The Tomato Monster.

Tomatoes are one of the best foods you can eat regularly.  They contain lots of lycopene which behaves in a similar way to antioxidants and can help fight cancer.  Eating ten servings of tomatoes each week can reduce the risk of lung cancer by up to sixty per cent.  The good news is that those ten servings can be in a variety of forms.  We can enjoy the benefits of lycopene by eating pizza, adding ketchup to food and even including tinned tomatoes in our diet.  This is because the cancer-fighting qualities of lycopene are not reduced by exposure to high temperatures.  In fact, cooking tomatoes in olive oil increases the amount of lycopene that is absorbed by the body.  French, Italian and Greek cooking feature numerous tomato-based dishes, so it’s no wonder that cancer is less prevalent among the mediterranean population.  Tomatoes feature heavily in our house too.

I’ve nicknamed our boy, The Tomato Monster.  He eats everything in sight and has yet to refuse any type of food that we’ve offered him.  However, tomato dishes provoke extra approving groans and lip-smacking from him.  He just loves tomatoes and we love watching him eat plenty of dishes containing that most glorious of fruits!  Today, I’m going to share two great recipes full of tomatoes that are brilliant for a family meal.

On a day when the sun was splitting the trees and a summer atmosphere prevailed in this normally rain-soaked region, I decided to cook up a tomato storm to enjoy in the garden.  N and the boy were out for coffee and cake (or water and baby rusks) all afternoon.  This left me free to make a complete mess in the kitchen and play my music as loud as I liked.  By the time the family was assembled for dinner, I’d managed to make a herb bread with tomato and a baked orzo dish full of tomatoes, beef mince and a cheesy, golden bechamel topping.  Me and N enjoyed a glass of wine with the food and felt like we were somewhere on the Northern coast of Crete.  The Tomato Monster savoured every bite of bread and every mouthful of orzo with extra satisfied grunts and spent the rest of the evening beaming.  In my book, that’s reason enough to put tomatoes on the menu every single day of the week.

Herb bread with tomato

400g chopped tomatoes

250g plain flour

120ml warm water

5 tblspoons olive oil

3 tblspoons chopped fresh herbs (mint & Greek oregano)

2 tblspoons tomato puree

2 tblspoons tomato ketchup

1 tblspoon honey

1 and a half tspoons dried yeast

1 tspoon dried oregano

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

This recipe will make a flatbread that can be torn and shared.  Put the flour, salt and dried yeast into a medium-sized bowl and mix in the dried oregano.

Create a well in the middle and pour in the water, honey and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add all of the fresh herbs.  Mix gently to form a soft dough.  Brush with olive oil and place the bowl in a warm place for the dough to increase in size.  About half an hour will do it.

Mix the tomatoes, tomato puree, ketchup, the remaining oil, mustard and some dried oregano together and heat in a frying pan for a few minutes until you have a thick sauce.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and press it into a baking tray.  Add the tomato mixture on top and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon leaving a small gap around the edges.  Leave the bread for about fifteen minutes and then sprinkle some more oregano on top.  Bake in the oven at 200C for about twenty minutes until lightly browned.  Serve with a fresh salad, or even better, why not pair it with the awesome orzo recipe below?

Orzo & tomato bake

400g chopped tomatoes

250g minced beef

1 onion (chopped)

2 tblspoons tomato puree

3 tblspoons chopped fresh herbs (mint & Greek oregano)

1 tblspoon dried oregano

2 tspoons dried cinnamon

olive oil

salt and pepper

(For the topping)

150g mature Cheddar (grated)

2 tblspoons butter

2 tblspoons plain flour

milk

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

1 pinch of grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

Orzo is pasta that looks very much like rice.  Boil it in lightly salted water until cooked through and set aside.

Brown the beef mince in some olive oil and mix in the cinnamon and dried oregano.  Add the onion and fry gently until it is cooked, but not yet browning.  Add the tomatoes and a little more olive oil and stir thoroughly.  Bring to the boil and then stir in the tomato puree.  Lower the heat and cook gently until the liquid reduces.

Drain the orzo and mix it with the beef sauce in whichever pan is bigger.  Stir in the fresh herbs and transfer it all to a deep, ovenproof dish.  Set aside while you prepare the sauce to go on top.

The orzo, tomatoes and beef before being topped with a cheese sauce.

Begin by making a roux.  Melt the butter in a milk pan and then add the flour.  Stir immediately with a whisk for a few seconds until the flour and butter become a loose paste.  Don’t panic.  Now you can pour in a little milk and continue to whisk.  Keep adding a little milk at a time until you have a thick sauce in the pan.  Now it’s time to add flavour!  Stir in the Dijon mustard, grate a little nutmeg in and then tip lots of grated Cheddar in for good measure.  You don’t really have to measure the amount of cheese you put in.  Add however much you need to achieve a full cheesy flavour and make sure there are no lumps.

Season the sauce to taste and then pour it over the orzo.  Spread it out evenly and then grate a load more cheese on top to cover.  Place the dish in a hot oven until the cheese is bubbling.  200C for about ten minutes is a good start.  I like to finish the dish under the grill to get the cheese golden and crispy on top.  You can serve this dish immediately or play the long game and eat it the next day.  I’d made enough to feed us for two days and I’m so glad that I did.  It tasted even better the next day.  Am I becoming predictable?  Maybe a little.

Note:  I’ve included guidance on seasoning, but I didn’t add any salt when I cooked this dish recently.  Instead, we added salt to our own portions once I’d served it.  This meant that our little Tomato Monster could eat the same meal as Mummy and Daddy without added salt.

I Heart Bacon

I’ve worn the crest of bacon proudly and held the banner aloft for many years.  In conversation, I’ve made sure that bacon has been represented well and that the merits of this delicious food have been fully discussed.  Of course, the question of sausages has arisen.  “Are sausages better?”  This has sparked nothing but passionate reiteration and the urge to eat a large breakfast barm cake.  It is only in the last five or six years that my eyes and stomach have begun to wander.  Sausages come in a variety of sizes and with diverse flavourings.  This means that the humble sausage has a lot of appeal to someone like me, who constantly looks for new things to try.  Bacon has a limited range of guises, but this does not really lessen the appeal.  Good bacon, hitting a hot pan has to be one of the kitchen’s greatest sensory moments.  The hiss of the water as the fibres in the meat release it and curl up, the sight of the edges caramelising and of course, the irresistible aroma that promises salt, fat and a satisfying chew.

BLT sandwiches are perfectly enjoyable, but I have to be honest and say that bacon is best on white bread with tomato ketchup.  No frills.  If you’ve had your hit of bacon and ketchup, you may find yourself looking for alternatives and this weekend I made a BLT that ticked plenty of boxes and kept me happy all day.  It was actually a bacon, basil and tomato sandwich.  As with all food of this sort, it is almost laughable to call the following a recipe, but I enjoyed every mouthful and really wanted to share it with you…the recipe, not the sandwich.

I fried a few slices of smoked back bacon.  While the bacon got crispy, I toasted some thick white crusty bread and smothered each slice in really good butter.  I added some mixed lettuce leaves and a great dollop of mayonnaisse before placing some halved cherry tomatoes on top.  Next I put some large fresh basil leaves on top of the tomatoes and finished with the bacon.  I wasn’t aiming to reinvent the wheel, I just wanted to use up some basil that was leftover.  I’m so glad I did!  It was a lovely addition to this classic sandwich.  

What would we do without bacon?