In a new series, Ed Smith shares his tips on food to feed friends, family and self with minimal effort, using little but the best of Borough’s carefully grown and procured produce. This time: tomatoes and Greek olives
Tomatoes. They’re absolutely everywhere at Borough Market when, in mid-late August, I walk around the stalls on another Platters shopping trip. I’m certain they’ll still be prominent through most of September, too. Which possibly feels counterintuitive, as we see tomatoes as a summer thing. But as we start that too-quick race towards the end of the year, here they are.
In fact, while tomatoes are pretty great at the Market from spring onwards, to my mind they’re at their peak at the end of summer—those sourced from plants grown in southern Europe and the UK in particular, having benefitted from months of bright sunshine. If when you visit Turnips has the Italian outdoor and in-soil varieties, they’re really worth purchasing. Though all the heritage varieties you can see now should be flavourful. The Tomato Stall, Elsey and Bent, Chegworth Valley, Ted’s Veg, Jock Stark and Son, Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies—everyone’s got them. On this occasion, however, I couldn’t resist a punnet of colourful and multi-shaped toms from Paul Crane at the bottom of Stoney Street. Nearly a kilo for £2! Joy-inducing on all levels, and certainly a worthy basis for a platter.
Of course, we all know how to Tomato Salad (verb), so I need to work hard to make this post of use. It doesn’t take long while I walk around to think of a few twists on the classic salt, olive oil and basil combination.
Celery, sitting upright and perky at Elsey and Bent, draws my eye. Now here’s an under-appreciated ingredient. I grab a bulb, which I check is full of young, bright green and yellow leaves on the inside. I’ll finely dice a couple of stalks, let them steep in a sharp vinaigrette, and use them to dress the salad instead of going down the trattoria diced shallot approach. I like the nibbly-crunch and added layer of flavour shallot brings, but I know so many find raw onion too astringent, regardless of how allegedly mild it is. Diced celery will do a similar (superior?) job here, and I’ll also make use of the leaves, which provide a herbal version of celery’s unique flavour. More bright colours, too—this is a platter that we will first eat with our eyes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finally, I walk over to Oliveology, because tomatoes and olives are a classic mix and now seems like as good a time as any to note that. I pause for a second, though, because I think a tomato salad should be salted generously—a further hit of salt from brined olives isn’t necessarily a wise thing. But that’s fine, as among the many fine olives at this stall are two low/no salt varieties: an intense, shrivelled and near-pastille type called throuba, which get to that stage on the tree before being picked and only need a light salting; and some unsalted kalamata olives, which ferment and cure in fresh water rather than a brine, and are absolutely stunning. I try the plain and classically brined kalamatas for a sideways comparison—while they too are sweet and delicious, you really notice the difference between unsalted and salted. It’s the former that’ll work best with my toms.
As I stand trialling olives, I see Oliveology also has a variety of striking white cheeses in their fridge. Their feta is unlike any you’ll find in a supermarket—so creamy and sharp, and again by comparison much less salty—but following a few tasters of a cheese called galomizithra, I’m hooked. It’ll provide the final pure and creamy element to what’s going to be a crowd-pleasing celebration of Market produce.
First of all, at least 30 mins before you plan to eat, cut and generously salt 1kg tomatoes. Place them in a large mixing bowl and leave that somewhere warm (the tomatoes MUST be at room temperature by the time you eat them).
I slice each tomato differently, depending on the desired result and (more importantly) the shape of that tomato in the first place. This platter will work best if the tomatoes are kept chunky, and that suits the multi-shaped, multi-coloured tomatoes too. As a rule of thumb, halve them, and then chunk those halves into 2-3 pieces, depending on their size.
Strip out all the celery leaves from the middle of your bulb, pick them apart from any stalk and each other and set aside. Wash, trim, finely slice and then dice 2 stalks. Take your time on this—the smaller the dice (1-2mm ideally), the better. Put the diced celery in a bowl and add a pinch of salt, a pinch of caster sugar, 1 tbsp white wine or sherry vinegar, and 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Again, set aside to steep. No need to de-stone the olives or do anything in advance with the cheese—your guests can do that as they eat, you’ve spent ages chopping celery and this is supposed to be a quick assembly.
When it comes to eating, drain (and reserve) much of the tomato juice from the salted tomatoes. Add the olives and the oil they came in, plus the diced celery, its vinaigrette and half the celery leaves. Mix, then decant onto a platter. Add some of the tomato water back (as much as you see fit). Use a tsp to spoon cheese into gaps between the tomatoes (you’ll need only half the block), scatter with the remaining celery leaves and finish with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. We ate this with recently toasted pieces of sourdough, effectively DIY-ing tomato tartine/bruschetta.