This week, I’m making use of another of the things I made during a rare rainy day on holiday in the Aveyron a month or so ago.
Not only did I make that lovely green tomato jam, which we served with the roast chicken rillettes, if you remember, but I also took advantage of a surfeit of beautifully ripe Provençal plum tomatoes to make a recipe I’d had in my notebook for ages, a sweet tomato jam.
Ripeness is the key here, and, unless you’re blessed with your own greenhouse, and thus able to gauge the ripeness of your own toms, we must hope for a good growing season for ripe British tomatoes to appear on the shelves.
There’s almost nothing like stepping into a warm, humid greenhouse where tomatoes are growing.
That green, stalky scent is almost overpowering – I always think it’s a shame no-one’s distilled that essence, because it’s almost better than the tomatoes themselves. A bit like coffee beans smell better than coffee tastes, in my opinion.
And nothing, nothing is more dispiriting than a big rock-hard tomato the size of a cricket ball and the colour of smoked salmon with all the flavour of wet cardboard, which is what we sadly must endure for much of the year.
The out-of-season tomato, or indeed many of the European hothouse ones, are absolutely useless. They have no flavour, no scent, and don’t cook well.
Grown too quickly on poor soil or, shudder to think, in hydroponic liquid. Quite frankly, it’s best to go for a good tinned variety wherever possible.
But, on those occasions where we find properly ripened tomatoes, still warm from the sun, we must strike!
This recipe aims to capture and set that deep tomato flavour that only appears fleetingly.
Tomatoes, despite their confirmed status as proper fruit, are still rarely used in the dessert realm, but experiments can go very successfully.
Grilled tomatoes, glazed with a little sugar are excellent on toast with maple syrup, treading that fine line twixt sweet and savoury.
I remember a very successful dessert I’d tried in France and recreated at the restaurant, whereby tomatoes were stuffed with over a dozen ingredients such as nuts and dried fruits, then slowly poached in the oven in a sweet vanilla syrup.
They were incredible. So this jam is just a way of giving the tomato a new way of expressing that succulent, sharp flavour we all love.
I wanted something creamy as a contrast, so I thought my recipe for lightly-baked yoghurt would suit the dish well, and by now you’ll know that I’d want something cereal-y and crunchy to really get things going, so I made some classic langues de chat biscuits.
They’re fun and easy to bake, but if time’s a factor here, go for a decent shop-bought version.
So, off you go and hunt down those ripest, darkest tomatoes, and make yourself a little pot of this unusual jam, to capture that essence of summer to enjoy long after the clouds have returned.
For the brioche:
250g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
5g fast-acting dried yeast
A pinch of Maldon salt
70ml full-fat milk
3 free-range eggs, beaten
125g unsalted butter
For the filling:
Approx 400g apricots
The juice of 1 lemon
150g unrefined golden caster sugar
45g unsalted butter
1 x 25-30cm tart case
First, let’s make the brioche. Sift the flour into the bowl of a food mixer. Add the sugar, yeast, salt, milk and the egg, attach the dough hook, and mix on medium speed for about 8 minutes, until it comes together to form a smooth, soft dough.
Add the soft butter to the dough piece by piece and make sure each piece is incorporated before adding the next.
Put the dough into a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight to allow a slow, steady rise.
The next day, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll out into a disc the size of your tart case.
Cover with clingfilm and allow to rise a little while you prepare the apricots. Preheat the oven to 200ºC / Gas 6.
Lightly butter the tart case. Halve the apricots and toss them in the lemon juice in a large bowl.
Heat a pan, add the sugar and enough hot water to just moisten the sugar.
Gently heat the pan and, when all the sugar is dissolved, raise the heat and bubble the syrup, undisturbed, as it heads towards the caramel stage. Soon, darker patches will appear in the pan. As they do, gently swirl the pan until the whole of the syrup is an even, hazelnut-coloured caramel.
Remove from the heat and add the butter, swirling it around and stirring with a wooden spoon. It will form a smooth thick sauce eventually.
Pour this into your tart case, making sure it goes all over the bottom of the case. Place the apricot halves, cut side down, on the caramel, snuggling them close to each other. Sprinkle over any juices that remain in the bowl.
Gently place the brioche disc over the apricots, tucking it over at the edges around the outside. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is well-risen and golden-brown, and the juices bubbling.
Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. Carefully, and with oven gloves or similar, invert the cake onto a plate. Resist the temptation to remove the tart case immediately – we need to wait for gravity to help everything come loose. After 5 minutes, gently remove the tart case.
Retrieve any reluctant bits of fruit and pop them back in place.
Serve immediately, or allow to cool completely.