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).
A spicy low-fat soup that has a lovely kick of Tabasco and balsamic to complement the tomatoes. You can even add a shot of vodka if you've a mind to!
This inexpensive dish is a version of the famous Greek dolmades or stuffed vine leaves, given an English twist with minced beef but also true to the Mediterranean with the inclusion of cinnamon, marjoram and rice.
Adding chick peas to this wintry chicken casserole allows you to feed four people very well for very little money without sacrificing flavour and nutritious value in the process.
Classic macaroni cheese, with the addition of bacon and mushrooms, for winter comfort food that's cheap to make and a real pleasure to eat.
A simple and cheap vegetarian recipe for one that's certainly full of flavour! Adapt it to suit other vegetables if you prefer and serve it with filling and nutritious brown rice.