In the few years before starting the beautiful journey that is writing a cookbook, I have been working for a company that sources excellent fruits and vegetables from the continent. Predictably, what I liked most about my job (which happened to be rather polyhedric in its own right), was the travelling, and that’s because these working trips gave me the chance to visit some very inspiring growers and farms all over Italy.
During one of these rather serendipitous trips, I got to meet an old tomato grower from Liguria. In a market dominated by mass-produced, tasteless tomatoes, seeing that he can still make a living growing heirloom Bull’s Heart tomatoes (outdoors and extensively) was nothing short of enlightening. Even more eye-opening, then, was seeing people willing to pay a premium for them. They all seemed to say they were worth every penny, not just because their flavour was outwardly, but because these wonderful tomatoes reminded them of their trip to the Italian riviera. I could really see their point.
That food and memory are strongly bound is no surprise. Certain foods, however, seem to be able to trigger stronger feelings than others, and tomatoes are definitely one of them. It might be their umami nature or the fact that they are actually a savoury-sweet fruit; or that they are often paired with delicious things like pasta and pizza and bread and cheese. Whatever the answer, good tomatoes can truly win people’s heart, leaving a permanent mark on our flavour memory.
Of course, an important role is also played by the location. Eating a delicious tomato salad under a sunny pergola while on holiday in Tuscany has a very different impact on us than eating it in our tiny flat in the city. I might be wrong, but in my experience, food always tastes better when on holiday, or, in the case of expats like me, when at home.
I have always been lucky to have access to homegrown tomatoes, and I’m forever nostalgic about their unmatched sunny flavour. Among my favourites is a type of San Marzano selected by Grandpa throughout the years. Then, a kind of gnarly heirloom Bull’s Heart; and the candy-sweet Datterini. To each is assigned a specific role in the kitchen. Slightly under-ripe Bull’s Hearts, for instance, would give their best in a simple salad with mozzarella and basil. Soft, vermillion San Marzano would make an excellent fresh tomato sauce. As for the baby ones (Cherry and Datterino), they would be either eaten as they were or else worked into any sorts of summer salad.
Which leads me to this multicoloured farro medley. At a first glance, the recipe might look a bit laborious, but it’s in fact quite simple. In it, I tossed some wild, wild rocket (this year, for a strike of luck, I managed to harvest some on the sand dunes of the Venetian coast); and cherry tomatoes from the garden – slow roasted to concentrate their sugars and minerals. Sundried tomatoes, for their part, serve as flavour boosters. In general, I prefer simply dried tomatoes to those packed in oil, but feel free to use whatever you can find.
Roasted Tomatoes Farro Salad with Rocket Pesto
300 g farro (semi-pearled)
1 tablespoon rock sea salt
400 g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
50 g sun-dried tomatoes
For the rocket almond pesto:
100 g wild rocket
30 g whole almonds
25 g Parmesan cheese
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
½ small garlic clove, peeled and cored
Fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful of rocket, for garnishing
50 g whole almonds, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 120°C/250°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment; arrange the tomatoes on top, cut side up. Season with a small pinch of salt and a little pepper and throw in the crushed garlic, too. Roast for 1 ½ hour, or until they look wrinkly but still have a bit of juice inside them. Remove from the oven, discard the garlic and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the pesto by blitzing together all the ingredients until you have a smooth, bright green pesto (add more oil if needed, to help it come together). Cover with cling film and refrigerate until ready to use. Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in warm water and leave to soften for half an hour. Drain and cut into strips. Set aside.
Next, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the rock salt, allow to dissolve, then add the farro and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until tender but still holding its shape. Drain and toss with the pesto and the sun-dried tomatoes. Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a large platter and garnish with rocket leaves. Scatter the roasted cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped almonds on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
More recipes with tomatoes:
This post was created in collaboration with Kuoni to promote their campaign, The Secret World of Italian Tomatoes. The goal of this campaign is to connect the notions of flavour, place and memory by exploring the evocative nature of tomatoes in all its declinations, while also highlighting the many regional differences (and excellences) Italy has. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.