Nigel Slater: Pulped fiction

I picked the last of the tomatoes at eight this morning. Two ridged Marmande, an ochre and mauve Black Prince and a clutch of Golden Plum that hung like a bag of baubles and were just as gaudy. I ate two for breakfast, crumbling salt into the gaping wounds left by each bite. They were sweet, sharp, and warm from the morning sun.

There were others. One plant died early on, the poor thing begging me for water. Another just gave up, as if life was too much trouble and collapsed in a dead faint. Compost. Now the rest are in the oven, surrounding a small leg of Welsh lamb in a cast-iron pot, its bone still in place, roasting with whole heads of garlic, oregano from the herb patch, and the balsamic vinegar that lies forgotten at the back of the cupboard. For all its mellow undertones, syrupy balsamic is a difficult seasoning. I use it with utmost care. It works here though, its deep, sweet soul lifted by the acidity of the tomatoes.

Together, garlic and tomatoes are a gift from above, but best when the garlic is thinly sliced or gently squashed under the blade of the kitchen knife. The more you cut garlic, the more pungent it is. Crushing or chopping is too bullying with this fruit. Softly, softly is the way with tomatoes and garlic. This time I have smashed open the whole head, peeled away its papery skin, and tucked the bare cloves in among the roasting fruit. Together they will moisten the lamb and imbue it with something faintly Mediterranean. The vinegar and oregano will add savour and depth. Lamb can sometimes disappoint.

It need not have been lamb. Those tomatoes, fat from the summer rain but caught here and there by the sun (the leaves have dried to a crisp), would have added much to whole Cornish red mullet braised with fennel and black olives; ciabatta from the corner shop toasted on the grill and rubbed with garlic; a pizza piled with ricotta, olive oil and black pepper cracked rather than crushed. Then again, I could have had them for breakfast, on toast, with salt and, for once, no basil.

I could have roasted them. It's a lazy sauce for pasta, but I know of none better. I tip the fruits whole into a roasting dish. Mill black pepper over them. Strew them with oregano, marjoram or thyme. Shake the olive oil bottle over them then a flick of sea salt. They roast politely for 20 minutes, then their skins start to blister and pop. They turn black at the edges. They show the sweet-sharp juice that lies in their guts. I do no more to them than crush them with a fork before tossing the resulting black and red slush with spaghetti. If there is basil, fine, if not then just a shake more of oil, pepper and salt.

I fed the plants once a week with tomato food from Woolworths. In return, they brought blue and white butterflies and once a slow-moving red admiral into the garden. I surrounded them with marigolds to drive away the aphids, and mahogany nasturtiums to collect their blackfly. A friend's father taught me to pick out the new shoots that pop up at the elbow. Bees buzzed at their little yellow flowers before heading off to the rosemary and who knows where.

If there were green ones left on the vine I would roll them in cornmeal and fry them in oil. Then I would sandwich them in a bun with garlic mayonnaise. Or I could dig out a chutney recipe, though there seems to be more green tomato chutney made than was ever eaten.

I didn't choose to grow these fruits. They were a gift from a kind and gluttonous gardener. Now I am hooked. Next year I will grow another crop, this time up sticks in an open bed, so that the air and scorching sun can get to them better. I will make soup and salads with buffalo mozzarella and peppery, cinnamon-scented basil. And at the end of the year I will roast them once again with lamb. A tomato could have no better send-off.

Roast leg of lamb with tomato gravy

Serves 6

2kg leg of lamb
a little olive oil
2 whole heads of garlic
750g tomatoes
50ml olive oil
50ml balsamic vinegar
several sprigs of oregano

Set the oven at 230 C/gas mark 8. Rub the lamb all over with a little olive oil. Season the fat and any flesh you can get at with salt and black pepper and lay it in a roasting tin, then tuck the heads of garlic, halved and tossed in a little olive oil, under the meat. Roast in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Turn down the heat to 200 C/gas mark 6 and continue cooking for a further 30 minutes.

Cut the larger tomatoes in half and toss them in a bowl with a grinding of salt and pepper, the 50ml of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and the oregano leaves pulled from their stems. After the 30 minutes cooking at 200 C/gas mark 6, tip the tomatoes and their dressing round the lamb and continue roasting for a further 25 minutes.

Remove the lamb from the roasting tin and leave it to rest, somewhere warm and with a bowl or tea towel over it. This will keep the flesh moist and allow it to relax. Please, don't skip this resting, it will keep the meat much juicier than if you hack at it the second it comes from the oven. Turn the oven up to 230 C/gas mark 8. Return the tomatoes and pan juices to the oven and leave them for 10-15 minutes while the meat rests. Take the roasting tin from the oven and remove about a third of the roast tomatoes and keep them warm. Using a potato masher or a draining spoon, squash the remaining tomatoes and the garlic into the pan juices. Tip the lot into a sieve suspended over a warm bowl or saucepan. Push the tomato pulp through the sieve with a wooden spoon then discard the remains. Check the seasoning of the tomato 'gravy' underneath, and correct it with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. I tend to heat it up for a minute, too, but then I like my gravy really hot.

Carve the lamb and serve with the roasted tomatoes and tomato gravy.

Roast tomato salad

Here's one of those rather useful vegetable dishes which can be eaten as a side order to a grilled chop, say, or as a dish in its own right. You'll need some bread mop up the salty-sweet-oily juices. Serves 2.

6 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
2 plump cloves of garlic, peeled
6 anchovy fillets, rinsed
a good handful of basil leaves
olive oil, probably about 90ml

You need a hot oven, 200 C/gas mark 6. Cut the tomatoes in half and place them, cut-side up, in an ovenproof dish. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until soft and about to collapse. The tomatoes that is, not you. Meanwhile, crush the garlic, anchovies, basil, a very little salt and some ground black pepper to a thick slush with the olive oil. A pestle and mortar will give a more interesting texture than a blender here. When you take the tomatoes out of the oven, pour over the dressing and serve while still warm, with good bread to mop up the juices.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.