Little tastes and smells of summer quite like a fresh-picked tomato that’s still warm from the sun.
The very best are home-grown or bought from a Mediterranean market – a far cry from the uniformly shaped and coloured tomatoes that sit on supermarket shelves.
Sun-ripened vine tomatoes have an intensity of flavour, a blend of sweetness and acidity that’s perfect for summer dishes.
Although generally referred to as vegetables, tomatoes are actually fruits because they contain seeds, while they belong to the same botanical family as potatoes and deadly nightshade.
Native to South America, they have been used food since the days of the Aztecs and are packed with nutrients, including Vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene.
One of the best things about tomatoes is the sheer variety available. While most are red, there are also purple, orange, brown, pink, yellow, black, white and even striped varieties.
They can be grown in a greenhouse, outdoors in borders or containers while tumbling varieties are ideal for a hanging basket.
Start the seed off in late March indoors, putting the pots in a clear plastic bag on a windowsill, if you don’t have a propagator.
Prick out the seedlings when the first two true leaves appear and keep potting the plants on until all danger of frost is past, usually by the end of May. Then, as the first flowers appear, plant them in 9ins pots, growbags or into borders – remembering to harden them off before putting them outside.
When it comes to size there’s everything from tiny cherry tomatoes, the sort that are wonderful whole in a salad, to plum tomatoes that make the very best pasta sauce and giant beefsteak fruits that are fabulous grilled.
For a light summer lunch, pan-fry a handful of ripe tomatoes, some crushed garlic and freshly milled black pepper in a little olive oil and serve with some good crusty bread, or make a sandwich of thickly sliced tomatoes and peppery watercress.
Here’s another of my favourite recipes.
10 large tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
Preheat an oven to 200°C. Cut the tomatoes in half and place, cut side uppermost, on a baking tray.
Thinly slice the garlic cloves and put a slice on each tomato.
Add a basil leaf to each tomato and drizzle a little olive oil over them.
Roast for about an hour until the tomatoes are soft and oozing juice.
Remove from the oven and put a few drops of balsamic vinegar on each tomato.
Serve warm as part of a salad with lots of bread to mop up the juices.
Inspired by Delia Smith’s Roasted Tomato Salad