Magic from the Isle of Wight

The first time I strolled through our weekly farmers market in Balham, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful stall from Isle of Wight tomatoes.

All through the dreary London winter, the folks from Isle of Wight would show up each week with their bounty of fresh tomatoes in shades of yellow and red as well as a bevy of products from the farm, such as passata, ketchup, slow roasted tomatoes with spices and organic oak roasted tomatoes.

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When I marvelled at finding fresh tomatoes in London in January, they explained that the Isle of Wight is positioned to get more sun then the mainland of England. The farm is located in the Arreton Valley, an area that has produced tomatoes for quite some time in the rich, loamy soil there. The tomatoes are vine-ripened in large greenhouses and nourished with compost produced on-site from all the spent plants and other growing material. Upwards of 200 varieties are grown throughout the year by both organic and conventional methods and Isle of Wight uses biodynamic principles to curb pests, pollinate the plants and promote natural habitats around the farm.

Lately the stall has had padron peppers, those petite, piquant capsicums popular at Spanish tapas restaurants.

They are dead easy to prepare and lip-smacking good to eat. Simply heat a pan and add a generous splash of really good olive oil. When it’s shimmering, toss in the padrons. Stir them frequently in the hot oil until they blister and get browned then turn out on a platter and serve with salt – I used Hawaiian red salt.

Another inspiring product, the oak smoked tomatoes, featured this week in a bastardised Caprese salad for lunch. Smoked and fresh tomatoes were mixed with chunks of ripe avocado and creamy, fresh mozzarella then showered with fresh basil and splashes of Tuscan olive oil; each bite transported me to Florence in the early summer when tomatoes and basil have just returned from winter break. The smoked tomatoes contributed intense bursts of flavor with a haunting backbeat. Tonight I’m thinking of adding them to a cheesy pasta dish with asparagus but they’d also be great with other starchy ingredients like potatoes or rice or in egg dishes.

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Suffice it to say the products at Isle of Wight Tomato Farm really get my creative juices flowing. And I’ve been nourished in health and spirit by a little taste of summer even when a cold rain is falling outside.

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PERSIMMONS: THE FRUIT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

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This time of year in Northern California, you can walk around in neighborhoods and see big trees that have lost their leaves but are full of beautiful orange fruit. These are persimmons and they are prolific trees that produce with abundance each year.

There are two major kinds: fuyu, which are eaten when they are hard like an apple, and hachiya, which need to get very very soft to be used. The trees are beautiful but the fruit doesn’t have as many fans as you might think. Generally, people aren’t sure what to do with persimmons.

A friend dropped by a bag of fuyus for me the other day so I got to experimenting in the kitchen.

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They are terrific with cheese on an appetizer plate. Here they are paired them with pomegranate seeds and a triple creme cheese – delicious!

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Salads are another place for persimmons to star. Toss one thinly sliced fuyu with butter lettuce, candied walnuts and creamy goat cheese in a lemon vinaigrette.

They are also good in this double kale salad – use your favorite roasted kale recipe to create the crisp shards for the topping.

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DOUBLE KALE SALAD

5 leaves of fresh dino kale, sliced very thinly into ribbons

1 fuyu persimmon, julienned

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

1/2 cup of roasted kale chips

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DRESSING

1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar

2 1/2 tablespoons orange infused olive oil – such as O Clementine Olive Oil

1 1/2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

Salt and pepper

 

1.Toss fresh kale, cranberries and persimmons in a large bowl until mixed.

2. Make dressing: put vinegar in a small bowl and gradually whisk in oils. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Toss salad with just enough dressing to coat all the pieces. Distribute salad between 4 plates and top with the kale chips. Serve immediately.