Tag Archives: tomatoes

summer tomatoes and a savory zucchini bread {les culinettes}

Summer tomatoes may seem like an odd thing to post about right now, as most other North American food bloggers are fully in fall’s sway. But now that I have this silly wedding business behind me, I’m catching up with a few odds and ends- blog posts I’ve been sitting on; photos I’ve been meaning to edit; recipes I wanted to share. Besides, the particular recipe I have for you today- a savory zucchini-tomato bread- is actually more suited to this time of year, because who wants to turn up the oven on a sweltering August day? (Oh, that’s right, I did.) This bread, though- if you still have a glut of zucchini but are tired of sweet zucchini bread, this is the ticket. It’s rich, eggy, cheesy and perfect for a cool fall day, and it keeps for a few days because of how moist it is. Also, if you’re grabbing bushels of Roma tomatoes to make these roasted Romas, this is a great use for them. Mine were from last year (roasted and frozen in olive oil) but they held up beautifully. If you don’t have tomatoes you can throw in a handful of black olives, or even a little diced ham.

The last meeting of our cooking club took place on August 12 and as we have a seasonal bent, we celebrated the tomato. Once again, I wondered how we would pull off 8 or so dishes with the same ingredient in common and not have it be “too much”, and once again, I needn’t have worried. From just-picked to barely cooked to long-simmered to roasted, the permutations were as creative as they were delicious. Sarah skewered fresh tomatoes with melons, basil and mozzarella for a salad on a stick. Molly puréed tomatoes from her garden with peaches and a little yogurt and garnished it with tarragon for a chilled summer soup, a riff on a Mark Bittman recipe. Amy, ever the fancy-pants (I say this with the utmost admiration!), stuffed squash blossoms with seasoned diced eggplant, fried them and set them on a bed of barely-cooked tomato sauce. Heavenly.

Speaking of heavenly, I want to digress just for a moment here to talk about our hostess Abigail and her stunning Ann Arbor home, which you can see a tiny glimpse of in a couple of these photos. I hope it doesn’t embarrass her if I say that I was absolutely enamored with her house and its decor, a perfect blend of old world/antique and whimsical modern. The house itself is in amazing condition, with original woodwork throughout, a gorgeous fireplace and many other cool details. And the landscaping- let’s just say gardening is Abigail’s labor of love, and it shows. Much of Abigail’s decor, including the “most beautiful chandelier in the world” (as she told her husband to convince him they needed to buy it and ship it back) was purchased during their time living in Italy. I’m guessing the heavy linens on the dining table were of European provenance as well- you just can’t buy stuff like that at a department store.

Of course it’s no surprise that such impeccable taste would carry over to the kitchen. Our hostess made two knockout dishes, one an appetizer with multiple components, the other a homey potato gratin (in a vintage enameled casserole, no less). The appetizer was composed of a whipped chive goat cheese and a deeply savory tomato-shallot-vinegar compote topped with a basil leaf, on little almond biscuits. The sweet cookie-like biscuits were unexpected but totally worked. It was a struggle not to devour too many, as we all wanted to save room for dinner.

It’s been well over a month since this dinner and I’m struggling to remember what Emily and Meghan brought- please forgive me, ladies! I believe the roasted tomatoes with capers and mozzarella were Meghan’s contribution, and Emily brought a simple salad of tomatoes from her garden. She was understandably much too busy to prepare anything more complex (not that she needed to anyway), as she was getting married the following weekend. Congratulations Emily! I don’t think I would have even been able to attend any social events the week before our wedding, as I was so busy taking care of last minute details, but she seemed much more organized than I.

As usual, we had a grand old time eating, drinking and making merry. We were privileged to have been joined by Abigail’s old school friend Chiara, who was visiting from Brooklyn on her first weekend away from her kids. I hope we showed her a proper good time. Kids, if you’re reading, she was fighting back the tears pining for you the whole time. Really!

Some say a bride experiences a let-down after the wedding, when there is no longer a big event to focus on, and the attention dwindles. I don’t feel this way in the slightest, at least not yet- on the contrary, I’m really excited to have time once again to cook and have dinner parties. I will of course post about the wedding very soon, once I get our photos and have some time to digest everything, so to speak. The ultra-short summary is that we had the time of our lives and the food was to die for. But I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen, so here’s hoping we’ll plan another Culinettes party ASAP!

Savory Zucchini Bread with Roasted Tomatoes and Parmesan
printer-friendly version

The inspiration for this recipe is the savory “cakes” served in France as part of the apéro (pre-dinner drinks and snacks). The first time I made it, I used roasted tomatoes and black olives, but wanted to adapt it to make use of the overabundance of zucchini in gardens and markets at the end of summer. The results are a delicious departure from sweet, muffin-like zucchini breads.

Prep: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 ounces Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
5 large eggs
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup roasted Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup grated shallot or onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or other fresh herbs of your choice)

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease 2 loaf pans or four mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cheese, salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the wine and olive oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the egg/wine mixture in. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet until fully incorporated; do not over-mix. Lumps are fine. Fold in the vegetables and rosemary. Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake until the top is golden and crusty and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes for small loaves and an hour for large loaves (please note that I didn’t make large loaves so I can’t vouch for the timing- keep an eye on them and test to be sure).

Advertisements

a month of firsts, and an old favorite

I’m sitting in the guest room where Robespierre and Farrow are sequestered, trying to milk the last moments with them before we give them up this week to their new “parents” (due to Marvin’s severe allergies). The house– my new home– is filled with the aroma of chicken roasting on a bed of shallots, herbs and garlic, courtesy of Marvin, who decided to take a turn in the kitchen tonight. Although we signed the paperwork over a month ago, the moving process has been slow, and I was still at the old house this weekend trying to take care of odds and ends and consolidate things to one side in the basement. As of this weekend I’ll have tenants in both flats, and even though I’ve been sleeping here for a couple weeks, that somehow seems to make it official.

Surprisingly, I have been managing to cook a fair amount since the move, I just haven’t had time to photograph or blog about it. We’ve had venison and pork meatballs with pasta sauce from last summer’s tomatoes, a chicken in mustard sauce with goat cheese and leek-stuffed apples, and these Provençale-style mussels that I actually did photograph because it was a paying gig for a recipe column I’ve been writing.

That day we also had our first dinner guest, our friend Jon, who had been helping Marvin move that day. I love all the “firsts” that come not just with moving, but with moving in together- our first night in the new house, first meal cooked on the new stove, first guests, etc. One first that I am particularly eagerly anticipating is the first fire in the fireplace (right now, there are boxes piled in front of it, but I hope to rectify that this weekend). Unlike the vast majority of my peers, I have never shacked up with a significant other, so I was a little anxious about the adjustment, but it seems to be going fairly smoothly so far. (One night at dinner when we did get into a bit of a spat, he gave me a hug afterward and said something like “It’s OK, it wouldn’t be normal if we didn’t have some growing pains”. That’s why I love this man!)

As soon as things are more settled, I really hope to get back into my blogging routine. Going from posting a few times a week to only once or twice a month is seriously bumming me out! Part of it is due to time taken up with some paid writing gigs I’ve gotten lately, which is a good thing, but I miss writing here just for me (and the few of you who visit).   But instead of dwelling on that, can we talk about mussels? I can’t believe I’ve never posted about mussels before, seeing as how they’re one of my favorite quick-but-fancy meals (fancy in terms of being a bit more exotic than my usual weeknight fare, not in terms of difficulty).

This recipe will be old hat for experienced mussel-makers, but I’m hoping to convert a few of you who may have the mistaken assumption that mussels are tricky to make. Au contraire, mon frère– if you can mince shallots and open a bottle of wine, you’re more than halfway there. This article on CHOW is the best one I found to describe the selection, cleaning and storage of mussels for the uninitiated. Personally, I just buy them the day I’m going to use them; the store I buy from (Holiday Market) sells them already cleaned and debearded, so all I have to do is check for any open ones (if they close when you tap them, they’re still alive and you can safely use them). Add a green salad and some bread to soak up the juices and you have a pretty freaking fantastic meal in about 10-15 minutes. Perfect if you’re busy doing other things like, say, unpacking 30 boxes of cookbooks…

Moules à la Provençale (Mussels with Tomatoes and Garlic)
printer-friendly version

The following recipe makes enough for two main-dish portions or four appetizer portions. If you want to double the recipe, double the quantity of mussels but only increase the other ingredients by half.

2 lbs. mussels
2-3 large shallots, roughly chopped (about 2/3 c.)
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped (about 2 tbs.)
1 bay leaf
4 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 c. dry white wine (I used an inexpensive Vinho Verde, but a Sauvignon Blanc would also work well)
A couple of glugs of olive oil (about 2 tbs.)
Pinch of salt, as needed

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, lidded skillet (alternatively, a Dutch oven or stock pot may be used). Add the shallot and garlic and cook until they just begin to soften. Add the wine and bay leaf and simmer for a couple of minutes to blend the flavors. Add the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of the parsley. Taste the mixture for salt, adding a pinch or two if needed (may not be necessary if your tomatoes are salted).

When the mixture begins to simmer again, add the cleaned mussels and cover the pan or pot with a lid. You will want to have the rest of your meal ready to go, because the mussels are best eaten as soon as they are cooked. Steam the mussels for about 4 minutes, shaking  the pot occasionally (especially important if your pot is deeper than it is wide and the mussels are stacked on top of each other). Do not overcook or the mussels will become tough.

Spoon the mussels into shallow bowls with some of the cooking liquid and vegetables, then garnish with the reserved parsley. Any mussels that have not opened should be avoided (usually there are only a couple per batch). Serve immediately with crusty bread, a salad and the leftover wine you used for cooking.

taking a deep breath… tuscan beans with tomatoes & sage

Folks, I’m taking a deep breath.  This post is about one of the easiest, most laid-back dishes in my repertoire.  While I did snap a few photos, I didn’t stress about the lighting or try to style the food or plating.  I just wanted to do an easy-breezy blog post since it’s been a while.

Most everyone I know has a lot going on- everyone has periods where things get crazy, time is maxed out, and they feel completely spread thin.  So I try not to go on TOO much about how nuts everything feels, because it’s like “boo hoo, you’re not the only one who has a million things to do and no time to do them in”.  But the past couple weeks were frantic even by my standards.  Blogging, of course, didn’t even make the list of things to do during this time, but I hope to rectify that in the next week or two before things get busy again with my sister’s wedding.

The Friday morning of Memorial weekend, I left for my sister’s bachelorette party in Nashville.  I had worked all week and tried to get things ready bit by bit- shopping for gifts, laundry, making sure there was food for the cats, a trip to the library for books on tape and Nashville guides, and all the other little pre-trip things that needed attending to.  Packing and straightening the house, of course, always gets left until the last possible minute.  So, as I was trying to get things together at 10:30 Thursday night, I got an unexpected call from my friend Youn, an old acquaintance from my Toulouse days.  He and a friend were traveling around the U.S. and wanted to know, could they possibly come and stay for a few days?  Of course! I replied, while inwardly starting to panic.  The house was reasonably tidy- I don’t like to come home to a mess- but it was nowhere near “house-guest clean”.  I would have to drive 10 hours, then spend a few hours cleaning Monday night, because I had to work on Tuesday and they were arriving that evening. Also sandwiched into the week’s schedule were two Scarlet Oaks shows, one of which was in Cleveland.

Long story short, I pulled everything together the best I could and we had a nice time (more about their visit in a later post), but coming back from a trip and then entertaining for 5 days left me wiped out.  Sunday I wanted to cook, but I knew I needed to do something hyper-simple.  My mind jumped to this dish of white beans with tomato and sage (one I’ve made many times before) because of the abundance of sage in my herb garden right now.  This is one of the easiest dishes I know, and it goes great with some grilled Italian sausages.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate so our sausages were pan-grilled in the cast-iron skillet, but that actually made things even easier.  I threw together a green salad as well as some cucumbers with labneh (thick strained yogurt), scallion, lemon and parsley, we cracked open a bottle of red, and reveled in our simple feast as we breathed a sigh of relief at not having anywhere to be or anyone to entertain.  While I love having guests, a quiet evening with my sweetheart was just what I needed to get grounded and catch my breath.

If your sage is blowing up right now too, check out this post from Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini on 45 things to do with fresh sage!

Tuscan Beans with Tomatoes & Sage (adapted from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites)
printer-friendly version

This recipe is originally from a low-fat cookbook, and you can certainly choose to make it that way, but I of course like it with generous amounts of olive oil.  Obviously, you can cook the beans from dried, or use fresh tomatoes if in season, but the point is that you can open a few cans and have a pretty tasty and respectable side dish ready in about 15 minutes.  For the vegetarian folks out there, you could certainly serve this alongside veggie sausage or even some risotto to get the complete rice+beans protein combo.

2 15 or 19-oz cans cannellini beans*, rinsed and drained (I prefer the bigger cans if you can find them)
1 28-oz can good quality diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved*
3-6 cloves garlic, depending on size, to yield about 2 Tbs minced
about 25-30 washed sage leaves, to yield 3-4 Tbs minced
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

*Another type of white bean can be substituted if necessary.

**My version appears more “saucy” because I used whole canned plum tomatoes and just squished them up with my hands as I added them to the pot.  Remember, this dish is all about whatever’s easiest.

Put a few Tbs of olive oil in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.  When warm, add the garlic, stirring frequently (you want it to soften but not brown).  After a couple minutes, increase the heat slightly and add the sage.  Cook for a couple more minutes, then add the drained tomatoes.  Cook for a few minutes to blend the flavors, then add the beans and cook until heated through.  If the dish seems too dry, add a bit of the reserved tomato juice.  Drizzle a little more olive oil on top if desired, and serve.

summer’s last hurrah: roasted vegetable ratatouille

ratatouille on plate 3

farmers market tableAll of my food friends have been all atwitter the last couple weeks about pumpkins, apples and other fruits of fall, but I’ve been having a harder time letting go of summer flavors.  It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that the whole summer had gone by and I hadn’t made any ratatouille- how did that happen?!  Luckily the folks at the farmers’ market still had tomatoes, peppers and eggplant [NB: this was 2 weeks ago, on Oct. 3]- I just had to go to the store for squash, but happily it was locally grown too.

I realize this recipe isn’t very timely*, but it takes me a while to get a blog post up these days.   I bought the vegetables and didn’t get to make the ratatouille until the following weekend.  (That’s one of the perks of the farmers’ market though- it’s so fresh that even if it sits around for a week, it’s still probably fresher than what’s at the store.) Tack another week on there to edit photos and write up a post and before you know it, it’s already mid-October! I’m trying to be Zenlike about the fact that I have almost no free time these days, and just make sure to fully take advantage of any little scrap that I do have, but it’s hard not to be a little bummed out.  For example, I really wanted to make the pho recipe for this month’s Daring Cooks, and the date rushed up on me before I could plan it out.  (Sadly, all of my cooking has to be planned with near-military precision these days, or it just can’t fit in…)

ratatouille in potBut on to our ratatouille!  I’ve made ratatouille lots of times and had pretty good results, but this time I was after something specific: I wanted the vegetables to have that melting quality, but to keep their shape and flavor rather than be cooked down into an indistinguishable mush.  The solution?  Roasting.  Not only does roasting help them retain their “integrity”, but you get the additional element of caramelization that you wouldn’t get from cooking them all together on the stove.  Plus, you remove moisture and concentrate the flavor.  My guinea pigs, aka Marvin & Amanda, said they could definitely taste the difference.  I think this one’s a keeper!  I served it with creamy polenta with Parmigiano and some kale that I’d sautéed with olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes.  Along with a green salad, some bread and cheeses, and a couple bottles of red, it was the perfect goodbye-to-summer vegetarian feast.

blackened peppers

*I know this is borderline heretical, but if you’re in need of a summer food fix in the middle of winter, all of the ingredients for this can be found year-round at the grocery store, and I am hard-pressed to tell the difference between squash & eggplant from a greenhouse or from a garden once they’re cooked.  The tomatoes won’t be quite as good, but Romas are fairly dependable, and roasting definitely goes a long way towards improving them.  Or you could always substitute a can of good-quality San Marzanos.

roasted tomatoes 1

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille
printer-friendly version

This is a very loose “recipe” because ultimately I think this is a dish that has a lot of flexibility, and however you prepare it, it’s unlikely to be bad as long as you have good ingredients.  But here’s what I used and how I  went about it; use it as a guideline and go for it!

2 pints Roma tomatoes
3 bell peppers- red, yellow or orange
2 zucchini
2 yellow summer squash
1 eggplant
2-3 onions
3-4 cloves garlic
fresh herbs- I grabbed some marjoram, thyme, and a little rosemary from my garden, although basil is good too
sea salt
olive oil

Wash and pat dry the peppers, and place them in the broiler, turning occasionally and checking on them often, until they’re blackened on all sides.  Place in a paper grocery bag and roll the top shut; set aside.  Reduce oven to 300°.

raw veg on sheets

While the peppers are roasting, cut the squash and eggplant into large-ish chunks (see photos; they’ll shrink a bit as they roast).  Generously salt the eggplant and place in a strainer while you prep everything else.  Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the little stemmy bit; put cut side up on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a little salt and brush or drizzle with olive oil.  Cut the onions- I like to do wedge-shaped slices rather than rings.  Mince any herbs you’ll be using.

Place the squash & zucchini in a large bowl, salt lightly, and drizzle with olive oil.  Shake the bowl around so the oil gets distributed all over, then dump it onto a baking sheet.  Put the eggplant on some paper towel and press lightly to remove excess moisture and salt, then toss with olive oil, putting it on a separate baking sheet.  Place all three baking sheets in the oven.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins, stems and seeds, and cut into approx 1″ squares; set aside in a bowl.

In a dutch oven or other large heavy pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil (a few Tbs) over medium heat.  Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions begin to soften.  Add any minced herbs you’re using (except basil- add that at the end) and hold, covered, over low heat.

Check on the vegetables in the oven periodically- they’ll be ready at slightly different times.  I kept the tomatoes in about 10 minutes longer than the squash. Ultimately your cooking time will depend on how big you cut everything.  As the eggplant and squash are ready, add them to the pot with the onions and keep warm over low heat.  Add the peppers and any juices that have collected.  When the tomatoes are ready, let them cool enough to handle, and cut each half into quarters, adding to the pot.  Make sure to scrape any of the juice that collects on the cutting board into the pot as well!

Raise the heat slightly (to medium low) and cook the vegetables just until the flavors combine- remember, we’re going for distinguishable pieces rather than stew.  Taste for salt (although you shouldn’t need any, since the vegetables were already salted).  If you’re using basil, cut it into a chiffonade and stir it in at the end.  Serve with polenta or couscous for a vegetarian meal, or as a side dish to roasted chicken or lamb.  Leftovers can be used as filling for an omelette or put it in a baguette with some goat cheese… lots of possibilities with this one!

tomatomania part III: roasted tomato tarts with cornmeal-rosemary crust

I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes.  I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices.  Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty.  So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?

tart on plate 1

Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside.  But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second.  If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them.  They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar).  I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.

tarts on platter wide 1

However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them.  I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.

Have I convinced you yet?  If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set.  But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.

Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
printer-friendly version

You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans.  Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.

tart prep crop1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating

6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan

Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart– 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula.  The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk.  If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra.  If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.

tart prep w. custardDirections:  Preheat the oven to 400º.  Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go.  Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.   Prick the crust with a fork.  Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked.  For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)

Reduce the oven temp to 375º.  Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up.  If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top.  Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper.  I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes.  The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well.  You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked.   Grate some cheese over the tops.

tart prep w. cheese 1

Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10).  If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes.  When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version

Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these?  They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel,  I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many.  Live and learn, I suppose.  I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika.  I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that).  The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.

In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa).  I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day.  It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast.  Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness.  I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you.  If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.

You’ll need:

Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
olive oil
sea salt
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet.  Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil.  Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use.  Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much.  Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences.  To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).

tart on small plate

Cornmeal-Rosemary Tart Crust (adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
printer-friendly version

Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells.  Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water

When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.

Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter.  DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!

Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary.  Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time,  coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together.  You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.

When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it.  Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

tomatomania part II: tomato summer pudding

And thus continues my homage, my elegy, my song of praise for the humble tomato…

tomato pudding ingredients

It all started when I was very young.  My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a farmer who grew field corn, probably used for things like animal feed, corn oil, and maybe even high-fructose corn syrup, who knows.  But I prefer to remember him for the huge vegetable garden that he grew every year.  We’d go out to the farm for the day and return home with brown paper sacks brimming with tomatoes, corn, and maybe some zucchini or cucumbers.  The tomatoes and corn were the standouts, though; we’d boil up the corn, slather it with butter, dust it with salt and eat it with a big pile of sliced tomatoes.  This is still my favorite summer supper, although now I usually add a simple green salad and some good bread to soak up all those tomato juices.  I also have fond memories of helping my grandpa out on summer Saturdays at the Charlotte farmers’ market when I was 8 or 9 years old.  I don’t know how much he really needed my “help”, but I would bag up the corn for the customers and get paid (I think?) a dollar an hour, money that went to candy purchases or my sticker collection.

It’s been over 20 years since I had one of my grandpa’s tomatoes, so now I have to make do with what I can get from the area farmers.  Plotting out the fate of my remaining Eastern Market haul of tomatoes, I came across an unusual-sounding recipe in the Zuni Café Cookbook (one of my favorite cookbooks) for a layered tomato-and-bread “pudding” that was a riff on the summer berry puddings popular in England.  The concept is that you take white bread and berries (or in this case tomatoes), put them in a bowl with a weight on top, and the bread absorbs all the fruit’s juices and becomes compact and sliceable.  I’ve never had the berry version, but stale bread and tomatoes seems to be a winning combination (think gazpacho, pappa al pomodoro, panzanella…) so I was game to give it a try.

tomato pudding close

The pudding turned out to resemble a “structured” panzanella, tasting very salad-wannabe with its piquant sherry vinaigrette and bits of shallots and herbs.  Judy suggests basil, but wanting something a little different I used thyme and rosemary and was pleased with the results.  If the idea of soggy bread just doesn’t do it for you, I urge you to try it; you just may become a convert.  I thought Judy’s panade (another mushy stale-bread recipe) was odd the first time I tried it, but now make it regularly.  For efficiency’s sake, I think in the future I’d just make the more rustic panzanella if cooking for myself, but the layered presentation is certainly prettier if you have guests to impress.

Summer Tomato Pudding à la Judy Rodgers printer-friendly version

about 2 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes (if you can get heirlooms, the color variations make for an even more attractive dish)
8 oz. day-old bread, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup olive oil
3 tbs sherry vinegar (or sub red wine vinegar)
1 clove garlic
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 a  small cucumber (about 3 oz), peeled, seeded and diced
about 1/4 cup minced fresh herbs of your choice
salt and pepper

tomato puddiing assemblyPreheat the broiler.  Put the bread in a single layer on a couple cookie sheets and run under the broiler until lightly browned (on one side only).  Cut the garlic clove in half and rub all the toasted surfaces with it.  Brush the nontoasted side lightly with water and place in a bag to steam and soften.

Whisk together the oil and vinegar; set aside. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, place them cut sides down, and slice thinly. Pick out the shoulders and bottom end pieces and chop them.  Place them in a mesh strainer, salt them, and squish them through the strainer over the vinaigrette to release their juice; discard.  Add any juice that collects on the cutting board to the vinaigrette as well.

Build the pudding in a dish or bowl with a capacity of about 1 1/2 quarts.  You’re going to be weighting down the pudding, so choose a dish into which a flat object such as a plate or lid will just fit.  Start with a layer of bread, cutting or tearing it so it completely covers the bottom of the dish without overlapping.  Continue with a layer of tomatoes, overlapping those very closely like shingles.  Sprinkle on some shallots and herbs and a touch of salt and pepper, then drizzle on a few tbs. of the vinaigrette.  Add another layer of bread, pressing down to encourage the tomatoes to release their juice.  Repeat layers, ending with a layer of tomato. You should have a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette left over; save this, along with any leftover herbs, shallots etc. for garnish. Poke the pudding randomly with a skewer or a meat fork.

Cover with parchment paper or plastic, then place a plate or other flat object on top, and weight it down with cans or whatever you have handy (you’ll want a weight of at least a couple pounds).  Set aside at room temperature.

After about an hour, remove the weight and check the pudding by sliding a knife down the side of the dish; the pudding should ooze.  Taste the juice.  If it seems too dry, drizzle some more vinaigrette over the top and down the sides.  Press the pudding again until ready to serve.

To serve, remove the weights, run a knife around the edges, and invert the pudding onto a serving plate, rapping the bottom of the dish if it won’t release.  Present whole, and then cut into wedges (I found a serrated knife works best).  Garnish with any remaning sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs (or, if you like, a few scattered cherry or grape tomatoes).

tomatomania part I: kick@$$ blender salsa

salsa with chips vertical leftI don’t know about you, but I get a little manic this time of year.  It’s tomato season here in Michigan, that all-too-fleeting two or three-week period where we can actually get gorgeous, red-ripe tomatoes, the kind that actually taste like tomatoes should.  When the season rolls around, I feel a bit frantic- I want to put it in a chokehold so it can’t slip away, or beg it like a forlorn lover never to leave me…

If you couldn’t tell from the impassioned words above, tomatoes are my absolute favorite fruit and/or vegetable, and I get so frustrated reading recipes that have the caveat “Don’t bother making this unless you have really great tomatoes”, since 90% of the year I don’t.  Hence the mania- when I can actually make those dishes, I rush like crazy to make as many as possible before they elude me once more.

salsa with taco

Last Sunday at Eastern Market, we picked up half a bushel each of Romas and regular slicing tomatoes (not sure the exact variety), as well as a couple pounds of heirloom tomatoes (all for the paltry sum of $10!).  The heirlooms, of course, were simply sliced and eaten with a tiny pinch of salt and olive oil.  The Romas are destined to be slow-roasted with olive oil and herbs, and the regular tomatoes have (so far) been used to make a gargantuan batch of gazpacho and a small batch of salsa.  (Unoriginal, I know, but hey, it’s only once a year that I can make those things with excellent tomatoes.)  I still have a bunch left that I need to use- perhaps a panzanella, or a tomato panade or summer pudding?  Or stuffed tomatoes?  What’s your favorite way to showcase fabulous tomatoes?  I’m dizzy with the possibilities…

I’ll be posting more tomato recipes (hopefully) very soon; meanwhile, here’s a recipe for the easiest salsa you’ll ever make (and it’s pretty damn good, at that).  It’s very similar in style to the salsas served at Mexican restaurants- somewhat thinner than jarred salsa, but with an amazing fresh flavor and a little kick.  And outside of tomato season, if you substitute a couple cans of tomatoes, I won’t tell anyone.

Noelle’s Kick@$$ Blender Salsa printer-friendly version

4-5 cups ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion or 1/2 a large white onion, quartered
salsa in jar1 small jalapeño, halved and top removed (remove seeds and pith for a medium salsa; leave in for a hotter salsa)
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)

optional:
1 clove garlic
a handful of cilantro leaves

Notes: The garlic and cilantro are marked “optional” for the simple reason that if you don’t have them, you can still make a great-tasting salsa with the first four ingredients.  I love cilantro, but I know it’s not for everyone.  For the jalapeño, if you want it really spicy, don’t bother taking out the seeds or pith (if it ends up too spicy for your liking, you can always add more tomatoes).  In regards to equipment, I prefer the blender because it does a better job of not leaving any large chunks, but use the processor if that suits your fancy.

Directions: Place 3 cups tomatoes and all other ingredients in a blender or food processor, onions & jalapenos at the bottom.  Pulse gently until no large pieces remain, and the salsa has a nice even consistency.  Add the remaining tomatoes and pulse just a couple times- this will give the salsa a little more texture.  Taste for salt and adjust as needed.  The salsa will appear light in color at first from the air that gets mixed in during the puréeing, but after it sits it will settle and look normal. Makes about 1 quart.