I arrived in Nelson in 1987, from the States, where I had been living for many years with my young family. After three weeks at Mapua Leisure Park, getting acclimatised, we moved to the Wood.
There were glasshouses everywhere and I was fascinated to learn about the Italian families who had settled there and brought with them their wonderful food culture.
I used to pass by the glasshouses, fascinated to watch the tomato cultivation and to listen to the Italian language being spoken. The glasshouses dominated the community then; now they are gone and really the only visible sign of what was, is Romano's store on Trafalgar St.
The shop is living testimony to an Italian heritage and is stocked full of delicious fruit and vegetables, such as eggplants and peppers as well as a myriad of tomatoes which are grown in the family glasshouses that were moved from the Wood to the beginning of Cable Bay Rd.
For the last week I have been eating their delectable tomatoes. I bought black cherry tomatoes that are actually a chocolate brown colour, yellow pear tomatoes, small, bright yellow and shaped like a pear. Soldier boy tomatoes, that are quite tiny and red and oblong and flavourine that are red and pointy.
There was a basket on the counter full of long pear shaped tomatoes, smooth and dense. The seed stock came from Italy. They are low acid and fleshy and are great for cooking and also for salads. I also bought their luscious capri tomatoes.
I love capri tomatoes, and according to Bettina at Romano's there are many others in Nelson that love them too. I particularly like the green stripes at the top that make marvellous patterns when they are sliced. They are so delicious - I am hooked and will be back to buy more.
Maybe it is their seed stock or the fact that the family growing them are Italian that makes them extra luscious. Who knows what it is but they are seriously the best capri tomatoes I have ever tasted.
All of the tomatoes I have mentioned can be combined together in a salad that will be so colourful and tastes much more splendid than a regular tomato salad. You can also combine them in a tart as in the recipe below for Summer Tomato Tart.
This is also the time of year when peppers come into their own and the price drops so I can be extravagant and buy a half a dozen at a time and whip them up into salsas and sauces and braise them in a pepporanata.
There are so many combinations and wonderful examples in a range of cuisines, many of the recipes combining both tomatoes and peppers together.
Red peppers are excellent both cooked and raw. Remember that red peppers are the same as green peppers - they are simply the ripened version.
All green peppers will ultimately turn red if left on the plant to do so. In the process they become significantly sweeter then the green version. They contain antioxidants, vitamins A and C and this concentrates as the pepper ripens.
Here are some recipes for both peppers and tomatoes.
1 onion finely sliced
3 red peppers and 1 italian sweet pepper diced
2 cloves of garlic
2 capri tomatoes chopped
3 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the onion.
Saute until it softens and then add the rest of the ingredients.
Put the lid on the pan and braise gently for about half an hour.
Cool and serve with a grilled salmon steak or any other grilled meat of your choice.
RED PEPPER SAUCE
2 roasted red peppers
1 small roasted chilli - I used serrano I have growing in my garden
2 capri tomatoes chopped
cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and lime juice combined
1 clove garlic crushed
Salt to taste
2 tbs of chopped basil
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until well combined.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
SUMMER TOMATO TART
1 sheet of puff pastry
125g ricotta cheese
A mixture of different coloured cherry tomatoes-about 10 cut in half
Fresh marjoram and basil leaves
Small chunks of mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 200.
Prick the pastry shell all over and make an edge around the pastry to hold the filling.
Place on a baking sheet.
Combine the ricotta and egg and salt and pepper and spread over the pastry.
Bake for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and add the sliced tomatoes.
Between them place a chunk of mozzarella and sprinkle over the herbs.
Drizzle with the oil and bake for about 20 minutes longer until the pastry is puffy and the tomatoes are baked.