Good tomatoes are finally here. Those of us who endure the long wait for sweet, ripe summer tomatoes are beginning to reap dividends, even if the very best ones won’t arrive until August or September.
Whether you’re in the garden, observing hard green fruits at last turning colour, or at the market, seeing flats of colourful tomatoes stacked high, it’s a thrill.
Small, medium and large heirloom varieties of all sizes come in many colours and have snappy names. Cherry tomatoes may be tiny, fat and round, oblong or pear shaped, in red, yellow, orange and burgundy. Traditional red slicers go by beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, Moscow and Ferris Wheel, not forgetting Early Girl and Better Boy. A host of others (they number in the thousands), with names like Mr Stripey, Nebraska Wedding and Pineapple, abound in rainbow hues.
A reminder, though: Even if a tomato has a fetching colour, it may not be ripe. The so-called heirlooms grown in hothouses and found in supermarkets year round are often mealy and can give true field-ripened heirlooms a bad name. If the fruit is hard, it won’t be sweet — it must look, feel and smell ripe.
The first tomatoes are best enjoyed sliced, sprinkled with salt and nothing more. Then it’s time to move on to tomato salads and salsas. For sweltering days, however, nothing beats a gazpacholike chilled soup.
I often make one using raw tomatoes, but if you have a grill going, charring the tomatoes adds a pleasant rusticity and a slightly smoky flavour. Don’t light a grill just to make this soup — a broiler will work just as well. But you can also char the tomatoes while grilling something else, then refrigerate them and make the soup the next day.
It’s a simple matter of pureeing the tomatoes, charred skins and all, with cilantro, coriander seeds, a touch of garlic and a splash of vinegar. When chilled, the soup is exceedingly refreshing.
But to up the interest factor and make it a bit more substantial, I spoon in some quartered cherry tomatoes and a dollop of fresh ricotta or thick yoghurt.
It is served in a soup bowl, but you may wonder: Is this a soupy salad or a saladlike soup? No matter — it’s cool, delicious and full of sweet, summery tomato flavour.
Charred Tomato Soup With Coriander and Cilantro
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 30 minutes, plus chilling
- 3 pounds ripe red tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch of ground cayenne
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 2 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (from 2 bunches)
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, mixed colours, cut in quarters
- 1 cup fresh ricotta or thick yoghurt
- 2 tablespoons snipped chives, for garnish
- Prepare a charcoal grill or light the broiler. Remove cores from tomatoes and cut them in half horizontally. Season with salt and pepper on both sides and brush lightly with olive oil.
- Place tomatoes skin-side down on the grill and leave for about 10 minutes, until skins are blackened and tomatoes have softened slightly. (If using the broiler, place the tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet skin-side up and broil for 10 minutes.) Transfer tomatoes to a large bowl.
- Add garlic, cayenne, coriander seeds, cilantro, 2 tablespoons olive oil and sherry vinegar. Stir all ingredients together. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow flavours to marry.
- Puree tomato mixture with a blender or food processor. Strain through a medium mesh sieve, if desired. Thin with a little water if too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chill well. (The soup will taste best if served within a few hours.)
- Put cherry tomatoes in a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.
- To serve, ladle the soup into chilled shallow bowls. Put a large spoonful of ricotta on top, and spoon cherry tomatoes over. Sprinkle with chives.