Nigel Slater Young and full of flavour: making the most of new season veg
I like to roast tomatoes until their skins blacken. A little pressure from your fork and their skins split, their juices – warm, tart-sweet and smoky – will spurt joyously on to your plate. It’s best to eat them with something that will benefit from those juices, such as a mound of soft orange lentil mash, baked field mushrooms or a roast red mullet.
This week I roasted tomatoes to mash into a fluffy pile of sweet potato and they did not disappoint. We ate the dish as it was, but it would have been very much at home with a soldierly row of grilled sardines or a chop whose sweet rim of fat would have appreciated their juice. All the more if there was a little new, mauve and white garlic involved.
There is nothing sadder than a warm, slightly undercooked tomato. A less than generous amount of heat does nothing for the fruit, the juices will weep pallidly from pale pink flesh. My advice is to take things to extremes. Roast those tomatoes in a searingly hot oven until their scarlet skins are scorched, until they flake and pucker and the sweet-sour notes intensify. (I feel much the same way about peppers.)
This has actually been a veg-centric week. Apart from another outing for the roast new potatoes and creamed spinach from last month’s OFM (the recipe is online), we also downed a sweet and earthy salad of new carrots and beetroots with a miso dressing. The salad was planned (as much as I ever plan anything that goes on my table) to hitch a ride with some roast shoulder of lamb left from the weekend, but there was barely more than the bones left, so the salad, with its dressing of honey, ginger, miso, mirin and sake took centre stage. Next time I might fold some pieces of salmon through the vegetables, lightly grilled and broken into fat, pale pink flakes.
Spiced sweet potato, roast tomato
As the tomatoes roast, their juices will leak into the olive oil, forming a sweet-sharp base to which to add the mustard seeds and turmeric. A handful of curry leaves, tossed in with mustard seeds, wouldn’t go amiss. Let the leaves warm for a minute or two in the hot oil with the mustard seeds, just long enough to lightly infuse the dressing with their earthy warmth. Serves 3-4 sweet potatoes 850g cherry tomatoes on the vine 500g olive oil 8 tbsp onions 2 medium garlic 2 medium cloves turmeric 2 level tsp yellow mustard seeds 3 tsp Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel the sweet potatoes, then cut them in half lengthways, then into thick chunks, as you might for boiling. Place the sweet potatoes in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water, then cover them with a tight lid and let them steam to tenderness – a matter of 20 minutes or so. Test them every 5 minutes with a skewer.
Put the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish, tossing them with half of the olive oil and grinding over just a little salt. Roast the tomatoes for about 20 minutes until their skins have blackened. While the sweet potatoes steam and the tomatoes roast, peel and thinly slice the onions, and cook them in the remaining olive oil in a shallow pan until they are soft and golden. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and stir it into the softening onions. When the onions and garlic are ready, scoop them out into a small bowl.
Drain the juices from the tomatoes into the pan in which you cooked the onions and place over a moderate heat, then stir in the turmeric, letting it sizzle for a moment, then add the mustard seeds and a little black pepper. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, remove from