Taming the Tomato Glut – Part 1: roasted tomatoes with chicken and pasta

The tomato glut has started!  I picked all these gorgeous red beauties in a single session a few days ago. I’m growing that old stalwart, ‘Gardener’s Delight’, along with ‘San Marzanno’, the traditional Italian cooking-type large plum tomato, and two small bush cherry tomato varieties, ‘Lizzano’ and ‘100s and 1000s’.

The tomato glut is here!

Nothing beats a freshly picked home-grown tomato – the sweet flavour, and the delicate perfume so completely lost in fruits picked green half way around the world and ripened artificially in a dark warehouse full of ethylene gas – and up ’till now we’ve been getting through all of them lovely and fresh. We’ve eaten a lot of tomato salads the last few weeks! But with this sudden upsurge in ripening fruit, we’re not keeping up any more.

There are the classics of glut-busting – preserving recipes like passata, chutney, and ketchup – and of course they have their place. Depending on how the fruit output keeps up, I may well make some or all of them in the next few days and weeks. But while preserving allows us to capture a taste of summer in the depths of winter, nothing really beats enjoying fresh, home-grown, seasonal produce at the peak of it’s freshness. Which is why, as well as preserving recipes, every good glut-busting effort needs a few great meals in it, too.

This is my very favourite way of enjoying lots of gorgeous, fresh, ripe tomatoes, simply cooked. You could make this recipe with shop-bought tomatoes, but they’re unlikely to be really lovely and ripe, and you’ll need a lot of them – a decent sized punnet of cherry tomatoes at least for two people. But if you have a local market, you may be able to get hold of lovely ripe tomatoes at this time of year for not much money, so it’s definitely well worth a look.

To make this great chicken dish for two people, you will need –

  • Fresh ingredientsLots of lovely ripe home-grown tomatoes – about a bowl-full
  • Chicken breasts, skin on, one per person if you’re hungry, half per person is fine if you’re not so ravenous. If you’re buying packed chicken breasts, it’s well worth learning the simple skill of butchering a whole chicken into portions – you’ll get much nicer meat, and save money in the process!
  • One small or half a large white onion
  • A nice large clove of garlic or two small ones, (smoked, if possible)
  • A good handful of fresh basil (if you’re growing enough tomatoes to have a glut, and not growing your own basil, you’re doing something wrong!)
  • Hard cheese of your choice. I used mature cheddar because it was what I had, but almost anything would work just fine, I think.
  • Olive oil & balsamic vinegar (or even better, elderberry vinegar)
  • Salt and pepper

Optionally, for the pasta side-dish:

  • Enough good quality Italian dried pasta for two people – linguini would be great, I had spaghetti so that’s what I used. I used to buy supermarket own-brand dry pasta, but the decent Italian stuff is barely more expensive and is streets ahead in terms of cooking quality.
  • A couple of spoonfuls of fresh homemade green pesto, or alternately a generous glug of good spicy olive oil.

Chicken breasts, after fryingSlice up all your tomatoes so they’re about even sized pieces. Tiny ones can be left whole. While you’re doing this, heat a little bit of olive oil in a frying pan. Season the chicken breasts lightly with salt & pepper (be more generous on the skin side) and fry quickly until slightly coloured. Then place the chicken breasts in an oven dish big enough to contain them reasonably snugly with a small gap around.

Prepared fresh ingredientsAdd the onion, garlic and shredded basil to your chopped tomatoes in a bowl, and toss to mix. Season lightly with salt and more generously with pepper, and add a generous glug of oilve oil and a drizzle of balsamic or elderberry vinegar, as if dressing a tomato salad. To give a sense of scale & quantity, this is a large wide bowl of the kind often used to serve pasta.

Ready to go in the ovenSpread the tomatoes around and over the chicken breasts in the oven dish, and grate about a handful of cheese over the top. Now wrap the dish tightly with tin-foil (or put on the lid, if it has one) and snuggle it into an oven at 180 degrees for about an hour.

After an hour has passed, take the lid or foil off your dish and return it to the oven. I love to serve this with pasta, so now’s the time to get a big pan of water to a rolling boil, with a generous pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil, and get your pasta cooking.

When the pasta’s done to a nice ‘al dente’, strain it and stir in a small amount of pesto, if you like, or just toss it generously in good peppery olive oil. You’re not aiming for ‘pasta in pesto’, here, just a very delicate sprinkling of basil and pine kernel pieces through your cooked spaghetti.

Out of the oven!Get your roasted tomatoes and chicken out of the oven. It should be a gorgeous golden caramelised colour on top, and will smell just amazing.

I served the chicken breasts whole, but you could just as easily pick them out at this point and slice them cross-ways into bite-sized pieces, which would make it easier to eat this as a traditional pasta dish with a spoon and fork!

Don’t waste a drop of what’s in this roasting dish – serve up a chicken breast per person, with all the tomatoes and any pan juices spooned over the top. The juice is pure, concentrated, tomato sweetness, and is the absolute highlight of the dish, in my opinion.

Ready to eat!

You’re all very lucky there *is* a photo of the finished dish, as Hubby was looking on as if I’d lost my mind when I got the camera out again. We were both starving after a very busy day, and just wanted to dig right in!

So, if you have a glut of home-grown tomatoes on your hands, please do give this recipe a try. It’s a fabulous taste of late summer, and I promise you wont’ be disappointed!

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