My Favorite Tomato

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among the last sweethearts

They’ve been coming fast and fabulous for most of the summer. And now they’re getting close to their last hurrah. Get ‘em while you can. They’re planning their winter vacations now. Precious. Juicy. Jewels.

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aren’t they gorgeous?

We planted just 4 tomato plants in the backyard, in a raised bed, and we didn’t know what we were doing. We planted them too close. So when they grew (who knew tomato plants like to reach eight feet?) and sprouted millions (I didn’t count, but I think it was millions) of tomatoes, we had a tomato jungle spilling all over itself.

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We scrambled for makeshift stakes. We criss-crossed with twine & string until we ran out. Then we used shiny pink ribbon (what was in the house). The fence did its part (great lean-to & lean-on). All these partners worked at keeping those prolific tomato plants upright. So we managed. And the funnest part: every day, first thing in the morning, all we wanted to do was look out to see what was going on.

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These plants-in-a-tomato-jungle were the equivalent of one of those see-through ant farms. The ones where you can watch the ants strolling along the lanes carrying 60 times their body weight in food or building materials. This city of tomatoes was equally busy. Flowering, leaving, pulping up with green toms, turning pink, turning orange, turning red.

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The endless supply of tomatoes landed in our kitchen. Grape and cherry toms hang out in the plastic colander we used to collect them, and sit on the counter day and night. It’s our candy dish. Two or three are popped in the mouth each time we pass by.

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Then there are the not actually ruby red ones, sitting on the window sill, waiting for more red. And the bowl of deep red babies ready for slicing, wedging, or whatever we come up with.

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My most favorite recipe for these slicing tomatoes is Tomatoes on Toast. I’ve eaten this toast almost daily since our crop’s been abundant.

Toast a slice of your favorite bread. Spread a layer of mayo.

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Slice your wonderful tomato into thin slices (or thick if you like). Lay them out on the mayo-ed toast. Sprinkle with salt.

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That’s it.

That’s all you need.

Since I spend time in the kitchen (a lot) my imagination reaches for more. Like a grated fresh tomato sauce…

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4 large ripe tomatoes, 1-2 garlic cloves, drizzles of olive oil, 2 sprigs each fresh basil, oregano, sage, salt & pepper to taste

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the tomatoes. Just start grating with the whole tomato (opposite end of the stem). The grater will cut through the first skin and then grate the flesh, leaving you with outer skin. Throw away skin. Peel the garlic, smash it flat, add to the grated tomato. Drizzle a little olive oil in tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the herbs. Let stand for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to combine and add to your favorite pasta. It will be a thin sauce, but the flavor is wonderful.

*****

Or a roasted cherry tomato sauce…

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2 pints cherry or grapes tomatoes, 2-3 cloves garlic (smashed), 1/4 cup olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons white wine or dry vermouth, fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, sage, or mixture, salt & pepper to taste

Line a sheet pan with foil. Toss tomatoes and garlic with oil and wine. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with herbs. Roast in oven for about 1/2 hour-40 minutes until tomatoes are tender.

******

Or a technicolor tomato-beet salad…

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4-5 red or golden beets (or combination)

2 ripe red tomatoes, cut into thin slices

2 ripe golden tomatoes (or 1 pint grape tomatoes), cut into thin slices, grape toms halved

1/2 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

1-2 sprigs, fresh mint, leaves only, torn into small pieces

2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, torn into small pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 teaspoons mild vinegar

salt & pepper to taste

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Rinse beets of any dirt. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until tender. (Test with a paring knife.) Let beets cool enough so you can handle them. Use a paring knife to peel off skin. Then cut into thin slices. Place beets and tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add herbs and walnuts. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt & pepper. Toss gently to combine. Sprinkle goat cheese crumbles.

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Or a sweet tomato tart…

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2 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4” half-moons

salt for sprinkling

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons Demerara sugar, divided

3 tablespoons white sugar, divided

2 tablespoons sparkling finishing sugar

1 egg for egg wash

5-6 basil leaves, torn

For the pastry dough:

1.5 cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

pinch salt

1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

1/4 cup cold white wine

Make the pastry: Add the flour, sugar, & salt to the bowl of food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, pulse until the mixture is crumbly with small chunks of butter. Add wine (or same amount of ice water). Pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Turn dough out onto a work surface and press together into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes-1 hour.

Meanwhile, salt the tomato slices and let drain in colander for about 1/2 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about a 1/8” thick circle. Move to a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan. Drizzle honey evenly over surface.

Place tomato slices in an overlapping circle, filling in the center and leaving about a 2-inch border of dough. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar, and white sugar. Fold in edges of the dough. Brush dough with egg wash. Sprinkle more of both sugars over dough and add the sparkling finishing sugar. Bake for about 35 minutes until golden. When cooled, sprinkle with basil leaves.

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But my favorite recipe— and my favorite “tomato” is Tomato Toast…

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It’s strange passing by all the tomatoes in the supermarkets — and even farmers’ markets. We don’t need any tomatoes from the store. At least now we don’t.

But that will change. I can’t imagine eating any other tomato than the ones coming from the yard. But I know I’ll probably give in to the store-bought by the time we reach December. I hope I don’t forget the difference when I taste a winter tomato. But even if I do forget— the memory will race back next summer. When we plant 4 more (or maybe more) tomato plants.

Come summer!

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Got tomatoes? Make a quick, fresh, pasta sauce.

tomatoes at Rialto Market in Venice

tomatoes at Rialto Market in Venice

Summertime and the tomatoes are easy. And they’re here. Lots of them.

The multi varieties in the markets make me feel a bit giddy inside. The color alone widens my eye pupils sending waves of exciting energy. Yes, just looking at them brings happiness.

We know there’s just a small summer window for summer locally-grown tomatoes (the ones in the photo above were “imported” from Sicily to Venice). Just a small window when tomatoes are really GOOD. When all we have to do to enjoy them is slice ’em up (maybe add a few grains of salt) and just eat.

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But if you’re raking in bushels-full then it’s time to make some fresh tomato sauce. You can freeze the sauce (in dinner-time amounts) in plastic containers or ziplock bags. Or with just 6-8 tomatoes you can make some sauce just for tonight. It’s easy!

In the recipe below is the technique called tomato “concasse,” where you peel and seed the tomato and cut it into pieces. Eliminating the peel and seeds takes away any rough or bitter taste, leaving a smooth, buttery tomato for your sauce.

peeled tomatoes

peeled tomatoes

fresh tomato sauce

fresh tomato sauce

Flavor your sauce with onion and/or garlic and fresh herbs.

fresh tomato sauce

fresh tomato sauce

Choose your favorite pasta shape (any will do) and take your bowl of pasta and fresh tomato sauce outside, in the garden, on the terrace (or at least by a summery window). Sip a cool glass of wine. Immerse yourself in summer.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

6-8 large ripe tomatoes

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

2-3 garlic cloves, smashed

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt & pepper to taste

handful torn basil or mint leaves

Using a paring knife, core the tomatoes (just cut out the stem end). Cut a superficial “x” at the bottom of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, big enough to hold the tomatoes. Drop in tomatoes to boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Lift out tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place immediately in an ice water bath (large bowl with about 2 cup ice and added water). Once tomatoes have cooled down take them out of water and they should be easy to peel. Discard skins. Cut tomatoes in quarters and using your fingers, slide out most of the seeds.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic. Cook until onion softens and garlic colors lightly. Add the wine. Let it cook until almost evaporated. Add tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer, covered askew, about 20-30 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, smash the pieces of tomato to break them down a bit. Boil your pasta. Unite with sauce! Add a sprinkling of grated cheese.

tomatoes in Rialto Market in Venice

tomatoes in Rialto Market in Venice

What Makes This Water So Crazy?

The Aisle of Capri

The Aisle of Capri

Acqua Pazza. Translation: Crazy Water.  It’s the name of an Italian fish dish. As in Pesce all’Acqua Pazza. I’d heard of it for years, read recipes, but never cooked or ate it until my traveling group to the Amalfi Coast cooked it up at a local class in Ravello.

Cooking Class in Ravello at Hotel Villa Maria

Cooking Class in Ravello at Hotel Villa Maria

We used branzino in our cooking class at Hotel Villa Maria in Ravello. Fresh as fresh could be. Filleting the whole fish just before slipping it into the flavorful crazy water.

Our chef explaining the fish filleting process

Our chef explaining the fine points of fish filleting to me

 

I was intrigued through the cooking process and then majorly hooked from the first bite.

Crazy Water in Ravello

Crazy Water in Ravello

Fish in Crazy Water in Ravello

Fish in Crazy Water in Ravello

I had always thought the dish originated in the Veneto because Marcella Hazan seems to be the first Italian cook/chef to introduce it to the US (she lived in Venezia). But it’s really from Campania, and apparently became a very popular dish on the aisle of Capri in the 1960’s.

Story goes that fishermen used sea water with tomatoes and garlic to make a broth for cooking fish. Sounds crazy, no? Maybe cooking with sea water is. But the recipe that evolved from the idea is nicely seasoned fresh water.

At home I use cod or tilapia. But I think any firm fish would work perfectly.

Here’s how to make it for 4-6 medium-sized fish fillets:

In a deep large sauté pan add:

3-4 ripe tomatoes that have been cut into bite-sized chunks

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled & minced or rough-chopped

healthy handful of flat Italian parsley, rough-chopped

healthy pinch of hot pepper, i.e. red pepper flakes or aleppo

3-4 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil or more

Season mixture with salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, then let simmer, partially covered for about an hour. Let the water reduce a bit in the process. I add some lemon juice and lemon zest (from one small-medium lemon), but that’s not in the traditional recipe. I just like lemon!

When the crazy water has simmered and reduced a bit, the ingredients will blend into a beautiful taste and color. Season your fish fillets with salt and pepper, slip them into the broth, cover the pan and let them simmer gently till cooked through — about 10-15 minutes. Done!

Serve in medium (pasta) bowls: a fillet, a couple of ladles of chunky broth, and a slice or two of toasted/or warm/or crunchy bread (I use baguette).

So easy. So healthful. So tasty. And not crazy at all.

Fish in Crazy Water at Home (Tilapia)

Fish in Crazy Water at Home (Tilapia)

“Mini” Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad Ingredients

Caprese Salad Ingredients

Actually, this salad can be as big as you’d like. The only “mini” about it is the size of the ingredients in the bowl. Usually Caprese salads are nice big slices of tomatoes and  mozzarella alternating on the plate like a splayed deck of cards (ready for a fancy trick-pick a card, any card…um, queen of tomato?). But this one puts it all in a bowl in bite-sized pieces. You don’t need a knife to eat it (but a fork is useful).

I’m combining the usual Caprese ingredients–tomatoes, mozzarella, basil–with a couple of other ingredients that used to satisfy my after-school snack desires: shallot & dried oregano. A fav dish of mine in that nowhere time zone of school-day-done-and-dinner was cut up tomatoes, diced yellow onion, dried oregano, olive oil and salt & pepper. I can still wolf down that concoction without blinking.

Of course, you know what “Caprese” means? Capri. As in the isle of Capri. Off the coast of Amalfi. One of those wowza places that sings siren songs in your head unexpectedly (like when you’re eating cheerios for breakfast or walking in a parking lot or doing the laundry–events that have nothing to do with the isle of Capri and so that’s its magic: it shows up anywhere).  I was just wandering that island last June. The streets were filled with tourists (doesn’t matter, it’s still phenomenal), the shops were dripping with everything you want to buy, the scenery takes your breath away so you have to stop to breathe every other step. On our approach to Marina Piccola by boat we slipped through the Faraglioni “rock islands” and felt like a visitor to another (beautiful) planet.

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Faraglioni, Capri

So if you’re from Capri, you’re Caprese. Tomatoes grow in the south of Italy, mozzarella is made in Campania, which makes this salad “Caprese.”

Here’s how I turn it into “mini”…

Cut up the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces:

Cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces

tomatoes in bite-sized pieces

Mince shallot (instead of my teenage-hood onion, much more subtle and gentle):

cutting shallot

cutting shallot

Use mini mozzarella balls (bocconcini)…and even these I cut in half:

cutting cheese

cutting cheese

Add fresh basil and/or fresh mint…I tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces:

basil and mint

basil and mint

Dried oregano for that “after-school” zing:

add dried oregano

add dried oregano

Drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper and you’re in the land of yum…(just shy of the Tyrrhenian Sea by a few thousand miles but your taste buds just might be fooled).

mini Caprese Salad

mini Caprese Salad

Man, You Are One Cute Tomato!

Tomato-Herb Salad

Tomato-Herb Salad

I’ll bet that’s what you’ve been saying all summer every time you’re at the farmer’s market. Or even at the supermarket (I remember in NYC, at summertime, the supermarket would have piles of “Jersey Tomatoes”).

I palpitate, almost hyperventilate, when I see those red, pink, yellow beefy or delicate or misshapen tomatoes strewn over the market tables. And then the little pint baskets with mixed grape or cherry tomatoes in red, yellow & green. And the craggy, voluptuous heirloom tomatoes. Edible sculptures just begging for salt and teeth.

You can get dizzy-looney coming up with new ways/uses for the beauties. Of course the best is to just bite in and slurp. Go ahead. Nothing like it. But if you’d like to use a fork and/or knife this gentle salad is like building a pedestal for those queens and kings of summer (are tomatoes male or female– mmmm….??).

I cut up a variety of tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Tear a bunch of fresh mixed herbs. (Try basil, tarragon, mint, parsley, fennel fronds.) Add a drizzle of olive. A drizzle of apple cider vinegar. Season lightly with salt & pepper (lightly because these tomatoes come equipped with giant flavor). Add some crumbled goat cheese on top. (Perhaps a handful of walnuts?) Toss gently. Take the whole serving bowl to your place at the table (preferably outdoors), (bring a fork). Pour a crispy cold little glass of white wine (I’ll take a New Zealand sauvignon blanc). And dive in…to summer in a bowl. To one of the best moments of your life (you’ll thank yourself one cold future winter day). It’s a celebration of you in summer untied with the willing friends of planet earth.

Tomato-Herb Salad

Tomato-Herb Salad

The Lowly Breadcrumb…Not

Toasted Breadcrumb

Toasted Breadcrumb

All you have to do is add a little olive oil to a sauté pan. Heat it a bit. Throw in a peeled, smashed clove of garlic. Add about a cup of breadcrumbs (regular, panko, fresh-made, either/or) and sauté until golden or dark brown. Season with salt & pepper. Discard garlic clove.

Now what?

I used to only make this when I made pasta with a seafood sauce. Toasted, flavored breadcrumb sprinkled on the pasta instead of cheese is the best way to enjoy seafood pasta.

But now I go crazy. I’m topping fish filets and then roasting them in the oven with some added lemon. (Sometimes I add a little grated parmigiano to the breadcrumb.)

Cod Filets with Breadcrumb Topping

Cod Filets with Breadcrumb Topping

I’m mixing the toasted breadcrumb with roasted or sautéed vegetables.  (Zucchini, roasted peppers, string beans, asparagus.)

Zucchini and yellow squash

Zucchini and yellow squash

Peppers, Capers, Breadcrumb

Peppers, Capers, Breadcrumb

Sprinkle some on top of scrambled eggs. Add it to the salad.  Stuff a chicken breast. Or a mushroom or tomato.

Roasted Tomatoes with Breadcrumb

Roasted Tomatoes with Breadcrumb

The crunch, the added flavor, the look of it (rustic, surprising, okay, yes, exciting) takes your dish to a deeper level. Maybe it’s from the cucina povera but necessity is often the muse of several bouts of serendipity.

Paulette

Paulette

Frittata. The Chameleon in the Kitchen.

mushrooms and tomato

mushrooms and tomato

They say accessories make the outfit. Well, how would you accessorize eggs?

I start with what’s in the refrigerator. OR I see what’s in the refrigerator and think: “that would make a great frittata.”

So to accessorize my eggs I’d sometimes choose mushrooms, or potatoes, or peppers, or tomatoes, or leftover pasta, or herbs and onion. Or all of that.

Today the chameleon took on the color of tomato and mushroom. And eventually well-goldened egg.

Mushroom Tomato Frittata

Mushroom Tomato Frittata

And even tho this chameleon couldn’t blend so as to disappear against the background of the kitchen, it, nonetheless, looked…splendid.

I started by heating some olive oil in a stainless sauté pan. Added some sliced mushrooms…

sautéing mushrooms

sautéing mushrooms

…cooked till softened…

cooked mushrooms

cooked mushrooms

…cracked 4 eggs and whisked with parmigiano and salt and pepper…

whisking egg with parmigiano

whisking egg with parmigiano

…put eggs in the pan with mushrooms…….added tomato slices. Cooked over medium heat until bottom was set…

tomatoes in frittata

tomatoes in frittata

…then put under broiler for 3-5 minutes until golden….

cooked frittata

cooked frittata

DON’T FORGET THE HANDLE ON THE SAUTE PAN IS OVEN-HOT….when you take it out use a potholder and then leave the potholder on the handle to REMIND yourself it’s hot!

Loosen frittata from pan and slide onto a serving dish. Cut into wedges. Hot or room temp (even cold). Yay. Yum.

frittata serving

frittata serving