Pasta sauce, soup, chutney, stuffed, roasted, raw… the tomato is one of the most versatile ingredients for chefs and a key flavour in many recipes. Varying in size, colour and shape, from small cherry tomatoes to oval-shaped plum to big beef tomatoes, these fruit gems are a favourite on all menus. As part of our Tutored Tasting series, chefs Grant McPherson, of Rhubarb Food Design, Neil Carpenter, of the Hurlingham Club, and Virgil Naslenas, of Elior UK, were given the opportunity to taste a diverse range of tomatoes grown and provided by Nutbourne Nursery in West Sussex and hosted by New Covent Garden Market distributor Allison Risebro.
Nutbourne's tomatoes are a fine example of the quality of the heritage varieties that British growers are now producing, and it has been growing tomatoes since 1979. Duncan Allison of Allison Risebro guides us through a selection.
CHERRY VINE (PICCOLO TYPE)
Properties Small, round, bright red tomatoes. Aromatic with a super-sweet flavour.
Usage The wonderful flavour means they are great on their own or as a garnish.
Notes Leave these out of the fridge to ripen fully on the vine.
ORANGE CLASSIC VINE
Properties Sweet and juicy when fully ripe. Mild fruity flavour and less tough than some of the other varieties.
Usage Well suited to slicing in sandwiches. Their fleshy texture makes them ideal for cooking.
Notes These are heritage tomatoes grown with great care and attention, and therefore they are all unique. No two boxes are the same, making it more exciting for chefs.
COCOA CHERRY AND COCOA BEEF
Properties Cocoa cherry (pictured at top of page) are small, sweet and chocolate in colour, and cocoa beef are large, firm chocolate-coloured tomatoes, sweeter than red beef.
Usage The seeds are exceptionally tasty.
Notes The flavour of the beef falls away quickly, and the cherry can be fibrous due to its thick skin, but it is still sweet in taste.
LEMON TIGER (SMALL BEEF)
Properties Green/yellow in colour and a sweet and refreshing.
Usage Great for an unusual light summery soup or consommé.
TIGER TOMATO COCKAIL VINE
Properties Very dark, small cherry tomato with a thick, fibrous skin.
Usage Their sweetness makes them delicious when roasted and served with steak and lamb.
Notes These tomatoes have a very high sugar content.
MARMANDE (COEUR DE BOEUF)
Properties The Coeur de Boeuf is a ribbed beef tomato of different sizes, and it is star-shaped when sliced horizontally. The Marmande is ribbed with a flatter shape, and also comes in many shapes and sizes.
Usage Brilliant sliced as a carpaccio. This is a spongy tomato that needs to be dressed for the best result - it soaks up flavours.
Notes Due to the lack of flavour, these don't work well when roasted.
SAN MARZANO MINI PEPPER PLUM VINE
Properties A bright red, pepper-shaped mini plum tomato with an intense flavour.
Usage Best eaten raw.
Notes Labelled as an heirloom variety, San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for vera pizza Napoletana (true Neapolitan pizza).
PINK PLUM VINE
Properties A pink-tinged larger plum tomato, with a milder, more melon-like flavour than a red plum tomato.
Usage Great in salads and roasted. Also often used for making sauces.
Notes A good juicy flavour.
RED COCKTAIL VINE
Properties Classic small red vine tomatoes.
Usage Great in salads or roasted in a tart with balsamic vinegar to bring out the intense flavour. Serve with Yellow Cocktail Vine for excellent visual impact.
Notes The most popular tomato among the chefs.
WHAT THE CHEFS SAIDGRANT MCPHERSON
Head development chef, Rhubarb Food Design The seeds of the cocoa cherry tomatoes are really tasty, and they have a great visual impact. We cut little hearts from this tomato to serve as a garnish on a canapé.
We wouldn't roast the Marmande tomato as it would lose its amazing shape.
The lemon tiger tomatoes are brilliant for a raw consommé. We marinate them with onions, basil stalks and cucumber. Pulse it up, hang it through muslin and you get a light, raw soup. If you use red tomatoes it comes out the colour of white wine. It's really light and refreshing, and we have it on our menu in the summer.
Executive chef, the Hurlingham Club We halve the cherry vine (piccolo) variety and briefly put them on the hot plate to bring out the flavour. We dress them with garlic, thyme and sea salt, which brings out the juices.
The Marmande looks very striking when sliced, and the two very similar varieties (the Coeur de Boeuf and Marmande) both have a distinctive ribbed shape. However, the Coeur de Boeuf is star-shaped when sliced horizontally, and the Marmande is a flatter round shape.
VIRGIL NASLENAS Head chef, Elior UK The tiger tomato cocktail vine has a very high sugar content and it is very tough to eat raw. If you roast these tomatoes, they soften and sweeten and they are absolutely delicious. They are like little sweets.
Tomatoes have a high water content and, when you cook them, this releases the sugars and concentrates them.
Working with all these different tomato varieties today has really encouraged my creativity.
Allison Risebro at New Covent Garden Market 020 7267 0428 www.allisonrisebro.co.ukFor">http://www.allisonrisebro.co.uk)For more information visit www.newcoventgardenmarket.com or download a British seasonal calendar to help with menu planning from www.newcoventgardenmarket.com/food/seasonal-chart