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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Tomato Glutton

Oh the annual paean to The Tomato! I wonder… does any other fruit, or vegetable for that matter, achieve this much attention and such worship? So much is written about the glory of a summer tomato that I will humbly keep this short and offer you a couple of my favorite ways to eat them. The season for garden-ripe tomatoes is something I look forward to every year, and when they first begin to appear at the market, I simply can’t bear to cook them. Instead, I come home throw all the bags on the counter, root around to find the one with the tomatoes and then slice, sprinkle with salt and eat… while standing at the counter. Only after a few weeks am I willing to start cooking with them.

So, here we are in early September and I’ve been getting tomatoes in the CSA box for several weeks now. Call me crazy, but I supplement this with a weekly visit to my farmer’s market for a second batch of tomatoes each week. Hey. It’s a very small window of opportunity for a tomato lover, and I’ve got to make the most of it!

If you’re still in the I-Can’t-Get-My-Fill-of-Tomato-Salads period…here’s a beauty that I’ve been making for years. It’s from The Union Square CafĂ© Cookbook and it is both gorgeous and tasty. Can’t ask for much more than that! I make this regularly every summer, and it's unbelievable to me that it comes from a restaurant cookbook. I mean, where are the 48 steps? the obscure ingredients? the list of wacky kitchen equipment necessary to complete the recipe? (just so you know... the sight of the word chinois gives me a headache.) This is simplicity one can love.

Summer Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad
adapted from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook

(Servings are variable. One tomato glutton could, in theory, eat this whole thing...
or it could feed four, well-behaved people. Tomato varieties are also up to you...I like to mix it up a little with what I find at the market.)

2 red tomatoes -- go for that Brandywine you were eyeing at the market!
1 Green Zebra, if you can find it
1 yellow tomato
10-12, or a couple handfuls of grape/cherry yellow and red tomatoes
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1 small red onion, sliced thinly and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes (this works wonders at taking out the bite and crisping them up!)
12 basil leaves, thinly sliced into ribbons
5 oz. fresh soft goat cheese, crumbled
a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or red wine vinegar, if you prefer

Arrange the tomatoes on a platter, slicing the large ones into thin circles, and halving the small, cherry/grape tomatoes.
Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Drain the onions well and blot with a paper towel. Arrange over the tomatoes.
Sprinkle evenly with basil and crumbled goat cheese.
Drizzle with vinegar and oil.


If you've moved on to the next stage of Tomato Gluttony and are willing to use a little heat, here are two of my favorite summer pasta recipes.

When faced with the prospect of hosting a meal in our overheated apartment in mid-August, a 'no-cook' sauce is, well, err, a no-brainer for me. A zesty mixture of tomatoes, olive oil, and, wait for it....brie cheese chunks (!) sits on the counter for a few hours, patiently waiting for some cooked linguine before serving. It's that easy. Pair it with some good Italian sausage, broiled or grilled, and you've got yourself a heavenly meal -- and minimal paper towel brow mopping. This version is from my original copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook, and it really is fantastic. Kids like it too. My four-year old nephew, Michael, wanted to know if this was "mac-and-cheese". I thought about it, and said, well, actually, yes, it is. He proceeded to demolish an enormous serving.

Summer Linguine with Tomatoes and Basil
adapted slightly from The Silver Palate Cookbook, original edition

4 ripe large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound Brie cheese, rind removed, torn into irregular pieces (put the cheese in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to make rind removal easier)
1 cup large fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
1 lb. dried linguine
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, approx. 1/4 cup

Combine the tomatoes, Brie, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large pasta serving bowl, at least 2 hours before serving and set aside, covered, at room temperature.

Cook the linguine until tender but still firm, drain and immediately toss with the tomato sauce. Adjust pepper to taste, and toss with Parmesan cheese, to taste.

And, finally, my hero, Nigel Slater, roasts small grape or cherry tomatoes under the broiler until they're charred and blistered and oozing carmelized tomato goodness, before combining with pasta, basil and a dash of creme fraiche. This is one that I make sometimes in the winter when the little grape tomatoes from Florida show up at the store and I crave a bit of tomato sunshine.

Orecchiette with Roast Tomato and Basil Sauce
adapted from The Kitchen Diaries

serves 2-4

I got this book while in the UK so we're talking metric measurements and fun British ingredients. My copy is covered with notes and adjustments. In this dish he called for "double cream", and I've used creme fraiche as a replacement. Sigh...all those glorious British dairy products...

3-4 cups of cherry or grape tomatoes
4 fat cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
a drizzle of olive oil
1 lb. dried orecchiette
30 large basil leaves
4 tablespoons of creme fraiche
grated Parmesan or pecorino, to serve

Put the tomatoes and the slivered garlic in a roasting pan, drizzle with a little oil and place under the broiler. Leave them in until their skins are golden brown and black here and there and they are juicy and ready to burst.
As Nigel says...don't pussyfoot around here -- really let the tomatoes develop a good char... it will intensify the flavor.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a deep pan with generously salted water.

Remove the tomatoes from the broiler, and crush with a fork, skins and all. Drop in the basil leaves whole and stir to wilt. Add the creme fraiche, stir and taste for seasoning.
Eat straight away with a spoon or two of grated Parmesan or pecorino.



Jane said...

I wish you had an advice column, Marcia! On Sunday, we're going to have my family over for Eli's birthday, and I really want to serve all picnic food, and all vegetarian. I'm going to definitely make this tomato & goat cheese salad, which I just recalled reading about here. Also some sort of sandwich platter. What else for cold vegetable salads and to-go-withs (pickles)? Ideas! I need ideas!

Marcia said...

I am so late with my suggestion -- way too busy weekend -- but what about frittata!! Great at room temp and you can put whatever you want in it for the vegetarian requirement. I did one with kale (err, and sausage) back in July and have also done them in the style of a Spanish tortilla (yummy potato thing) for tapas. I'm a huge fan of Israeli couscous too. That's delicious with any combination of vegetables (roasted), toasted nuts and fresh herbs.
So, with these belated suggestions I'd love to know, how did it go?