Nigel Slater Young and full of flavour: mak­ing the most of new sea­son veg

The Observer Magazine - - CONTENTS - Pho­to­graphs JONATHAN LOVEKIN

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

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