MATT PRESTON

Like Romeo to Juliet, Bon­nie to Clyde and Bert to Ernie, Matt Preston makes the case for the ev­er­last­ing (de­li­cious) love be­tween cheese and to­mato.

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - MATT PRESTON Head to de­li­cious.com.au for recipes.

The cheese and to­mato love af­fair.

IF THREE mildly frus­trated tweets are enough for the on­line me­dia to de­clare that the in­ter­net was “up in arms” about some­one’s ac­tions, then the re­ac­tion to my col­umn on the joys of pota­toes and cheese last month caused a mael­strom.

Most of the tweets (I think there were five or maybe six, mak­ing this a gen­uine “up­roar”) seemed to be a lit­tle per­turbed that potato was not the nat­u­ral part­ner for cheese – in much the same way that I would not be the nat­u­ral part­ner for Kim, An­gelina or one of the Wood­ies.

Onion maybe? Grapes pos­si­bly? Pick­les, def­i­nitely! But above all these, cheese ap­par­ently be­longs with to­mato bet­ter than ev­ery­thing else. Even if we leave out the in­ter­net’s ob­ses­sion with the Capri salad (toma­toes, moz­zarella, basil in its most ba­sic form), there is a rather good case to be made that this may well be true. Let me lay it out…

PASTA TOP­PINGS

Whether it’s lit­tle polpette meat­balls bob­bing in a to­mato sugo dusted with a finely grated pecorino, or your toma­toey Aussie bolog­nese with a good shake of parme­san, the dou­ble umami hit of cheese and to­mato is more than a lit­tle magic. I’d even ar­gue that a good mac ’n’ cheese can be lifted with the bright­ness of halved cherry toma­toes cob­bling its cheesy top. This was my mum’s orig­i­nal way to stop us putting to­mato sauce on our macacroni cheese, but even now a good glob of ketchup is the guilty se­cret for more than a few food­ies who ought to know bet­ter. Can­nel­loni, lasagne and many pasta bakes, plus a clas­sic egg­plant parmi­giana or chicken parma/ parmie, all also ben­e­fit from this li­ai­son.

CHEESE AND TO­MATO SAND­WICH

Fresh, or even aged a lit­tle so the to­mato juice soaks into the bread turn­ing it soft and blush­ing slightly, any cheese and to­mato sand­wich is a thing of beauty. The cheese brings salt and savouri­ness that en­livens bright, fat slices of su­per-ripe toma­toes. Turn this into a toastie and things hit new heights as the cheese goes all melty and the toma­toes turn to an al­most-pickle like sludge with­out los­ing their fresh­ness.

NA­CHOS

Sure, the orig­i­nal na­chos were just jalapenos and grilled cheese on corn chips (or to be more ac­cu­rate, fried bits of stale flat­bread), but these are so much bet­ter with a to­mato salsa or even just cubes of to­mato cheek added to the mix be­fore bak­ing. (Keep the seeds to sea­son your gua­camole to go with it, as the gel around them has so much flavour).

TO­MATO TARTE TATIN

I feel there is some­thing in­trin­si­cally wrong about pair­ing to­mato with a cus­tard, whether in a dessert or a quiche – it’s some­thing about eggs and to­mato. Or is that just me? I can’t think of any great egg and to­mato dishes un­less herbs or cheese are also in play. Far bet­ter to en­list the help of goat’s cheese and make a savoury to­mato tarte Tatin dec­o­rated with dol­lops of goat curd. Use a parme­san pas­try to in­ten­sify this mar­riage.

ROAST TOMA­TOES

Roast­ing toma­toes de­hy­drates them, mak­ing them more in­tense and sweeter. Do this to a few pun­nets of cherry toms then try tum­bling a cou­ple of hand­fuls of them over a wedge of baked ri­cotta with sliv­ers cut from a few sweet, pink an­chovy fil­lets. Quicker is to split them in half, re­move the seeds, dust with a lit­tle caster su­gar and pop them un­der the grill. These tof­fee toma­toes are ex­cel­lent with the milk­i­ness of gen­tly warmed haloumi or served on an ’80s-style chicken breast stuffed with a herbed soft cheese like Boursin.

FRIED CHEESE

Ital­ians, Greeks and Amer­i­cans are all united in their love of fried cheese. Try serv­ing wedges of crumbed and fried ta­leg­gio with a sim­ple fresh salad of heir­loom toma­toes and finely sliced shal­lots, or nuggets of crumbed and fried soft goat’s cheese with a thick to­mato rel­ish, smoky with a lit­tle smoked pa­prika and fra­grant with lots of gar­lic. This rel­ish would also go rather well with cheesy Span­ish cro­que­tas, or golden Si­cil­ian arancini balls that have a shot of stringy moz­zarella at their cen­tre.

SALAD

Whether you are mak­ing a Greek salad with feta, toma­toes, cu­cum­ber, olives and dill; a French-style to­mato salad with fresh tar­ragon and crum­bled ashed goat’s cheese; or ri­cotta, plum and to­mato salad with chervil and an acid-for­ward vinai­grette, it is the per­fect bal­ance of sweet­ness, acid­ity and juici­ness of the toma­toes that goes won­der­fully with the salti­ness and creami­ness of those young cheeses.

PIZZA

While the sweet-sour in­ten­sity of the to­mato sauce on a Neapoli­tan or New York-style ‘mari­nara’ – as in ‘fish­er­men’s’ – pizza is pretty ace, add milky lo­cal moz­zarella and it be­comes a dish fit for a queen: the ‘margherita’. For me, this is the pin­na­cle of pizza per­fec­tion.

GNOCCHI

I love light ri­cotta gnocchi with lit­tle more than a fresh Napoli sauce (toma­toes, onions, gar­lic) and a lit­tle parme­san. (This goes equally well with potato gnocchi, but I’d rather not men­tion pota­toes and cheese again.)

ON CHEESE­CAKE?

We all know they’re of­fi­cially a fruit, so maybe that will make it less of a shock when I sug­gest poach­ing peeled cherry toma­toes in a su­gar syrup to use on top of a cheese­cake. Just re­duce the su­gar in the cheese­cake mix and pump up the salt in the base to bal­ance it out.

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