Friday, 19 September 2008

Friday nibbles - Let's call the whole thing off?

Before we get onto the important business of Friday nibbles, I couldn’t possibly go any further without talking chickens. Our brand spanking new Eglu chicken house arrived this morning and by this time next week we should have two real live egg-laying hens. Having never owned so much as a hamster, I am ball-bouncingly excited about doubling the number of residents at our little house. And even more excited about the prospect of nipping out every morning to collect a couple of fresh eggs.

Anyway, onto more pressing matters.

For this weeks nibble we are going back to basics. Cooking 101, if you will, to borrow an expression from American parlance.

The tinned tomato is a true hero of the kitchen. I believe that any self-respecting cook would be utterly stuck without a ready supply of these canned wonders. They are a truly versatile heavyweight of the store cupboard and I start to get a little antsy if our own supply dips below two tins.

Not only are they amazingly cheap but they can also form the basis of a virtually endless number of meals from stews and pasta sauces to soups and pizza toppings. Casseroles, chillies, curries, the list goes on almost ad infinitum and that’s just dishes beginning with the letter ‘C’. Move onto ‘D’ and you’ve got daubes, dal, and dumplings. ‘E’ gives us…you get the idea. I don’t think I need continue.



The history of canning and tinning as a method of preserving food goes all the way back to when the Napoleonic Wars were ravaging their way through Europe during the early 19th century. Somewhat amusingly, the can opener wasn’t invented until about fifty years later, which led to a number of hair-brained methods for accessing the goods inside the little metal boxes. The bayonet became very popular, although the prospect of eating food that has come into contact with a piece of metal that had been used to disembowel an opposing soldier just before lunch isn’t particularly appealing.

In terms of its green credentials, tinned tomatoes score fairly high too. Whilst the initial canning process releases a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, once inside they sit happily being very green indeed, without actually going green. They need no cold storage, can be kept indefinitely and it allows us to munch on out of season tomatoes without having to freight them over from overseas.

If you have a tin of tomatoes then you have a meal. Cooked down with a little garlic and olive oil, perhaps a splash of balsamic or wine too and a twist of salt and pepper and you have a great pasta sauce. If you are feeling really lazy, blitz it up and eat it as a soup, that way you don’t even have to cook any pasta. Spread it onto toast, top it with cheese and after a couple of minutes under the grill (broiler for my chumlets across the pond) and you have an insta-pizza.

Speed and convenience are all well and good, but tinned tomatoes really undergo an amazing transformation when they are slow cooked. Ragu sauces such as Bolognese and its various relatives, are a great example of the alchemic nature of slow-cooking when the finished product becomes so much more than the sum if its parts.

So, whether you say ‘tomarto’ or ‘tomayto’, these amazing little tins of brilliance are more than worthy of a place in the larder of even the most discerning chef.

4 comments:

Hopie said...

...Zanzibar Pilau, Zucchini Lasagna, Zucchini Pizza ! Phew, that took a long time. Those canned tomatoes sure are useful ;-)

I can't believe someone invented cans and then didn't know how to open them. That's brilliant! "Well, sir, the vegetables are preserved in there?" "Yes, but for how long?" "Well pretty much indefinitely, sir." "Well that's a relief because I have no clue how to get them out..."

Foodycat said...

If you have a tin of tomatoes you can make a meal. They are wonderful!

Sam said...

You're getting chickens, I'm so jealous!

Alex Rushmer said...

hopie - that must have taken you ages! Glad you like the can opener factoid.

foodycat - totally agree with you.

Hi Sam - they're with us now and they're great!