Tomatoes are dazzling in May, with dozens of varieties on offer. France and Italy are key producers, of course, but these days British tomatoes – grown with cutting-edge technology – are catching up.
Left to their own devices, a tomato plant is a unruly beast – a fruiting vine that would scramble across the ground. But we have learnt to tame and cultivate the plant and modern techniques use the latest technology.
In Kent, for example, Thanet Earth is typical in using a combination of greenhouse hydroponics and and energy saving innovations. No pesticides are used. Nutrients are carefully controlled and supplied in liquid form to the roots of the plants. Natural light is supplemented by artificial light, adjusting the ratio throughout the year so what tomatoes can be grown almost year-round. Energy for the lighting is typically from biogas. The next step will be to master L.E.D. technology for these fruiting crops. This is a method of using a combination of light wavelengths for optimal growth.
But let’s get back to basics. It is still a fact that some of the best tasting tomatoes are grown in the sunniest corners of Europe. San Marzano from Italy, for example, are hard to beat and ideal for sauces. Trendy varieties at the moment include pineapple tomatoes, which have a yellow skin with flushes of pink.
Uses in the Kitchen
For an original starter, beefsteak tomatoes (pictured above) look incredible on a plate when thinly sliced. In recent years, chefs have been experimenting with a clear tomato consommé, such as this recipe from the Caterer. Slow cooking tomatoes is also increasingly on trend, such as this recipe from the BBC. Given the recent trend for back-to-basics cooking, a tasty batch of tomatoes would be the star of a panzanella, the rustic Italian dish that pairs them with stale bread, anchovies, capers and plenty of basil. These days, it’s easier to source tomatillos (pictured below). These are not a tomato, per se, but an essential ingredient in an authentic Mexican salsa.