tomato and basil

Tomato girl, part 2

Still tomato girl this week, I doubt I will really move on until I can my last SanMarzano in early October. I have moved away from carby dishes and have been playing with my tomatoes in flavor combinations that surprised me with their success. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been.

I am off to Italy on Sunday until the end of August. Find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to keep up with tales and shots of food from the motherland. I promise it will be more than tomatoes.

Zuppa fredda di pomodoro e erbe al limone

Lemon scented tomato and herb cold soup

for 4 to 6 people

about 1 pound very ripe tomatoes of any kind

combination of any of the following herbs:

basil, parsley, mint, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, cilantro

fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste olive oil

This is to use all the tomatoes that get squashed in the bottom of your bag when you walk home with your groceries, or for those tomatoes that are just a little moldy but can be partially salvaged, or that simply get overripe sitting on your counter.

I don’t have any proportions for this and I doubt I have made it the same way twice. Judge the smell, feel of it and, mostly, trust your taste, because ultimately anything you cook is successful if you like it and it makes you happy.

Chunk the tomatoes and roughly chop the herbs.

Place both in a blender with some lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Stream in a bit of olive oil and blend until it is a somewhat rough purèe.

You can adjust the consistency with water if it seems too thick.

This should be served in bowls, from which your guests can drink or eat depending on how runny it is.

Pomodori II.JPG

NOTES

  • I like to accompany this with some pan fried tortillas and offer a bowl of feta cheese alongside it for sprinkling on top
  • Other things you can add are a bit of onion or garlic-make sure they are minced into a paste, some heat-fresh chili, red pepper flakes, cayenne, pimenton, a few capers or some chopped olives
  • I suppose you can also spike it with a generous splash of something strong and dry

Insalata di melone, pomodori e cetriolo

Melon, tomato and cucumber salad

for 4 people

1 small sweet melon

2 ripe tomatoes (or 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes)

1 small cucumber

1 handful mint leaves

1/4 cup pistachios

2 to 3 very thin red onion slices (optional)

1 Meyer lemon

1 handful mint leaves

salt, pepper and olive oil to taste

 

Slice, peel and chunk the melon.

Wedge the tomatoes (or halve if using cherry tomatoes).

Slice the cucumber thinly.

Make paper thin half moons of the onion, if you decide to add it

Stack and roll the mint leaves longitudinally then cut in very thin ribbons.

Chop the pistachios fairly finely.

Arrange the melon, tomatoes and cucumber on a platter.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Scatter the onion slices over the platter and generously douse everything with lemon juice.

Toss lightly and drizzle with olive oil.

Garnish with the mint ribbons and pistachios. Serve slightly cold.

Charentais melons

Charentais melons

NOTES

  • I used charentais melons for this, they are smallish, their skin is smooth of a grayish green with darker green blurry lines running longitudinally at regular intervals
  • For the tomatoes, Cherokee Purples are my favorite in this salad, but I have also made it with Cherry, Beefsteak and Green Zebra
  • You can switch basil for mint or almonds for pistachios

Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.


Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.

NOTES

  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.

Late summer pasta: fresh tomatoes and ricotta salata

I spend all week gathering what always feel like perfect ideas for my next blog post. Then Thursday rolls around and I stare at the keyboard feeling that nothing is quite right and more often than not I crash right through the self imposed Friday morning deadline. I don't know how real writers do it, really, I am garnering more respect for them every day. But I realized something this week. I am not yet a real writer, and though I would like to become one, sometimes I am not even sure that I am ready for the serious bloggers realm. But what I am, a passionate, somewhat skilled cook and one who's greatest joy is sharing knowledge around a stove, is what inspires me every day to inch just a little closer to my next goal.

So I am sharing what inspires me now, in the hope that it will keep me moving along.

And one more thing, I didn't take a picture of the finished dish, the picture I am including is of me cooking it, wearing a tomato red dress.

Pasta al pomodoro fresco e ricotta salata Pasta with fresh tomatoes and ricotta salata

for 6 people: 1 pound medium size tomatoesCooking in red 1 to 2 cloves garlic 1 handful basil 1 generous dusting dried oregano salt to taste 1 pound pasta of your choice olive oil pepper to taste 1/2 cup shredded ricotta salata

Dice the tomatoes quite small and place them in a colander over a bowl.

Smash the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt using the side of your knife’s blade and add it to the tomatoes.

Pick and stack the basil leaves, roll them and cut them into very thin ribbons. Drop them over the tomatoes.

Add the dried oregano and a very generous amount of salt, 4 to 5 good sized pinches. Mix everything quite well and let drain to eliminate the water. The liquid that accumulates in the bowl should be periodically eliminated to the diced tomatoes do not sit in it.

This step can be done well in advance, even the day before.

While the pasta is cooking al dente in a generous pot of salted water, give the tomatoes a final drain by pressing them into the colander then transfer them to a serving bowl. Adjust salt and pepper and cover with olive oil.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cupful of cooking water, and drop it into the sauce when still very hot. Mix well, dust with the cheese and mix again. If the dish appears a little dry, add a bit of cooking water and some olive oil.

Serve right away.

NOTES:

  • Use sweet, fleshy tomatoes, preferably with thin skin. I find that dry farmed Early Girls work best, but have made it with other kinds to good success, including, in a pinch, good hothouse cluster tomatoes.
  • I enjoy this sauce with any kind of pasta, though I am partial to a good egg fettuccine.
  • The garlic can be minced and mixed into the sauce or just smashed and left whole to lend its fragrance to the sauce, then removed before serving, it all depends on one's taste for it.
  • Make some extra sauce without adding the oil. It will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 days. You can serve it over toasted bread, along side some grilled chicken or even quickly sautè it in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil for a really great tomato sauce.
  • For a special occasion, use handmade pasta, like the spaghetti I shared earlier this month.