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Getting Bodacious with British Tomatoes and Basil

By Karen Burns-Booth •


As we approach tomato season, Karen shares her love of home grown tomatoes. Along with the health benefits of this versatile fruit she presents a tasty recipe for Tomato Tea Sandwiches with Basil Butter.

 

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It’s British Tomato Week and for me that means celebrating all that is wonderful about our own home-grown tomatoes … that amazing tomato smell when they are freshly picked and the sweet, fruity taste they impart to any meal, from sandwiches to casseroles and pasta dishes. As we all know, the tomato is in fact a fruit – a “pomme d’amour” (apple of love) as the French call them, based on the thought that tomatoes had aphrodisiac qualities, and they are just as delicious in dessert dishes, such as cakes, tarts, sorbets and ice-cream as they are in savoury recipes.

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British Tomato Week is a great way to showcase locally grown tomatoes and when they are IN season; local tomatoes are available from April onwards, but it’s May when they start to be more prolific, and you will start to see that welcome “Union Jack” sign on all the packets in the supermarkets. There are many varieties of home-grown tomatoes, and not just the “cherry” tomatoes and “vine-ripened” generic tomatoes that you see in the larger shops. Popular varieties with bags of flavour which can be grown at home include “Gardener’s Delight”, “Sungold” and good old “Money Maker”. Also look out for the more unusual varieties such as “Black Krim” and “Zebra”.

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As well as tasting delicious, tomatoes are a great source of vitamins A,C and E. They also contain potassium which is known to be effective in lowering high blood pressure and calcium, which we all know is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Tomatoes are also known, more recently, to be helpful in the prevention of cancer, as this extract explains from the British Tomato Growers Association website:

“What is the link between tomatoes and cancer prevention?

The vitamins and antioxidants found in tomatoes are thought to combat the harmful effects of free radicals (rogue molecules) that cause cell damage - a precursor of conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Although their role as antioxidants is the most popular explanation for the benefit of tomatoes and their constituents in the diet, not all scientists agree with this theory and some believe that other mechanisms are involved. Whatever the means, there seems no disagreement about the potential benefits.

Recent research has shown that the pigment lycopene, the stuff that makes most ripe tomatoes red, may be particularly active in protecting the body against heart disease and some forms of cancer. Lycopene is more readily absorbed into the bloodstream when tomatoes are cooked with certain oils, such as olive oil. Processed tomatoes may contain high levels of lycopene but also additives such as salt (up to a hundred times more than in fresh tomatoes!) and sugar and are not produced to the same production protocols as fresh British tomatoes.

Research has shown that ripe, British tomatoes have a considerably higher lycopene content than was thought to be the case (up to three times the usually quoted figures), especially when compared with imported, long-life types, which are low in lycopene. The ideal solution is to eat fresh British tomatoes, both raw and cooked and we have lots of delicious recipes for both.”

To celebrate the British tomato, I am sharing one of my most popular sandwich recipes, Tomato Tea Sandwiches with Basil Butter. It’s what I call a “tea sandwich” insofar as they are cut into “ribbons”, as is often found on a “posh” afternoon tea sandwich platter. The sandwiches are made with crust less bread (save the crusts for home-made breadcrumbs later) and to accompany the sweetness of seasonal British tomatoes, I make a simple basil butter, as basil and tomatoes are a wonderful marriage of flavours.

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Tomato Tea Sandwiches with Basil Butter Recipe:

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

8 slices granary or brown bread, crusts cut off

50g salted butter, softened

Large handful of basil leaves; finely cut (I used Greek basil as the leaves are smaller)

Sea salt

Black pepper

4 large British tomatoes

Method:

Add the chopped basil leaves to the softened butter and mix well; adjust seasoning with more salt and black pepper.

Thinly slice the tomatoes, and set to one side.

Butter all of the slices of bread with the basil butter and then carefully lay the sliced tomatoes on half the slices of buttered bread. Add a little more sea salt if desired, and then place a buttered slice of bread over the top and cut into four “ribbons”.

Serve immediately with any extra tomato slices on the side and some fresh basil leaves as a garnish.

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As well as this recipe, I have many more tomato recipes that are perfect as we approach the British tomato season: Smoked Cheese and Cherry Tomato Rarebit, Wild Haddock with Smoked Sea Salt Crust and Cherry Tomato Scramble, Lemon Chicken with Cannellini Beans and Rosemary Tomatoes and French Egg & Tomato Breakfast Tartine. There are also some amazingly tasty recipes on the British Tomatoes website here: British Tomato Growers Association Recipes. For those readers with children, I can recommend the following pages for Tomato Fun and Facts – The Tomato Zone for 5 to 11 year olds and The Tomato Zone for 11 to 16 year olds.

Do TRY to join in this year and support British tomatoes and tomato growers; look out for the SPECIALLY labelled packets on all major supermarkets and of course continue to support your local grower’s via farm shops, greengrocers and small market stalls. National events include in-store tastings in different supermarket branches, as well as nursery tours and local events.

For more delicious tomato recipes - visit Great British Chefs inspiring collection.

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Karen Burns-Booth

Karen Burns-Booth is creative freelance food writer & blogger. Her love of seasonal food & recipes stems from her childhood observing her grandmother and mother’s cookery skills. A regular contributor in Country Kitchen magazine, she currently writes for numerous other publications, food, travel and tourism websites and has several recipes in print in compilation cookbooks. She is currently working on a Historical British Cookbook.

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