Buttered Up

As a mid-thirty-something I fall between generations X and Y, neither a Baby Boomer nor a Millennial. However, in food terms, I’m definitely of the olive oil generation.

Gastronomes of a certain age like to reminisce about how, until Elizabeth David came along, olive oil wasn’t used for cooking in Britain and was only available from chemists for softening earwax. Although it’s actually mentioned in Mrs Beeton so may well (like so many other things) have become scarce in the interwar years rather than never having been known on these shores at all.

Either way, it didn’t become the kitchen staple it is now until the late eighties or early nineties. Certainly by the time I started to poke about in my mother's kitchen olive oil didn’t seem particularly exotic. In fact it was positively overused. As if, having finally discovered the stuff, Brits decided they weren’t going to use anything else. It took a while to get out of the habit of wasting extra virgin stuff on frying things when it would have been far happier drizzled on a salad.

These days an unquestioning devotion to olive oil seems rather quaint. We’re expected to have a personally curated collection of oils. Sesame for stir frying, walnut for winter salads and so on. And that’s before you embrace the currently modish coconut and avocado oils.

All are wonderful, but it occurred to me the other day that with this oily abundance, we often forget just how delicious things are when cooked in butter.

I was reminded of this the other day, more or less by accident. I’d made some garlic bread the night before and had a bit of flavoured butter left over. Not wanting to put much effort into lunch, I spied some past-their-best tomatoes in the veg rack and fried them up in the garlic butter. And it was… a revelation.

It shouldn’t have been, I suppose. Marcella Hazan, the revered Italian cookery writer, is most famous for her tomato sauce recipe which contains a generous amount of butterI’d just forgotten quite how silky it makes everything.

This is barely even a recipe but still, if you’ve neglected butter in your stovetop cooking recently, it’s worth trying.

Remarkably Delicious Butter Tomatoes (serves one)


  • 10g butter
  • 1 clove garlic (optional but recommended)
  • handful of tomatoes

To serve

  • 1 slice sourdough toast


  1. Halve cherry tomatoes and slice larger ones
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook until broken down and pulpy
  4. Season will with salt and pepper and serve on toast

Ifs And Ands

  • No embellishments necessary but basil leaves would go well. Or the addition of a torn mozzarella ball or crumbled feta make a more substantial lunch.
  • This would make a great quick pasta sauce too.
  • For a cold variation on the theme try melted, browned butter drizzled over sliced, fresh tomatoes as in this gorgeous salad from Food 52.
  • The butter itself can come in useful for all sorts of things so it's worth making lots and keeping it in a (sealed) container in the fridge for cooking other veg, stirring through pasta or just spreading on toast for a snack. Chilli, herbs or lemon zest butter would also be nice to have.