Finally, the sun is out. England is basking in a humdinger of a heat-wave and there are a lot of grouchy faces because of it. Britain simply can’t cope in extreme weather. We’re used to the sultry heights of 25°C which is an excuse for us to strip down to swimwear and sunbathe. Right now, it’s 33°C and the heat blasts like an oven when you step outside the safety of your cool home. I write this as I sit and sweat in the garden which is devoid of cooling breezes. It’s almost like self-torture.
Is it true you lose your appetite in hot weather? As, quite frankly, I haven’t noticed. My plate is just as full as always, and my instinct to help myself to seconds hasn’t evaporated in the heat. What has changed are my cravings – naturally. Ice cream is top of the list, enough for me to trek to the local ice cream parlour like someone lost in the desert crawling to an oasis. My mum and I have been slurping up bowlfuls of Häagen-Dazs; chocolate with crushed hazelnuts, banana and blueberries, vanilla with raspberries and flaked almonds, like DIY knickerbocker glories. You see, I need a reward after all that self-torture.
My current craving, however, is vegetables. If only that was the case after dinner when all I want is a chocolate brownie.
Throughout my journey across Mexico, all my fellow travellers and I wanted was a plate of broccoli. Simple steamed broccoli. Now, back home and missing tacos, I can have all the broccoli I want and believe me I’m piling all sorts of greenery onto my plate. My mum and I have been concocting all sorts of adventurous salads – although I appreciate that sounds like a contradiction. Yes, salads can be adventurous! Dear reader, embrace the salad! Too long have we associated the word ‘salad’ with a bowl of iceberg lettuce and a few pieces of chopped cucumber. A bag of leaves can complement bold robust flavours such as roasted grapes and crumbled goats cheese, plus a zingy orange and garlic vinaigrette; or a steaming bowl of hot new potatoes can be tossed in miso and lime, and showered in roughly chopped coriander for a fresh potato salad.
At the moment, lunches are salad and dinners are salad, that is, until you find a simple vegetable recipe that makes your mouth water, and you know it would complement that salad perfectly. This particular recipe is Nigel Slater’s Tomatoes, Basil and Breadcrumbs. Thick slices of tomato are roasted in a baking dish until sizzling and juicy. Meanwhile you whiz some bread and basil in a food processor with a drizzle of oil, forming vivid green breadcrumbs which smell incredible then pack them down onto the hot tomatoes creating a vibrant crust. Finally, when the kitchen smells sweet and heady like an Italian trattoria, and the breadcrumbs are golden brown you can carry the dish to the table and scoop out big servings of the sloppy tomatoes and that crunchy yet juice-soaked crust.
Such simplicity needs little tweaking, however, I added a handful of capers to draw out the sweetness of the tomatoes, and a grating of lemon zest to the breadcrumbs, both alleviating the dish with extra freshness. The crust is intensely savoury with basil while the tomatoes are rich and sweet after their long roasting. Alongside a bowl of green salad with sharp dressing, these basil-crusted tomatoes can stay, and so can the heat-wave.
Tomatoes, basil and breadcrumbs
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe
5 or 6 large tomatoes
100g white bread
6 cherry tomatoes
A handful of capers
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/395°F. Slice each tomato into thick rounds, three or four slices per tomato. Arrange them in a layer in a baking dish and season with salt and pepper then top with the remaining tomato slices before seasoning again. Drizzle with a little olive oil and slide into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
- Break up the bread and throw into a food processor along with the basil. Whiz until the bread has broken down into crumbs and turned bright green. Season with a little lemon zest and add a splash of olive oil and blitz again.
- Once the tomatoes are roasted and juicy remove from the oven and sprinkle over the capers and the remaining cherry tomatoes. Cover with the green breadcrumbs and pack them down so they don’t scorch.
- Return the dish to the oven for 20-25 minutes. Once golden and bubbling it is ready to serve.