasoned with salt it makes a very posh liquid to serve in a shot glass with maybe some fresh prawns and garlic mayonnaise.
What follows after that is red, especially is you shake the sieve a bit (but don’t force the pulp with a spoon or it will make the final liquid too heavy). I like my gazpacho very light and prefer to leave most of the fibre of the vegetables in the sieve and, ultimately, the compost bin. Ultra refined gazpacho, nicely chilled and served on a warm evening, if very heaven.
I’d add a little garlic – but would avoid dominating the flavour with it – only if I were serving pretty rapidly. If it’s going to hang around in the fridge for 24 hours I think it’s best to do without.
Anyway, it’s the kind of thing that really puts it up to the water. But I have to say that this year my gazpacho making has generally coincided with thundery showers. You have been warned.