I can’t honestly write up a proper recipe for this. I took inspiration from a pasta dish from a local Italian restaurant and ran with it, using up bits and bobs from the fridge. Blai took my vague instructions/ideas and turned it into a wonderful dinner a couple nights ago – and I thought I’d write it up!

Chop up some bacon or pancetta and saute in a little olive oil. When brown, add some minced garlic and the chopped leaves of a couple of small sprigs of rosemary. When it’s all highly scented, pour in a generous amount of red wine – let all the alcohol bubble away. Add chopped tomatoes (we used fresh as we have a glut to use up) and simmer away until it’s reduced to your liking. Salt and pepper and serve with pasta.

Last night's dinner - a fresh tomato sauce made with a little garlic, bacon, red wine and rosemary.

A variation that would make it even closer to what’s on offer at our local restaurant is to use cubed steak, removing it from the pan after browning to your liking, and then adding it back in at the end. Excellent stuff.

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There are only so many tomato salads one can eat… And to find simple ways to showcase our homegrown tomatoes, I soon turned to my little library of cookbooks rather than attempt to find anything online; I need something tactile this time! I adapted this from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros, a book full of simple recipes mainly targeted towards families with young children but also very suitable for the time-poor.

This recipe for fried tomatoes works for any large tomatoes you may have – just don’t bother with those smaller than a golf ball. What you end up with is concentrated tomato juiciness, kind of like roasted tomatoes but y’know, without the need for turning on an oven. And it still tastes fresh, fresh and yet also roasted.

It kind of reminds me of those fried tomatoes you get with full English breakfasts, only better. I dislike fried tomatoes in breakfasts only because they tend to be from a can (they just have a canned flavour to me) or a fried winter tomato, all anaemic and bland. These would be fabulous with a homemade full English or as a side dish to any meat. We had them with pan fried fresh homemade sausages from our local Polish shop.

Fantastic Polish sausages with fried tomatoes and yogurt courgettes. Oh, those tomatoes were amazing.

This is more instruction than recipe so I won’t be bothered with an ingredient list. You want some big, meaty tomatoes cut into quarters, smaller if they’re really huge. Heat a pan over medium high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. Put in your tomatoes, one or two smashed garlic cloves, and a fresh rosemary sprig. Turn the tomatoes as their sides turn a burnished golden colour. When coloured on all sides, turn down the heat – you want to cook them gently to allow their juices to escape and bubble with the aromatics. Now’s a good time to give everything a sprinkle of salt. Cook, turning the wedges gently occasionally, until there’s almost a sticky syrup at the base of the pan but the wedges are still in one piece. Finally, drizzle with an excellent extra virgin olive oil and serve with lots of crusty bread.

Most of London woke to a light dusting of snow this past Sunday morning but while there are Narnia like scenes outside, we’ve got a bit of the Mediterranean inside. We’ve still got a handful of so of tomatoes grown in our garden and harvested last autumn.

Tomacons

Now what kind of tomato keeps for months like that?! Hanging tomatoes do – let’s ignore the fact that I haven’t actually hung mine. These thick skinned tomatoes are the kind to use for the famous Catalan pa amb tomàquet (literally ‘bread with tomato’) and are generally not available outside Spain, maybe not even outside Catalonia. In Catalan, these go by the names tomàquets de penjar (hanging tomatoes) or tomacons.

Have you tried making pa amb tomàquet at home with regular tomatoes? There’s not much to squish out of those fleshy salad tomatoes, is there? Many Spanish restaurants here, either unable to get the original tomatoes or who need to make lots in advance, tend to puree tomatoes and premix the puree with olive oil and salt and when it’s time to serve, brush this mixture onto toast. It really doesn’t taste the same.

These tomacons have lots of liquid and seeds inside their thick skins, making them absolutely rubbish for eating like a salad tomato but perfect for rubbing onto bread. Cut them in half around their equator, and rub their flesh vigorously onto a slice of gently toasted bread. You’ll find the tomato flesh give and release itself all over the bread, leaving empty skins between your fingers. Drizzle with olive and a bit of salt (and you could also rub a little garlic on the toast before the tomato) and you’re feasting.

We've gotta eat pa amb tomàquet while watching the Catalan election results! These are our home grown tomacons - the usual tomatoes used for this. I'll write a blog post about them one day.

And here's our pa amb tomàquet! #27s

Here’s a photo of another variety in a market in Barcelona. Oh look, they’re being properly hung for storage!

Hanging Tomatoes

You’ll notice that they look a little different than the ones I grew. Ours were tomacons of the variety mallorquí, which are quite distinct with their pointy bottoms. I’m growing a different variety next year – Domingo.

If you’re looking for seeds to grow them, you can, of course, get them in garden shops in Catalonia but I’ve also found them at Real Seeds – they’re listed as the variety De Colgar (Spanish for ‘hanging’). Ignore what they say about them being nearly extinct as that may be the case in the rest of Spain but it’s definitely not the case in Catalonia; you can buy them from pretty much any grocers. I believe those are the correct seeds!

I love dishes cooked long and slow. I think I’ve already mentioned this before. Now that the weather’s turned chilly again (wasn’t summer a bit short this year?), my thoughts turn to soups and stews and braises and to this tomato sauce, an oft repeated recipe in my flat. I think I first came across this recipe in one of the glossy weekend magazines that come with the newspaper. Of course, not knowing the actual name of the dish, I cannot find it anywhere online. Oh, the butter is my little addition.

Beef and Spaghetti

Please forgive the hideous photo – normally we serve the pasta first and the meat second (the two courses) but we were extra lazy this time and dumped the meat on top.

Beef and Tomato Sauce
serves at least 4.

2 x 700mL bottles of passata
500 g braising steak
2 large onions, chopped
olive oil
4-5 tbsps butter
freshly ground black pepper
salt and sugar to taste

OK, folks, it doesn’t get any easier than this. Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium heat and fry your onions until they’re golden. Dump them into the bottom of a large, heavy based pot or casserole or into a slow cooker. If your steak is one giant one, slice it up into more manageable portions. Lay them in a single layer over the onions. Pour all the passata overtop along with some salt and plenty of pepper. Add the butter too. Reduce the heat and set the pot to simmer for a few hours. I use a slow cooker (it’s actually my rice cooker but it doubles as a slow cooker) and cook it for about 4 hours at what I can only assume is a high heat setting. Adjust the times for your own slow cooker.

Your flat/house is going to smell amazing during that time. Towards the end of cooking, have a taste and adjust for salt and sugar. Stir well to make sure the onions are incorporated into the sauce.

Boil some pasta and mix it with some of the sauce – that’s your first course; isn’t it the Italian thing to serve pasta first as it’s cheaper and will fill you up before the more expensive second course? The meat is served up as the second course and a little salad on the side wouldn’t hurt either. Dessert? Well, that’s the only thing this recipe won’t help you with!

This recipe makes quite a bit of sauce and we ate it with pasta the first day. Tonight, I’m shaking things up a bit by frying some courgettes and mushrooms and mixing in the beef, shredded, and the sauce. Eggs will be cooked overtop and we’ll eat the lot with bread. The sauce can also be used in lasagnas or as pizza sauce – it’s a multi-purpose tomato sauce.