Summer is here – granted in its very varied manifestations in lovely Britain. That, of course, means shorts, flip-flops and vine ripen tomatoes are out.
I’m going to share with you a very quick, very easy and very popular recipe for Pasta Pomodoro. The perfect way to use up the sudden abundance of tomatoes left on your doorway by your allotment enthusiast of a neighbour, and enjoy the season’s best flavours. But first, an enthusiastic account on why we love seasonal variety when it comes to our produce.
We’re big on eating seasonally because:
1.) FLAVOUR - Produce grown and picked locally, at the peak of their season, is going to be at their most tasty and flavoursome. Eating bit-sized red, ripe and juicy cherry tomatoes on a late July lunch-time in the sun is a very different experience to chewing into a bland, dry and fluffy slice of tomato on a wilting lettuce salad on a cold January evening. This is because non-seasonal produce has to grow in a different country, in a different climate, which in turn means it has to be picked early and refrigerated for transport, reducing the fruit’s flavour. Furthermore, some produce may be heated in ovens to accelerate ripening, resulting in a floury apple or a chewy celery.
2.) CHEAPER – Not only is seasonal produce more delicious, it’s also cheaper. As with almost anything in any market, abundance drives prices down. There is simply more to harvest and sell of any one product when it’s in season. Seasonal produce also tends to be sourced locally, which eliminates additional costs for transport, storage and packaging. The next time you’re at the Stroud Farmer’s Market, make a note of product prices per kilo and compare to Tesco or Waitrose prices. Not forgetting to mention the extra props you’ll be contributing to your local economy and community.
3.) NUTRITION. I often talk about food being ‘alive’. What I mean by that is that it makes me feel excited about eating. It makes me feel excited about something that I do all day, everyday - something that by all logical premise I should be getting bored of by now. I mean that there is life and energy in the food, that in turn gives me energy and sustenance for living.
And indeed, a tomato is alive when it’s on its vine, and continues to be alive for some time after being picked – it’s literally alive because it continues to respire. The longer it continues to respire, the more organic mass (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) is broken down, the more moisture evaporates and the more nutritional value in the food simply dissipates into nothingness. So, the sooner that tomato is eaten after it’s been picked, the more you’ll get out of eating it.
4.) IMMUNE SYSTEM – Simply, mother nature is awesome. The variety of vegetables that grow in one season provide us with the vitamins and nutrients we need for that climate. For example, tomatoes are rich in naturally occurring sugars and water which helps with rehydration during hot summers. They are also rich in a compound called Lycopene and beta-carotenes which have been shown to offer protection against sun burn. Winter root vegetables on the other hand are rich in vitamins A and C which aids the immune system against colds and other infections.
Seasonal foods that are locally sourced from small farms also tend to have been exposed to less pesticides, even when the farms are not certified organic. Pesticides and anti-bacterial chemicals can potentially wreak havoc in your gut, in which a whole planet of microbes live symbiotically with your body ensuring that your digestive and immune system function as they should.
5.) ECO-FRIENDLY – Seasonal tends to mean local, which means less transportation, less refrigeration, less artificial heating and less packaging. Smaller farms use less insecticides too, which protects the bee population and helps many other parts of the eco-system as well.
So. There you are. Without further ado, here is the promised recipe!
Pasta Pomodoro is a classic Italian dish. It’s a simple pasta dish consisting of little more than fresh tomatoes, yet there are hundreds of different varieties out there. I’m not going to claim this to be the best recipe out there, but I can promise that it’s quick, easy and generates little washing up!
· 1/3 cup olive oil
· 3-4 (or more - up to you, really!) cloves of garlic
· Medium-strength fresh chili – about the size of a thumb (optional)
· 30 or so ripe cherry or plum tomatoes.
· Pinch of salt
· Pinch of pepper
· Big bunch of basil leaves (or parsley)
· 300g of dried pasta – spaghetti or tagliatelle work well.
· Lots of water.
· Parmesan cheese (optional).
1.) Slice your tomatoes in half or quarters, depending on the size of your bunch.
2.) Place in a bowl and season generously with salt (around a ¾ to 1 teaspoon). This may seem like a lot, but the salt draws out all the moisture and sweetness from your freshly sliced tomatoes for extra juice and flavour. (Read about the amazingness of salt here.) Leave it to do its thing for a bit – around 10-15 minutes, while you get on with the rest of this recipe.
3.) Finely chop or crush the garlic. A garlic crusher is by no means essential, but it makes light of what can be a fidgety task.
4.) Finely chop the chili, being careful to remove the seeds. Chili seeds have a lot of heat and fire but little flavour, so unless you’re out to make blow-your-head-off hot sauce, the seeds are better left out.
5.) Heat about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Put a small amount of the garlic to see if it sizzles – if it does, the oil is hot enough and you can throw in the rest of your garlic and chili.
6.) Just when the crushed garlic turns a little golden-brown, throw in your tomatoes. You want to get the flavour out of the garlic, but you certainly don’t want it burnt! Give it a quick stir and turn the heat down to a simmer.
7.) Remove your basil leaves from their stems and chop roughly or leave whole if they’re small. Keep a few back for garnish later. Finely chop the stems too. If using parsley instead of basil, chop the whole bunch coursely - stems and all.
8.) When ready to serve, simply stir in your basil leaves and finely chopped stems and season with a little pepper and oregano.
Whilst the tomatoes are simmering is the perfect time to get going with your pasta. A key thing to remember is to keep it al dente – not crunchy but with a little bite. This means you have to account for the time it takes to turn off the heat, drain the pasta and serve; the pasta continues to cook even after it’s no longer in the pan.
Brown pasta takes a little longer (about 2-3 minutes longer) and gluten free pasta takes about 5 minutes less time. Gluten free pasta also benefits from a little extra oil and a little extra water to prevent them from sticking to each other.
1.) In a large pan, bring the water to a rolling boil, then add a swig of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. The motion of bubbling water, the oil and the salt all help to keep the pasta from sticking to each other while cooking.
2.) Add your pasta. Ensure that you have abundant space and water in the pan so that your pasta doesn’t stick together.
3.) Taste a bit of the pasta to check it’s ready – usually it takes between 8 – 10 minutes. It should be very slightly undercooked by the time you turn the heat off. At a relaxed pace, the pasta should be ready by the time you have taken it off the heat, walked over to the sink, drained it and served on a plate with your sauce.
4.) Serve with a small garnish of basil or parsley and parmesan cheese if desired.
So, there. Who knew I could write 1,400 words on pasta and tomato sauce. Enjoy the rest of your sunny, tomatoey summer!