Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Tomatoes on toast
This is a breakfast dish, and if you’re thinking the name is deceptively simple and that there’s more to it than that, well… you’re wrong.
Does champagne get better if you add something to it? Does everything improve with the addition of mayonnaise or mustard?
The fact is that tomatoes are never seen as the headline act, whatever you do with them. And that is a shame, because, just as people who are living in someone’s shadow can blossom when given the senior position, so tomatoes, which usually play a supporting role to sausages, bacon etc, have a clean, succulent flavor of their own if you just give them a chance.
We’re talking about fresh tomatoes here. The canned ones might be fine in Bolognese, chilli and so on, but they have no place on a breakfast plate. In that context they are an abomination, a dull, watery pool of blandness. But fresh ones: now you’re talking.
Where I come from – Guernsey, in the Channel Islands – the tomato industry was the chief source of income for many in the 1950s and 60s, until air travel made it just as easy for UK importers to bring them in from Spain and Holland. Ours even had a sort of character as their figurehead: Guernsey Tom.
Things have changed since those days, with different varieties available anywhere at any time of year. Now they range from the giant “beefsteak” type to the tiny “cherry tomatoes”, both of which, to this observer, are valued more for their size than their flavor.
What I’m advocating is a plain old Satsuma-shaped tomato. Some of the plum ones are good too, but make sure they’re juicy enough. The juice is all there with the seeds in the middle and if those cavities are dry, the flavor has disappeared.
Ripeness is key, too. When they’re really ripe, red and soft, the flavor is sweeter and the texture more delicate. That might right for many fruits, but not for tomatoes.
For the best breakfast, they need to be orange – just before full ripeness.
Two medium size tomatoes per person
Two slices of good wholemeal bread per person.
Try to avoid the kinds of bread that are sweet, which means a lot of mass-produced American loaves. In the UK and elsewhere this obviously shouldn’t be a problem – just make sure it’s wholemeal, not the characterless white stuff – and of course there must be bakers in the US who can control their urge to make everything sugary, but when I lived on a Caribbean island where everything was brought in from Miami, there wasn’t a decent slice of bread in the whole place. Then a Canadian friend baked some of his own and the island was in raptures.
Slice the tomatoes horizontally, discarding the top and bottom. You should get four slices; aim for a quarter of an inch thick, but not much thinner. Too thin and it will fall apart in the pan.
Heat a little oil in a decent, fairly substantial frying pan. Get it medium hot. Fry the tomatoes for just a minute or so. They are mainly liquid so they cook in no time.
Toast the bread and spread with butter or good margarine.
Put slices of tomato on each slice of toast – enough tomato to cover it.
Give them a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
You can have a cold-tomato toasted sandwich too. Just toast two slices of bread and slice the tomatoes straight from the fridge. A little butter, salt and pepper, put it together and eat it with your hands. You’ll be amazed.