Now, I realise tomato season’s pretty much drawing to a close for most of us in the Southern Hemisphere, but I’ve been hearing reports of some late-season harvests in gardens around here; helped, no doubt, by the Indian summer days we’ve been having this autumn. And I’ve spotted some nice-looking heirloom varieties at the organic store – surely a sign that it’s still seasonally appropriate to be posting this recipe this late?
And if there’s one last thing you make with fresh tomatoes before winter sets in, let it be this: Yotam Ottolenghi’s aptly named Tomato Party from his most excellent cookbook Plenty. Apt, because, really, a party is what this is: as many different kinds of tomato you can get your hands on, cooked to varying degrees, every mouthful is full of different incarnations of the tomato. Juicy roast tomatoes? Check. Savoury-sweet balsamic-glazed tomatoes? Check. Raw, tangy and sweet tomatoes? Yep. And you could keep going, too, adding different varieties of tomato or changing up the cooking method. It’s a fitting farewell for this summer fruit that frankly, I wouldn’t bother buying all winter.
I was lucky enough to be given a paper bag full of beautiful tomatoes* from the very generous Sue of Five Course Garden, who has what is possibly the most productive compact garden of anyone I know. It’s tiny and huge all at once, and is truly a joy to poke your nose around (and I’m not just saying this because both times I’ve been to see Sue I’ve left laden with fresh produce!) – it seems like every nook and cranny has got something edible growing in it.
And these tomatoes – just look at them! They’re the exact opposite of the bland supermarket tomatoes that get especially blander and more average as autumn fades into winter. They were stripey and purple and green and juicy and sweet, with so much more flavour than anything you could buy. And what better way to celebrate them than this tomato-rich couscous salad?
I pretty much followed the recipe straight from the book, adapted to the ingredients I had on hand: I used an assortment of Sue’s tomatoes, supplemented with a handful of orange cherry tomatoes I had lying around the kitchen and some vine tomatoes that were fast-approaching their use-by point. I used whole wheat Palestinian couscous (the stuff I used here) instead of fregola or mograbieh, because it’s what I had, and let’s face it – mograbieh is expensive. (I still got the delightful textural contrast of different-sized couscous, though in a pinch you could just as easily use one type of couscous, I mean, the recipe isn’t called “couscous party”, is it?)
The recipe that follows, though, is going to be more of an imprecise method than Ottolenghi’s instructions, because yesterday something really happened: Kate and Jason came over and we swapped cookbooks, SO, now I have (temporarily) parted ways with Plenty and my other current favourite, Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, and have got my hands on Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, both of which have been on my cookbook wishlist for what feels like forever. Hooray!
So anyway, I don’t have the book to refer to for this recipe, so I’ve cobbled together bits and pieces from memory and also from the ever-helpful internet (especially this earlier version of the recipe, which appeared in the Guardian in 2007 – actually, that might be pretty much the same as the version in Plenty. But I can’t know for sure). It’s more of a rough method, anyway – cook some tomatoes a few different ways, mix with a couple different kinds of couscous, enjoy.
*Actually, the purpose of my visit was to pick up some tomatillos Sue had set aside for me – after sampling her harvest last year and making the best salsa verde and chilaquiles I’d had in a long time there was no way I was going to be able to refuse her offer. This year’s crop was great too – more on that later, though!
OTTOLENGHI’S TOMATO PARTY
(adapted from Plenty,and from this earlier version of the recipe)
Preheat the oven to 175C/350F.
Cook 125g couscous according to the instructions on the packet; fluff with a fork and set aside. Do the same with 150g Palestinian couscous, or mograbieh if you’re lucky enough to have some, or some fregola or Israeli couscous.
Meanwhile, halve or quarter (depending on size – you want them to be bite-sized when they’re cooked) a good bunch of vine tomatoes, around 300g or so. Put on a baking tray lined with baking paper or tinfoil, season with a bit of salt and pepper, some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, give it a good drizzle of olive oil. Put in the oven for about 30 minutes until they’re shrivelled but still juicy. The balsamic vinegar, sugar and oil should have melded with the tomato juice and be a little bubbly but not too sticky. Remove from the oven and set aside in a bowl, adding all the juices from the pan.
Next, increase the oven temperature to 200C/400F. Halve about 200g cherry tomatoes and place on a clean piece of baking paper or foil on your baking sheet, season them with salt and pepper and olive oil and stick them in the oven for about 12 minutes.
Cut up some more tomatoes – about 100 to 150g – hopefully you’ve got an assortment of colours and sizes but if not, don’t worry too much.
Once you have all your tomatoes, mix the two types of couscous together and add a whole bunch of chopped herbs – I used tarragon, parsley, oregano & basil – and some crushed garlic, all of the tomatoes and all of their juices.* Season to taste. Eat at once.**
*Other things you could add at this point that would be very delicious: crumbled feta, torn buffalo mozzarella, shelled & chopped pistachios, bits of streaky bacon. Or nothing else at all. This is, after all, all about the tomatoes.
**I can report this also tastes very, very good served at room temperature the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to mingle overnight.