Best from June to late September
In the 1990s many of us turned to preserved tomatoes to get the full Mediterranean flavour: first to sun-dried tomatoes, which are tomatoes halved, salted and left to dry in the Italian sun, then to the softer mi-cuit (literally, half-cooked) tomatoes.
Squidgy and not as chewy as those that are totally dried, mi-cuit tomatoes are ready to use but have a similar concentration of flavour to sun-dried. Another option is to use tinned tomatoes.
Chopped or whole, their flavour is superior to fresh in cooking during the winter months provided, of course, they are Italian, as these are way and above the best.
However, it takes the beauty of a lusciously ripe fresh tomato grown in the summer sun to remind us what this ubiquitous fruit, used as a vegetable, is really all about. A perfect tomato is not only full of flavour and juice, but also has a subtle, savoury scent.
With tiny cherry tomatoes and deep-red, vine-ripened varieties becoming more common, supplies have improved recently; and old favourites like Jersey Toms and the Gardener's Delight variety are still a delight in our home-grown season.
To skin or not to skin? A proper, ripe tomato is perfect to nibble with the skin on. An unskinned tomato is best for most salads, too, and certainly for sandwiches.
However, the Italians, one of the top tomato-growing nations and great experts on the subject of tomato sauce, do not like to see tomato skin in cooked dishes. If you want to follow their example, here is how to divest a tomato of its skin with a minimum of fuss: put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over to cover them completely. Leave them for exactly 1 minute, or, if the tomatoes are small, 15-30 seconds, before draining and slipping off their skins (protect your hands with a cloth if they are too hot). You can see how easy it is in this short video by clicking on the link below.
How to skin and de-seed a tomato
Lovely on its own served as a starter or divided into small pieces to serve with drinks
It's hard to believe that something so simple can be so wonderful
Dhal is simply the Indian word for lentils. The best kind to use for this are the red split lentils which most supermarkets stock.
Black-eyed beans are the lovely nutty beans that are popular in recipes from the deep south of America and, with the addition of other vegetables, they make very good beancakes.
What are enchiladas? Well, they're Mexican wheat-flour pancakes that can be spread with some spicy salsa and stuffed with almost anything you have handy – in this case cheese – and then baked. An excellent light lunch dish served with a salad.
Serve this hot on a cold winter's day with some buttery jacket potatoes or, if the weather is warm, it's lovely served cold with salads and chutney or pickles.
Salsas are at the height of food fashion at the moment - and this is one of the best: healthy, easy to make and magnificent with rosti crab cakes, salmon, chicken or grilled meats!