Annabel Langbein: The best tomato recipes
When you come in from the garden after thinning out the laterals in the tomatoes or picking them off the vine, the backs of your hands are always yellowy, as if they are coated in a powdery pollen and your fingers are stained a dirty dark green. It's really hard to get off, and when you use soap the yellow stuff turns an intense green and no matter how hard you try, inevitably it ends up on the handtowel as this verdant green stain. It always smells good - that essence of summer, when the grass is starting to turn brown in the heat and the garden is overflowing with zucchinis, tomatoes and more basil than you know what to do with - but it's hellish to get off.
Commercial growers call this offending substance tomato tar. Like most plants, tomatoes are smart about the way they protect themselves, and this yellow "tar", which exists on the leaves, stems and skin of the fruit, contains compounds called acylsugars. These form together to create a fast-drying glue that helps defend the plant from microscopic predators, giving them the equivalent of concrete boots and stopping them from moving around the plant causing damage.
Acylsugars aren't soluble in water, and soap doesn't work as it is alkaline, which is why they're so hard to wash off. I've read up on lots of ways to get these tomato stains off your hands - some people use citric acid, some lemon and salt and some even suggest Jif or floor-cleaning liquid.
I have found that to cut open a green tomato and then work your hands into the flesh works the best. The acid in the tomato lifts off the offending acylsugars. After you have rubbed the tomato all over your hands, just use soap and water to wash it all off and, voila, your hands are now clean and unstained. You could also use vinegar.
When tomatoes smell really good I know they are going to taste good too. The other thing that makes them taste good - if you are a grower - is potassium. My dad always used to use a heavy seaweed mulch around his tomatoes. It promotes flowering and fruiting and also delivers that real summer tomato taste. Now you need a recipe that makes the most of this wonderful flavour hit.
Keeping sheets of flaky pastry in the freezer means this tart can easily be made for a simple weekend lunch or light dinner with a salad. You can swap the tomato relish for 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard to spread over the pastry - this gives the tart a classic French twist.
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This nifty little salsa is my go-to over the summer. It's such a fabulous whip-together that makes the perfect snack with corn chips and also doubles as a sauce to transform grilled chicken or steak. Get the recipe
This incredibly useful sauce is great tossed through pasta, as a base for soup, added to casseroles and pan sauces, and spread on to bread with cheese for a simple lunch snack. It's brilliant with meatballs and a tasty base for steamed mussels. I like to make it in bulk when tomatoes are in season and freeze or bottle it. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new summer annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com