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The myriad ways to use cherry tomatoes

Raw, cooked, oven-roasted, sun-dried, pickled—there are just so many ways to use cherry tomatoes

(From left) Cherry Tomato Rosemary Dressing and Caprese In A Bite. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

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According to The Cambridge World History Of Food, cherry tomato is the direct ancestor of modern cultivated tomatoes and is the only wild tomato to be found outside South America. They are Instagram eye-pleasers, no doubt. Even an uthappam or a salad with a few of these red jewels instantly looks more glamourous. Aesthetics apart, they don’t lack for functionality and flavour in both global and Indian cuisines.

I tell every newbie gardener to grow cherry tomatoes in pots or containers. Once settled, they grow profusely, and you will soon be googling for ways to use your abundant harvest. Owing to their small size, the riper tomatoes that are not harvested on time burst open, scattering the seeds to the ground, and the next batch is self-seeded. They grow in bunches like grapes, which is why they are also called grape tomatoes.

If you are not up for kitchen gardening, look for the mixed cherry tomato boxes sold in a few supermarkets or even online. These usually have a mix of the classic red, yellow pear, sun gold, striped red and black pearl, perfect for salads, colour-popping salsas or as focaccia toppers.

Raw, cooked, oven-roasted, sun-dried, pickled—there are just so many ways to use cherry tomatoes. Top of the mind is the most viral TikTok recipe from 2021, the baked feta pasta. I did not give this recipe too much credit until a friend cooked it for us and the aromas from their kitchen left us ravenous for dinner.

To make this dish, spread cherry tomatoes in a baking dish and top with olive oil, a touch of salt and pepper, mixing well to combine. Top with a block of feta cheese in the centre, drizzling some more olive oil on it. Bake it until the smells from the oven put your salivary glands on overdrive. When the sauce is still hot, mix in some finely chopped garlic, herbs and cooked pasta. Stir everything together. The feta melts, the roasted tomatoes burst open, and everything turns into one happy mess that you want to dive into right away.

Another less dramatic recipe is just sautéing finely chopped onions in (lots of) butter, adding sliced cherry tomatoes and cooking until saucy. Season with salt, pepper and herbs and you have a quick and easy pasta sauce.

I also have a few Indian recipes up my sleeve when my kitchen garden is producing kilograms of cherry tomatoes. In Tamil-style tomato vella pachidi (jaggery chutney), halved or whole cherry tomatoes are cooked with some water and a pinch of salt. Crushed jaggery is added to this and cooked until the jaggery melts and the mixture thickens. It makes a delicious accompaniment with the other savoury dishes on a banana- leaf meal, typically served at weddings. Usually, chopped tomatoes are used for this, but halved cherry tomatoes work beautifully.

It may seem like I am getting into lactofermentation in almost every other column here but it is the most practical, least-effort way of getting maximum flavour out of any ingredient. Combine whole or halved cherry tomatoes with garlic, mustard seeds and chopped red chillies in a jar. Top with enough water to submerge the ingredients. Weigh the ingredients + water and use 3% of this weight in salt. Mix everything and keep in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Remove in three weeks, drain off excess water (reserve this brine to add flavour to any savoury dishes) and blend to get a smooth sauce. If you grow cherry tomatoes and you get kilograms of harvest in season, this is the best zero-effort way to preserve them into something delicious or even give away as a holiday gift to family and friends.

Cherry Tomato Rosemary Dressing
Makes 1 cup

Ingredients 
250g cherry tomatoes 
3 tbsp olive oil 
2 cloves garlic 
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary 
Half tsp salt 
1 tsp sugar 
1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Method

Halve half the cherry tomatoes and leave the rest whole. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan. Mince and add the garlic to the warm oil. Do not brown the garlic. Add finely chopped rosemary to the oil and sauté for 30 seconds.To this, add the cherry tomatoes with salt and sugar. Sauté on a high flame for two-three minutes and then cover and cook for 10 minutes until all the tomatoes have broken down and become pulpy.

Stir in the remaining olive oil and apple cider vinegar to the dressing. There’s no need to add vinegar if the tomatoes are sour.

Use this on toast, on bruschetta with mozzarella, over a green salad, or toss with cooked pasta and Parmesan.

Caprese In A Bite
Serves 4

Ingredients
24 cherry tomatoes (larger the better)
50g of any hard cheese (smoked Cheddar tastes great)
24 leaves of basil
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Half tsp pink salt
Half tsp freshly crushed black pepper

Method

Wash and dry the tomatoes. Make a slit in each, taking care not to cut it into two pieces.

Cut the cheese into small cubes, around 2cm in size. Into each slit tomato, insert a folded piece of basil and the piece of cheese. Use a fork if needed to fit the basil and cheese in the slit.Arrange these stuffed tomatoes on a platter. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

—These make the quickest, healthiest and prettiest-looking appetisers for a party.

—You can also use mozzarella bits but smoked Cheddar adds more flavour to every bite. Another option is to use regular Cheddar and sprinkle smoked paprika over the tomatoes along with the salt and pepper.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Instagram and Twitter. 

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