Pappardelle with slow roasted tomatoes and salami

This is all about small tomatoes, slow-roasted on a low heat until they intensify. In the previous post, I got a little misty eyed about eating an excellent example of these in Italy, and when I got back, I just had to make some. They’re really extraordinarily simple – the ingredients are tomatoes, heat, and time. There’s an option on a dash of balsamic vinegar, of course.

You juggle these simple variables until the texture and piquancy comes right, then you throw them through pasta or whack them on bruschetta, or just eat them with your fingers as soon as they’re cool enough to handle. This is a recipe for the former, but I will not judge you for the latter even a little.

Pappardelle with slow roasted tomatoes and salami

The tomatoes take a while, but they’ll keep, so you can prepare them in advance. That makes this a great weeknight, zero effort supper. Spend a lazy Sunday afternoon roasting tomatoes, and bung them in a jar. Then you can make dinner with them in about fifteen minutes.

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Alla Stella, Desenzano (Lake Garda, Italy)

We were looking for somewhere to eat on our last night in Lake Garda, and had a couple of places in mind. Some of the TripAdvisor reviews of Alla Stella were a little mixed, so we weren’t initially sure, but after sticking our heads round the door, we didn’t even bother looking at the rest of the places on our list. It smelled fantastic, and the ambience was spot on.

Crushed potatoes with anchovies and tomatoes

Alla Stella is jammed into a side street, a narrow building with a couple of rooms and a little covered courtyard. Embracing the bare-stone vaulted ceilings, but steering clearly away from twee stucco tourist tat, there’s a modern bar vibe with eclectic furniture. There’s glass and metal, and a really nifty fireplace. Basically, it’s what my living room would look like if I had money; right down to the giant hams hanging in a niche near the bar.

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Gazpacho soup

This weekend was glorious – a welcome little heatwave after a dingy May and June. So much so that on the train back from Brighton, all I could think about was making a batch of cooling, fresh gazpacho.

Gazpacho soup

It’s perfect. It’s like having an enormous Bloody Mary for dinner, but without the nagging risk that your friends will stage an intervention.

Tomatoes, cucumber, a little pepper, plenty of garlic, and some old bread are the core of it. Of course, being peasant food, everything – including the tomatoes – is subject to debate.

As is often the case, Felicity Cloake has done the hard work of untangling all of this so I don’t have to. I more or less just made her recipe.

I won’t give mine in full here – you can check it out online or pick up her book. But I will point up a few little tweaks. My tomatoes, for instance, weren’t quite ripe enough. They were a touch over acid, so I switched out the sherry vinegar for a heavy slug of actual fino sherry. I fucking love sherry.

At this point, of course, I practically was making a bloody mary, so I also added a stick of celery. The freshness of it works, and a single stick doesn’t overpower. The bread was rye, because that’s what I had. But I don’t think it really mattered much. If anything, it darkened the colour, and maybe sweetened a touch. Naturally, I stepped up the garlic.

The garnish is a little chorizo, fried with garlic and slivers of chilli. This is probably overkill, and can entirely be skipped.

Pressing everything through the sieve is a bit of a pain in the cock, but it’s worth it. The gazpacho is perfect for summer evenings with a little bread and wine. Or just the rest of the sherry.

Pasta with fennel sausage and tomatoes

Tomatoes are splendid, aren’t they? I think they’re probably at their best used fresh and sparingly, so a little of the acidity comes through. Oh, they’re great cooked down, rich and deep, too. But there’s something about dicing them fine and throwing them in with something as it fries that just works.

That’s what this is.

Fennel sausage, taken out of its skin and fried in lumps with a fine-diced onion, then thin slivers of mushroom, chilli, and garlic, with the tomato in at the end. A glug of sherry as it cooks down for 5 minutes, then toss it over pasta and you’re done.

This is so simple it barely counts as cooking, and you’re hard-pressed to make it take more than 20 minutes. But it’s tasty. The sausage is dense and rich, with the fennel coming through nicely. One large tomato seems to do the trick, in a nicely understated way, but it would take more.

The sausages are actually from Asda. I’m not massively proud of that; but, credit where it’s due: their weird regional range is not bad. The cooking chorizo is the weakest. The fennel sausages the best, and the bratwurst are far from poor.