SODA BREAD with homemade sunblush tomatoes

If you haven't had a go at it yet, you perhaps won't believe me when I say that soda bread is one of the speediest, easiest and yummiest things you can cook up, so do give it a whirl and see for yourself. The only tricky bit is that you really have to be fleet of foot here and not leave the dough sitting about once you've added the liquid, as that's when the soda starts to work its leavening magic. The bread's so much of a doddle it seemed a cheat of a recipe, so I thought I'd toss in another dimension and prepare my own semi-dried sunblush tomatoes to flavour it rather than buying them in, which again means that you save on quite an expensive ingredient while fresh toms are still flavoursome and good value for money. Make any quantity you like of the sunblush tomatoes and use the remainder in salads or for cooking to keep that taste of the sun going until we finally have to give in to winter and get the gin and tinsel out.

Makes 1 small loaf

• 175g white or wholemeal strong (bread) flour
• 1 tbsp soft dark or light brown sugar
• 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 1/2 tsp low-sodium salt
• 2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan and lightly crushed in a mortar with a pestle
• about 35g sunblush tomatoes, chopped (see below)
• 1/2 tsp lemon juice
• c. 175ml semi-skimmed or soya milk

for the sunblush tomatoes
• Cherry or baby plum tomatoes  – I used a mix of yellow and red
• Dried oregano
• Fresh thyme leaves (or dried if no fresh available)
• Lemon, for squeezing
• Olive oil


For the sunblush toms, preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Line a baking tray or shallow roasting tin with foil. Halve the tomatoes across their middles and spread out, cut-side up, in the tray. Scatter over some dried oregano and fresh thyme leaves, squeeze over a little lemon juice and sprinkle over a little olive oil. Season with a good grinding of sea salt and black pepper. Shove in the oven and leave there for about 4 hours, give or take, until dried out and shrivelled but still juicy – semi-dried in fact!
For the bread, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and line a baking tray with baking paper. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Stir in the sunblush toms. Add the lemon juice to the milk, then gradually and gently mix into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon just until the dough comes together – you may not need quite all the liquid, depending on your flour, and don't overmix.
Turn the (very soft) dough out onto a floured work surface and swiftly shape into a round – there's no need to be too precious about its form. Dust the top well with flour. Transfer it to the baking tray, slash the top one way and then the other with a serrated knife and bake for about 20 minutes until well risen and nicely browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve it up in fat warm wedges to accompany a platter of meats and/or cheese and salad leaves.