Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Northcote and the Tomato Consomme

Over a year ago we had a very pleasant trip to Northcote. We'd booked the Gourmet package which included an overnight stay as well as the 5-course Gourmet meal with champagne and canapes.
This was around the time that Nigel Howarth had been successful on the Great British Menu, and 4 of the 5 courses were from the programme. We had the famous Lancashire Hotpot, Muncaster Crab, Parfait of Duck with Duck Scratchings as well as the Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire cheese ice cream which we seem to remember made Oliver Peyton swear, and not in a good way! All we thought were superb and matched very well with the recommended wines.

The next day we were lucky enough to come across the head gardener who told us all about the various herbs that were picked each day from the kitchen, the edible flowers and where exactly the summer fruits came from that we'd eaten with the ice cream.

With the Head Gardener at Northcote
The course that stuck out for us though, had not appeared on the Great British Menu and this was Tomato Consomme. This was served from a cafetiere, after being infused with herbs, over sweet and sour cherry tomatoes and tomato caviar. It had the most intense tomato flavour we had ever tasted. The sweet and sour tomatoes burst with freshness in the mouth, and the tomato caviar was truly a thing of wonder. I did ask how it was made and the well-rehearsed answer was something to do with agar-agar and squid ink as well as tomatoes, and probably dropped from a height into oil to make the tiny black spheres. We later found out that this was a dish by Head Chef Lisa Allen, who has since gone on to become successful on the Great British Menu herself.

Rather more recently we happened across the recipe for this tomato consomme in Good Food Magazine, and thought it was definitely one to try. I should mention that the scientific tomato caviar was not listed as part of the dish. Here is the original recipe. We pretty much followed it all the way through but decided against trying the cheese on toast for this occasion. And the occasion was, dinner for the parents. We actually adjusted the quantities for 4.

You will need: (for 6 people)

For the Consomme:
3kg ripe plum tomatoes , quartered
175ml white wine
750ml tomato juice
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large shallots, finely diced
2 tsp salt
1½ tsp caster sugar
fresh picked herb leaves and small sprigs, such as chervil, baby basil, baby sorrel, snipped chives and small salad leaves, to serve

For the "sweet and sour" tomatoes:
18 baby plum tomatoes, peeled
squeeze lemon juice
¼ tsp icing sugar
2 tsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Put the tomatoes in a very large pan (very very large, the largest you have. We used a big stock pot) with all the consomme ingredients.
Simmer on a low heat for 2 hours. Yes really.
It will then look like this.

Then strain the tomatoes through muslin. For ages. (We actually went out for a meal. I think to the Orange Tree as those were the next photos on my camera!) Eventually the liquid will drained through giving a lovely clear liquid. Apparently if you push the tomatoes through it will end up cloudy. The draining process was itself, an engineering feat. We managed to do this with cunning use of a colander, pegs and gravity. All well worth it though.
As Lisa suggests, we actually did use the left over tomato pulp as a base for a tomato sauce. We used it for a couple of meals, and through the slow cooking, it gave a very rich sauce on all occasions.
The Sweet and Sour tomatoes are made by skinning the cherry tomatoes - putting a small cross in the skin then plunging into boiling water for a few seconds worked for us, then marinading simply in the lemon juice, icing sugar, a little salt and a drizzle of oil.

To serve, put a few cherry tomatoes in a bowl, with the fresh herbs. We used mainly basil (as it is the best herb in the world) and some fresh oregano from the garden.

Then pour over the re-heated consomme. We had considered the cafetiere thing, but really? All very nice at Northcote, but maybe a bit too silly in our kitchen.
This consomme was very nice and rather special. It somehow didn't seem to have the same tomato hit as we remember, but that would obviously be effected by the quality and ripeness of the tomatoes. And we actually do not have one of the best kitchen gardens in the country, which is the only one with 100% score as organic from the soil association as at Northcote. We just had Lidl for our tomatoes on this occasion!
We would fully recommend you give this a go as it is a bit of a show-off soup, and it went down really well. The tomato hit was still there, and the way that it was served added to the occasion.

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