The volcanic island’s fruit comes in two varieties and requires no watering.
THE ISLAND of Santorini is rightly renowned for its dramatic setting. Volcanic flows and scatterings of ash mark the countryside with their strange shapes and intensity of colours while the steep walls of the caldera, hundreds of feet high, are dotted with white villages that perch over the calm blue waters of the Aegean.
Less known are some of the agricultural products of the island, most of which seem to be associated one way or another with the volcanic soil. One of these is the diminutive waterless tomato. Although it is often called “cherry tomato,” the Santorini fruit actually belongs to a different species, and it comes in two varieties. There is the so-called authentic type, where the rounded sides of the tomato are fluted vertically, giving the impression of a segmented fruit, and there is the “Kos” (kotiko) type that does not have any flutings. Both varieties are smaller than ordinary tomatoes, but somewhat larger than the real cherry tomatoes.
The Santorini tomato has certain specific advantages, both from the viewpoint of the cultivator and the consumer. The plant bears more fruit than ordinary tomato plants, matures earlier in the year, maintains its deep red colour with much greater consistency than other “cherry tomatoes” and requires no watering an important attribute for Aegean islands, where water is often in short supply. And, of course, it tastes like a real tomato, unlike all those “coloured cardboard” varieties you find on the market.
Lycopene is a carotenoid with twice the antioxidant activity of beta-carotene (the precursor of Vitamin A contained in carrots, pumpkins etc.) and ten times that of alpha-tocopherol (a generic name for Vitamin E). It is a preventive agent for all kinds of cancer, especially the so-called epithylial cancers - cancers of the skin and some membranes and it is only lycopene, out of all carotenoids, that can help to prevent breast cancer. It also works in potential cases of atherosclerosis by protecting plasma lipids against oxidation.
Lycopene is one substance that does not deteriorate with treatment, but instead actually benefits from it. Thus, heat treatments changes the so-called trans-isomers of lycopene into cis-isomers, which are much better absorbed by the human body. Processing of any sort, including the mechanical disruption of its texture and any treatment that reduces the integrity of the cells, makes lycopene more available for absorption. Needless to say, chopping, cooking, reducing tomatoes to a paste, squeezing them into juice and so on, have similarly beneficial effects on the way we take them in.
And there is one final piece of good news. That staple of the Mediterranean diet olive oil also increases our assimilation of lycopene. So the combination of the small Santorini tomato with olive oil in the recipes below should lead to both a tasty and a healthy meal.
You can oven-dry these tomatoes. They may then be used in salads, dishes, or eaten on their own with bread. In the summer, I put them out at all meals.
The best time for drying these tomatoes is at night. I place them in the oven before I go to bed and they are done by the time I wake up!
Santorini oven-dried tomatoes
A little olive oil to brush on the baking tray.
500g Santorini tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
¼ tsp salt
1/3 tsp sugar
½ tsp dried thyme
2 tsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (80C/175F). Brush a baking tray or baking sheet lightly with oil. Cut each cherry tomato in half crosswise and place the halves very close to each other in a single layer on the baking tray, cut sides up. Sprinkle the salt, sugar, thyme and olive oil over the top. Place the tray in the oven and leave it there for about 8 hours, but check after 7. The time can vary slightly according to the quality of the tomatoes and the oven. The tomatoes should not dry out completely but should be chewy. These tomatoes may now be put in a container and stored in the refrigerator, where they will keep for 4 to 5 days. They can also be covered with olive oil before being refrigerated. This way they will last about 2 weeks.
5 tbs olive oil