As we start to come into the tomato season, more in the Mediterranean areas than here in the UK of course, I’ve been turning my attention to tomato recipes. When tomatoes first appeared in Italy in the 1600s they weren’t adopted by peasants as a daily food because they weren’t seen as being as filling as other vegetables and it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that tomatoes began to feature in Ligurian cookbooks. The tomato marched north after arriving in Italy and the French took to them more easily putting an aphrodisiac spin on them and calling them pommes d’amour.
Today tomatoes are widely used in the cuisine of both countries in salads, daubes, ragus, tarts, sauces and soups. They are routinely stuffed, sun-dried, preserved and roasted but one simple recipe that makes an appearance on my table several times each summer is tomates provençales. Perfect when served alongside an anchovy and garlic studded roast lamb, these crispy, herb-topped tomatoes are just as good served as a light lunch with a hunk of pain de campagne to mop up the juices. This tasty little dish seems to me to be the epitome of simple Provençale cooking, making the most of available ingredients in season and adding herbs and olive oil to impart a distinct regional feel.
Look out for the many colourful displays of tomatoes in the region’s markets at this time of year, pick up a bag for yourself and have a go. This recipe is based on Mireille Johnston’s version in her book ‘The Cuisine of the Sun’.
4 large, ripe tomatoes
A handful of parsley or basil, finely chopped
2 tbsps breadcrumbs
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
Slice the tomatoes through their middles and drain them, cut-side down on kitchen towel. Fry the tomatoes, again cut-side down, in a little olive oil for five to ten minutes on a medium heat. Place them in a baking tray, cut-side up this time and sprinkle with the herbs, garlic, and breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and pop into the oven at 190°C for twenty minutes until the tomatoes are crispy and golden on the top.