When you come in from the garden after thinning out the laterals in the tomatoes or picking them off the vine, the backs of your hands are always yellowy, as if they are coated in a powdery pollen and your fingers are stained a dirty dark green. It's really hard to get off, and when you use soap the yellow stuff turns an intense green and no matter how hard you try, inevitably it ends up on the handtowel as this verdant green stain. It always smells good - that essence of summer, when the grass is starting to turn brown in the heat and the garden is overflowing with zucchinis, tomatoes and more basil than you know what to do with - but it's hellish to get off.
Commercial growers call this offending substance tomato tar. Like most plants, tomatoes are smart about the way they protect themselves, and this yellow "tar", which exists on the leaves, stems and skin of the fruit, contains compounds called acylsugars. These form together to create a fast-drying glue that helps defend the plant from microscopic predators, giving them the equivalent of concrete boots and stopping them from moving around the plant causing damage.
Acylsugars aren't soluble in water, and soap doesn't work as it is alkaline, which is why they're so hard to wash off. I've read up on lots of ways to get these tomato stains off your hands - some people use citric acid, some lemon and salt and some even suggest Jif or floor-cleaning liquid.
I have found that to cut open a green tomato and then work your hands into the flesh works the best. The acid in the tomato lifts off the offending acylsugars. After you have rubbed the tomato all over your hands, just use soap and water to wash it all off and, voila, your hands are now clean and unstained. You could also use vinegar.
When tomatoes smell really good I know they are going to taste good too. The other thing that makes them taste good - if you are a grower - is potassium. My dad always used to use a heavy seaweed mulch around his tomatoes. It promotes flowering and fruiting and also delivers that real summer tomato taste. Now you need a recipe that makes the most of this wonderful flavour hit.
Tender Tomato Tart
Ready in 50 mins
Serves 4 for lunch
1 sheet flaky puff pastry
2 Tbsp tomato relish or other relish
60g feta, crumbled
20 cherry tomatoes or 5 medium tomatoes, very thinly sliced
1 Tbsp boutique extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 220C and place pastry on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Fold in 1cm edges all the way around pastry. Spread centre with relish and sprinkle with feta. Top with tomato slices, slightly overlapping. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Bake until edges are puffed (about 10 minutes), then reduce heat to 180C until pastry is golden and crunchy and tomato juices have evaporated (25 minutes). Serve immediately.
Annabel says: Keeping sheets of flaky pastry in the freezer means this tart can easily be made for a simple weekend lunch or light dinner with a salad. You can swap the tomato relish for 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard to spread over the pastry - this gives the tart a classic French twist.
Pico de Gallo
Ready in 5 mins + standing
Makes about 3 cups
4 tomatoes, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 Tbsp very finely diced red onion or spring onion
4 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp boutique extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tsp finely chopped red or green chilli, or more to taste
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp fine black pepper
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
Mix all ingredients except coriander leaves in a bowl and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop.
When ready to serve, taste and adjust seasonings, including chilli and sugar. Stir in coriander and serve with barbecued beef.
Annabel says: This nifty little salsa is my go-to over the summer. It's such a fabulous whip-together that makes the perfect snack with corn chips and also doubles as a sauce to transform grilled chicken or steak.
Harvest Tomato Sauce
Ready in 2¼ hours + cooling
Makes 5-6 cups
1.5kg tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
2 red peppers, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small red chilli, deseeded and chopped (optional)
1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
¼ cup tomato paste
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 160C and line a roasting dish with baking paper for easy clean-up. Arrange the tomatoes, peppers and onion in the dish - they need to cook in a single layer so they caramelise rather than stew, so use two roasting dishes if necessary. Add the garlic, chilli, if using, and rosemary. Mix together the tomato paste, sugar, olive oil, salt and pepper, drizzle over the vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Spread out in a single layer. Bake for about 1-1¼ hours or until the vegetables are starting to caramelise and shrivel. Allow to cool. Transfer to a food processor or blender and whizz to a puree. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week or can be frozen. Alternatively, bring to a boil and, while very hot, pour into sterilised jars, overflow with boiling water and seal with sterilised lids. Sealed jars will keep for months in the pantry.
Annabel says: This incredibly useful sauce is great tossed through pasta, as a base for soup, added to casseroles and pan sauces, and spread on to bread with cheese for a simple lunch snack. It's brilliant with meatballs and a tasty base for steamed mussels. I like to make it in bulk when tomatoes are in season and freeze or bottle it.