KNOWLEDGE is understanding that tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting tomatoes in fruit salad. So let’s call a spade a spade and call a fruit a vegetable. I accept I am technically incorrect to class tomatoes vegetables. But they straddle some invisible line between the sweet succulent world of refreshing fruit, when raw, into the realm of warm melting vegetable, once cooked. Its character is altered, almost beyond recognition, with heat.

This versatility may be one of its big attractions, together with the glorious burst in recent years of diversity. Tomatoes come in crazily different shapes, sizes and colours. You can spot them at farmers' markets and in farm shops. From tiny cherry sizes in sweet yellow and green, to long purple varieties and up to bulbous red and green stripy orbs that could be mistaken for a squash, these exciting heirloom varieties peak now and just cry out for experimentation.

But a cook’s greatest strength is to understand that doing the bare minimum is sometimes best. A perfect tomato whispers for sensitive simplicity. Sometimes, slicing thinly onto a platter to show off colourful curves, anointing with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and olive oil is enough. Pick one perfect partner from anchovy, chives, shallot or mustardy dressing.

Yet I can't escape my affection for the melting texture and jammy concentrated flavour of warm tomato. Roasting them inside collapsing peppers for classic Piedmontese peppers is perfect summer harmony while an open tart of flaky pastry contrasts magnificently with the tomato’s tender side.


Recipes serve four

8 very ripe plum tomatoes

puff pastry

120g feta cheese

6-8 basil leaves

olive oil

Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper


1. Bring a pan of water to the boil then add a teaspoon of salt. Place the tomatoes into the water for 10 seconds then refresh at once under cold water. Once cold, drain the water and slip the skins off the tomatoes. Stand them upright on their bases in a tub then set aside.

2. Prepare two large flat baking trays with greaseproof paper. Roll out the puff pastry so it is the thickness of a one pound coin and wide enough to allow you to cut out four bases, using a side plate or saucer as a guide to help cut around like a template. As you cut around each one, place on one of the baking sheets so you have two puff pastry bases on each tray. Prick them all over with a fork and chill for at least an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 180c. Remove the pastry from the fridge and lay a sheet of parchment paper over each tray and then set a tray on top of this. Place in the oven to bake for 10 minutes then turn the tray 180 degrees and continue cooking for a further five minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and lift off the tray and parchment paper covering the top. The pastry should be starting to set in shape and cook, turning probably a light gold by this stage. If it is still pale and not yet turning stiffer, cook for a few more minutes uncovered, then allow to cool.

4. Once cool, you can now arrange the tomatoes on the pastry bases. Start by laying out overlapping circles, starting on the outside and working towards the middle. Season lightly with sea salt flakes and a drizzle of olive oil then return the trays to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, turning the tray 180 degrees half way through. The tarts are ready when the pastry base is cooked underneath (you can check this by carefully lifting up an edge with a spatula for a peek) and the tomatoes are slightly collapsed and tinged with colour at the edges. Remove the trays from the oven and stand for a few minutes

5. Transfer the tarts to four serving plates. Scatter with crumbled feta, torn basil leaves and then drizzle a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper, serve at once as a start with a side salad

Piedmontese peppers

So simple yet what better way to enjoy ripe tomatoes….

4 large ripe tomatoes

4 red peppers

4 garlic cloves very finely sliced

8 anchovy fillets

A generous glug of olive oil

A teaspoons worth of fresh thyme leaves

Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 220c and bring a medium or large pan of water to the boil.

2. Remove the core form each of the tomatoes then plunge a few at a time into the boiling water for 10 seconds to blanch, then lift out at once into iced water, continue until all the tomatoes have been blanched. As soon as they are cold, drain them from the water. Slip the skins off the tomatoes and cut each one in half, setting aside for now

3. Cut the peppers in half through the green stalk, try to leave an even amount of green stalk on each piece. Trim out the white pith and knock out all the seeds from the peppers.

4. Arrange the peppers across baking tray, cut side facing up wards. Slice the garlic as thinly as possible and place a small piece in each pepper. Place a piece of anchovy inside each pepper as well. Season lightly with pepper, do not add salt as the anchovy is salty enough

5. Now place a half tomato into each pepper, cut side facing downwards so that the curved side is on show at its glossy plump best. Spoon a generous amount of olive oil over each then place in the oven.

6. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, the edges of the peppers may just begin to char and soften. Now turn the heat down to 180c, continue cooking until the peppers are soft and starting to collapse, about 45 minutes. Five minutes from the end, sprinkle the thyme over each one and spoon a tiny bit more oil over. You can use the juice in the tray to do this

7. Remove from the oven and arrange on a serving platter, spoon any juice from the baking tray over the top and serve and with a large green salad and crusty bread to mop up juices.

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef patron of The Peat Inn, By St Andrews, Fife, Ky15 5LH 01334 840206