Category Archives: tomatoes

Broiler Tofu with Roasted Corn Mixture

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Friends, I have a new way to cook tofu that does not involve frying it (!). Don’t worry, I’m not going too crazy—it’s still tossed in soy sauce and put over high heat with some oil—but this time in the oven.

Plus, after all that meat at Christmas in Montana (roast beef, smoked ham, scallops (brought by me from Maine), meatloaf with pork and emu, elk, venison, lamb…) I needed something a little more my usual style. Although I am intending to buy half a pig or something similar with Christmas money (thanks, grandparents!).

It’s January (happy New Year!), so you are officially allowed to begin using up the contents of your freezer. Which may include corn (straight from the cob to your freezer) and tomatoes. And, maybe your roommates are kind enough to get you a mushroom starter bucket for Christmas, so you have a fresh supply of oyster mushrooms. Handy.

Year-end is habitually a time for reflection, resolution, and anticipation. True also in the food world. We’ve been imagining foods of the future for a while now, that still have yet to come to pass, like a food pill (sure, Soylent, you’re getting there). But maybe instead we’ll go back to our ancient roots and renew some old grains, like millet. At least we made some progress globally in 2015 regarding changing diets, and feeding the world… and we’ve got more changes, like more female farmers, to look forward to.

And some food of our own, too. You can even pretend this is healthy (okay, it probably is healthy, depending on your health stipulations) and contributing to that New Years’ diet, too, if you want. Don’t give up deliciousness or you won’t stick to your goals!

I did this with the broiler but I suspect it would be just as effective in a very hot oven, and possibly more efficient. I recommend cooking the tofu in a separate pan from the veggie mix because the tofu might otherwise absorb the excessive moisture produced by the tomatoes, diluting the soy flavor (and preventing crispiness, a real travesty).

Broiled tofu with roasted tomato, corn, mushrooms
Tofu (about 1/3 lb per person I find sufficient)
Soy sauce, a few tablespoons
Vegetable oil, a few tablespoons (separated)
Corn (frozen is fine, about 1 cup)
2-3 tomatoes, chopped (frozen or canned is also fine, if you can chop them)
Mushrooms (a large handful)
Balsamic, a dash
Coconut oil, a spoonful, if desired
Salt/pepper
Garnish: cilantro and feta

Cut up the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Sprinkle with soy sauce and oil in a shallow roasting pan, toss lightly, and put under the broiler. Broil for 10 or so minutes, flipping occasionally, until dark golden and crispy.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and mushrooms and toss with corn, a little more oil, balsamic, coconut oil, and salt. When tofu is done, or if there’s room, put in a shallow pan under the broiler and cook the same as the tofu, 10 or so minutes until golden, flipping occasionally. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Toss the tofu with the veggies (lots of tossing we’re doing here), then crumble feta on top and sprinkle with cilantro.

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Fresh Tomato Essence Sauce

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There is something quite magical about a fresh ripe tomato.

Sweet, acidic, juicy, and maybe umami (which I admittedly don’t quite fully understand yet, but tomatoes have it). Occasionally I find dishes missing a certain satisfaction; adding a tomato frequently fills that void.

There’s all sorts of interesting science cropping up in the news lately about grocery store tomatoes, from ripening them in a hot bath before chilling them to developing hardy tomatoes with Actual Flavor (what a concept!). But, I would much rather eat heirloom tomatoes, despite their long and convoluted history. Plus, I can grow those in my own garden (!), collect them from friends when they are perfect, and freeze the ones I can’t use for winter soups and sauces.

Currently, however, it is still summer (yes, I realize it’s September), and I want to be eating fresh tomatoes. But I also want sauce. Something to slurp up with pasta and absorb that rich tomato flavor, but keep some of the freshness.

Friends, there is a solution. It happens to reduce prepwork too, as long as you don’t mind skins and seeds (helpful when you still want to be swimming all day). By flash cooking the tomatoes, you get them to release their juices; then strain out the chunks and put them aside; boil down the juice to get the thick, deep, orangey essence of tomato. Stir back in your barely cooked tomatoes and you are good to go (there’s garlic in there somewhere too).

I would use your medium-grade tomatoes for this. The fresh fresh perfect ones you eat on the spot. The rough and tumbley ones you blanch, peel, and make into freezer sauce or can (or, just freeze whole and when you take them out and start heating them, the skins slip right off). Somewhere in the middle are fresh sauce tomatoes, that require minimal processing but still aren’t quite perfect—maybe a little too soft on some sections, or unevenly ripened. From this you distill your essence.

tomato essence

Fresh tomato essence sauce
1.5 lbs fresh tomatoes, any variety (a mix is good—some juicy ones, some paste, even a few cherry tomatoes)
4-5 cloves garlic
4-5 tablespoons olive oil

Mince garlic; large-ish chunks are fine. Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat until slightly shimmery, then add garlic and fry briefly, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. Meanwhile (or ahead of time if you want to make sure to have a proper mise en place), chop the tomatoes into large chunks, removing any areas that are extremely soft, and large cores. When garlic is slightly golden, add your tomato chunks and stew for a very brief minute or two, just enough time for the tomatoes to release most of their juices. With a slotted spoon or a strainer, or most likely a combination of the two, remove the tomato pieces and place in a strainer over a bowl, to catch the rest of the juices. You will probably end up collecting most of the garlic chunks too, that’s good, since you don’t want them to boil too much (although any that you miss won’t be a problem).

On high, boil the tomato juice until you run out of patience, or it gets very thick; add in any additional juice from the draining tomatoes every so often. When thick, turn off the heat, and add back in the tomato chunks.

Stir, and serve. I recommend a few torn basil leaves, and a little cheese if you feel so inclined. Excellent, of course, with pasta, or on toast, or just eaten by the spoonful. It’d be worth making fresh pasta for this—once you have one fresh component, may as well go for the whole meal, right?

fresh tomatoes draining

Black Bean Burgers

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Woohoo! Sunshine!

You could be out grilling in this weather. But, if you don’t feel like it quite yet (it is a little windy out there), this is a sunny meal that feels like summer whenever/wherever/in whatever weather it is consumed. I admit that it does not contain all local ingredients, but there is nothing like an avocado anywhere (even though I feel extra guilty because apparently they take a lot of water to grow, and in California no less. Ugh). If you feel particularly concerned you can skip the avocado.

Fortunately, we are so lucky as to be able to access local salsa (made from hydroponic Maine-grown tomatoes) and salad mix (greenhouses!). If you froze corn from the cob this summer (do it this year if you didn’t, it’s amazing), you’re set on that front, and should be able to get red onions still too (or find them sprouting in the corner). Plus, you can get whole wheat flour locally to make the buns. And local beans too! All in all, not bad.

Unrelatedly, here’s a funny sheep video, sheparded by a drone! What will they think of next?

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Burgers often require breadcrumbs, which are particularly necessary for the structural integrity of black bean burgers. I’ve always made my own breadcrumbs: toast bread (a lot, you want it super dry) and put it in the food processor until crumby. This sometimes takes me a while, I think because it’s not dry enough. The recipe I adapted (from Spoon Fork Bacon) also added oatmeal, which I like for a little extra texture (and fiber).

This also takes a little planning, since you have to cook the beans first (if you’re like me), and the batter (?) needs to chill for a few hours before you cook it. Something to keep in mind.

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Black bean burgers
1/2 onion
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained (or 1 can)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup frozen yellow corn (optional; hopefully from an local ear!)
1 green onion, if you have it 
2 teaspoons cumin
Cayenne
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs (make your own—see above)
1 egg
Salt and pepper
Oil for cooking (3-4 tablespoons)

Burger buns! (I used King Arthur's recipe with a little whole wheat, delicious!)
Condiments! 
Chipotle mayo: mix mayo with chipotle, and let sit for a little while
Cheese (cheddar)
Tomatoes
Avocado
More corn
Sliced onions
Lettuce/salad mix
Salsa! (necessary)
Hot sauce (optional)

Get out your food processor! I had to do this in batches with my mini one. Throw in the onion, jalapeno, and garlic, and pulse a bit. Add 1/2 the beans and everything else (except the oil) and pulse. Taste and adjust, scrape down, and pulse again—it should be a little chunky but come together. Add the rest of the beans and pulse once or twice, just to integrate them. Put in a bowl, cover, and chill for a few hours.

Remove from fridge. Heat oil in a heavy skillet, and turn to medium heat. Form the mixture into patties (size is up to you, and the burger buns). Cook (this is the tricky part) for at least 6 minutes on each side, probably longer (this feels like a super long time, and it is. Length of cooking time is the only way to make it hold together). Flip carefully. Each side should develop a crust and get heated through—adjust the heat as necessary if you feel like they are burning before getting cooked (turn down), or aren’t getting a crust (turn up).

Assemble burgers on buns with all the condiments (put cheese on right away or even in the pan if you want it to melt a little). Have fun.

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Goes well with beer, but what about afterward? How about pear brandy, with the pear grown in the bottle? Sweet, non? 

Chickpea Red Sauce

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“Enough with the winter vegetables already! I’m sick of turnips and beets and cabbage!” you say.

Fine. Me too (well, a bit anyway). It is March, after all (!), so I will allow us a brief respite.

Time to pull out all those tomatoes you made into sauce into the summer. Just kidding, I wasn’t that good this year. I’ll do better next year, promise (I did freeze some of them, but not enough for lots of pasta sauce). Fortunately, you can still buy tomato sauce, and some of it is pretty good! Look for brands without added sugar. Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen sells Maine-made tomato sauces; and if you aren’t in Maine or aren’t as ridiculously neurotic about eating locally as I am, go for the fancy Italian ones. They grow delicious tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes, here’s an interesting article about seed-breeding, and making it open-source (it’s funny to me when agriculture borrows terms from tech. Mostly it’s the other way ’round). Breeding for flavor?? What a novel concept.

This sauce is hands-down my favorite go-to quick vegetarian (vegan, even) meal to feed a crowd. It’s easy, delicious, nutritious, and almost universally loved (I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t love it, but I’m hardly ever ready to entirely reject the possibility).

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I usually put it over pasta, but today I decided to do potatoes. Mostly because I have approximately a bazillion potatoes and they are almost sprouting so need to be used. I have this idea in my head that I don’t like potatoes that much—I never seem to have an urgency to use them—but it’s not true, whenever I make them I devour them quite happily. In any case, using potatoes with this recipe has the added benefit of sharing another interesting tidbit, a tomato-potato plant! Apparently, they are in the same family and can be grafted together. So, not only could you grow the ingredients for this recipe in the same place, they could be the same plant.

Fried potatoes with chickpea red sauce
Potatoes
Oil and Salt

Olive oil
An onion 
Garlic
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 cup cooked chickpeas (to cook: soak overnight, then boil and simmer with an onion until soft. Add salt near the end, and make sure to keep the broth for another use)—canned will do in a pinch
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (home made or bought)
Salt and pepper
Cheese to top, if desired

Do the potatoes first. Chop them up into small chunks (if you want them crispy, make them skinnier and smaller). Sprinkle generously with salt and oil and put in a hot oven (400ºF ish) until crispy, at least 20 minutes and probably longer.

For the sauce: Chop the onions and garlic, and sauté in oil with the rosemary until soft and aromatic. Add half the chickpeas and sauté a little longer, making the chickpeas golden. Add the tomato sauce, then purée, either in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender. It’s also good not blended, just not as original. Add in the rest of the chickpeas, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve over the roasted potatoes, topped with cheese as desired.

Like I said, it’s also great over pasta. Or sandwiches, for that matter.

Cheese Biscuits + Toppings

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Do yourself a favor and go buy yourself a squash. Any variety. Roast it until soft and then some, cut side down in plenty of butter so it gets all caramelly. Wait til it cools, a bit anyway, then eat it.

I have made a personal goal to get tired of squash this season. I foresee eating squash almost every day. Those of you who are thinking this will not be difficult don’t know how much I like squash. We shall see.

However, this post is not about squash. This post is about making do with what you have and enjoying it tremendously.

My summer CSA concluded last week. Fear not, I have signed up for a winter share as well. Sad as this may be, I was gone over the weekend and so I ended up having a bunch of extra veggies that needing using up even more than usual, namely some arugula and mesclun that was beginning to turn yellow. The worst. I also had some tomatoes from a co-worker’s garden a long while ago that she picked green, and they finally became ripe on my countertop, and were even starting to get a little wrinkly. Read: required roasting.

The other part of this story is that I made soup yesterday (veggies + lentils; good but nothing exciting) and what it really needed was some cheese biscuits, and fortuitously I also had some cheese that needed to be eaten. So, cheese biscuits it was. But I didn’t want the soup for dinner again tonight because I had it for lunch, so I plan to enjoy it with biscuits tomorrow at work lunch again, toasting the biscuits in the toaster oven.

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That still left dinner tonight. Arugula + cheese biscuits + roasted tomatoes? Sure, why not? Throw on a little mustard-apple cider vinegar vinaigrette and you are good to go.

It turned into almost a fancy, vegetarian BLT. Except that it feels a little insulting to call it that, like you substituted bacon and let’s face it, substitutes for bacon are just not as good as the real thing. This particular sandwich (to use the term lightly) was in no need whatsoever of bacon. The cheese in the biscuits left enough salty crispness, the arugula and the mustard provided a nice sharp note, and the tomatoes were sweet and flavorful.

Thinking about it later, I realized that some of my most satisfying meals, and culinary adventures, have been figuring out what to do with ingredients on hand, rather than planning ahead of time. Not that all of those always work out either, I think I’m conflating ideas that really are entirely independent. But it’s a nice thought anyway.

Really, I just want that to be true because it meshes with the idea of letting something else (i.e. the land/soil, which translates to your CSA box) dictate what you eat. I was reminded of this notion again today while catching up on the latest (and second ever) episode of Gastropod, a new podcast about the history and science of food (= win). The short of it is that ecosystems produce more than a single product, and a good chef will learn how to use all the pieces of that ecosystem in a cuisine. Not exactly relevant to what I was doing today, but something to aspire to, anyway. I do pretty well—butter, yogurt, flour, cheese (not this time but often) can all be local ingredients.

Cheese biscuits
8 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces and chilled/frozen
2 1/2 cups flour (including 1 cup whole wheat if you want)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cheese (I used Jarlsburg; cheddar works well)
1 1/8 cups yogurt or buttermilk (I had to thin my yogurt with a little milk)

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add butter and cheese and squish the butter around briefly with your fingers so there aren’t any huge pieces (nothing larger than a pea is the general rule, although you could go a little bigger for this). You can also do this in a food processor, if you have one. Add the yogurt and mix until dough forms together. You can knead it BRIEFLY (i.e. as little as possible) to catch in the excess flour if need be.

Pat into about 3/4 inch thick round. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or other round object of an appropriate size (I used a wine glass). You can make whatever size you want. Arrange on a baking sheet, with room to expand, and bake for around 20 minutes, until crisp and golden. (My oven started smoking at this point. I’m not sure if it was due to the biscuits or the tomatoes or something else, but always a little unsettling.) Remove from baking sheet and onto a cooling rack/into your stomach. Eat the first one with a little extra butter (if you feel like being excessive, in a good way. I love butter) or some honey or just hot and steaming without accoutrement.

You don’t need a recipe for roasted tomatoes or mustard vinaigrette do you? Well, fine: roast the tomatoes. (Done.) For the vinaigrette, spoon out some mustard into your salad bowl, sprinkle on a little vinegar, mix, then add a little olive oil. (Done.)

Put them all together (or not! This is excellent deconstructed. And has the benefit of not making the biscuits soggy) and mangez-vous.

(I also roasted a gorgeous purple cauliflower I picked up on the way home because I haven’t had cauliflower ALL SUMMER and it’s amazing and fantastic roasted with a little oil and salt. And garlic, which I forgot this time around but won’t again. Before and after roasting pics below.)

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On an unrelated note, I used to think life was about being happy but I came across this article from the Atlantic the other day and I’m not so sure that’s true. Do you have meaning in your life? Are you happy?

Roasted Tomato Rice

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Quick! Before the tomatoes all disappear!

Chop them up and roast them (hot oven, with a little olive oil, for at least 20 minutes. Throw in a few whole cloves of garlic too).

This can be done while you are roasting other things. I like to use my oven for more than one thing when it’s on: a pie and root vegetables, crisp and squash, muffins and tomatoes… it saves energy and prevents you from steaming up your house all the time. Also, everything takes time to cook, so it means you have fewer moments hanging around waiting to open your oven. Do be careful not to open the oven door too much when you have a few things in there, though—I’ve heard it loses 10º every time the door opens.

Anyway, back to the tomatoes. (Almost)

After roasting, make some rice. This is another thing that can be done ahead of time. In fact, as a person living alone, I highly recommend making either a large pot of rice, or beans, or lentils, or some combination of the above, at the start of your week. They provide a platform for all your awesome veggies and something to fall back on should you feel less than inspired, or just crunched by time, later in the week. You can do other things to help yourself out during the week—roast a chicken, make granola, bake some bread—this could take up your whole Sunday if you let it. I’ve been getting up early on weekends (habit) and find it’s a good time to do some baking. Then the rest of the day is free to enjoy).

Boil a pot of water and blanch some kale. While you’re at it, blanch a few more of the excess of veggies you got in your CSA and stick them (labeled) in your freezer. If you still have room in there. Grind up the kale (no stems) with a little olive oil.

When you are ready for dinner/office lunch/breakfast (? whatever), throw together rice-roasted tomatoes+garlic-chopped kale-a little pecorino, warm up briefly if necessary, and NOM. I recommend brown rice, it’s got more of a nuttier flavor that adds actually quite a bit to this dish. Honestly it surprised me how much I enjoyed this dinner. All about the tomatoes.

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I forgot the cheese at first… better with it (also half-eaten already)

Chile Verde/Rojo

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I may have discovered the cure for the common cold.

The trick is to add about 5 times as many hot peppers to a dish as you are supposed to. It makes eating into a sweaty workout, except that your nose runs instead of your feet. But it has the benefit of clearing sinuses and expunging that blocked bubble feeling in your head, to a point that I felt like I had taken… something stronger.

I find myself looking forward to fall, in part because it provides more of an excuse to do some real cooking. Summer is awesome for all the fresh produce, but most of the time I want to eat it cool, juicy, raw, right off the vine/bush/tree/etc. Not that I didn’t have some fun cooking adventures this summer. And I like fall for other reasons too—the color and smell of turning leaves, the cool air, the warmth of bright orange squash and pumpkins.

This dish has the good fortune to take advantage of both summer ingredients and fall weather. I am sure that it is in no way “authentic”; I combined a couple different recipes, as usual, but essentially threw together a bunch of ingredients, spices, and chiles (honestly I didn’t even know what kinds of chiles I had before dicing them and throwing them in the pot). But for 95% Maine ingredients (everything but the olive oil), I think this Southwest classic worked pretty well.

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I got the idea for chile verde from this recipe in Saveur, and when I got a cold last week I decided I needed it. Unfortunately I didn’t have any tomatillos on hand, which is why the verde turned into rojo. Worked just fine, although I imagine it would also be quite delicious with tomatillos.

Note on portions: this made enough for about 2 1/2 large bowls/servings. Good for just me, but make more if you want to share (recommended—spicy adventures are fun with a companion. But maybe hold back any extra chiles, unless you want whoever you are with to see you with tears and sweat streaming down your face).

Chile Verde
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp coriander
1 onion
3-4 cloves garlic
1 sweet pepper
1 Anaheim pepper
1 serrano chile
1 jalapeño 
 more chiles, proportional to how much you like sweating or how bad your cold is
2 cups tomatillos, or tomatoes, chopped
Maybe 1/3 lb pork shoulder or chops, cubed
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), or water
Cilantro, avocado, and lime, for garnish

Prep all the ingredients first: dice the veggies, mince the garlic and chiles. Add the spices to a big saucepan and cook for about a minute, until fragrant, then add the oil, onions, and garlic and sauté for a bit. Throw in the sweet peppers and chiles (don’t stand over it too much after adding the chiles—it might sting your eyes) and sauté until soft. Finally, add the tomatoes and simmer.

Meanwhile, if you have another pan, salt and pepper the pork, then brown it in a little oil. Once browned on all sides, pour in the stock and deglaze the pan (scrape up all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan). If you don’t have another pan, wait until the veggies are soft, take them out and put them on the side, then cook the pork.

Pour some of the stock into the veggies (or just add the veggies back to the pot, and take out the pork as you can), and put in your handy immersion blender to purée some of the tomatoes. Some chunks are okay, but it should be pretty puréed—this is what gives the chile body (alternatively, take some out and put it in a blender if you do not have a hand blender).

Add the pork back in and simmer with the lid on for at least 30 minutes, until pork is tender. If there is too much liquid, take the lid off for a bit.

Scoop into a large bowl, let it cool for a few minutes, then squeeze in a little lime and garnish with cilantro and avocado. Have some bread and napkins on hand, and enjoy.

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Other recipes suggest roasting the Anaheim peppers (and maybe others) before adding them. And obviously using tomatillos. You could also make a roux or a corn roux (corn flour and oil) and mix it in at the end to thicken the chile. And if you are of the total vegetarian disposition, omit the pork and it’ll turn into spicy tomato soup.

Eating this the next day was actually rather more of a pleasure because I could actually taste it, in addition to feeling the effects of the chile (one’s sense of taste is not improved by a cold). I assure you that the flavors are good, even when not overwhelmed by heat.

Fresh Tomato Pesto + Freezing Tomatoes

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Can you tell it’s tomato season? Fresh tomatoes are the best. But I’ve been over that already. Last week was Week of the Free Tomatoes for me (I passed by a yard with free tomatoes on my way home and on of my farmer friends had extra that she gave me as well), and I think I have made good use of them.

I will have you know that I didn’t even think about making pesto from fresh tomatoes (sundried tomatoes, yes, but never raw), and then I came across this recipe is from Food 52 and I had to try it. It is more watery than normal pesto, and actually I couldn’t decide about it at first, but it’s one of those dishes that tastes better as you eat more of it. I am now a big fan. It also dovetailed nicely my freezing of tomatoes, which I will also share here.

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This is also convenient for you dairy-free folks out there (Mother), since it doesn’t have cheese but remains very creamy. I admit that it benefits from a sprinkling on top, but that can easily be substituted by some toasty breadcrumbs, or even something like nutritional yeast if you’re into that (I wasn’t born in the 60s and had no idea what it was until fairly recently; not really my jam but I can see the appeal).

Tomatoes in this recipe do need blanching to remove the skins (not that you have to blanch them to do this, it just makes it énormément easier; also really you could make it with skins on, you’d just have tomato skins clunking up your pesto and it might get caught in the food processor blade). If you’d like, do a bunch at the same time, and then freeze the rest! I was thinking about canning them but don’t have a pressure canner and it seems like more work and safety concern, so I went with freezing (for now). Often tomatoes are cheap this time of year in bulk, especially if you get ones that are not absolutely perfect (i.e. don’t sell as well at the market but are still great). They might be what I am most excited about in my freezer right now.

(Well, that’s probably not true. I have a lot of exciting food in my freezer/I need a bigger freezer: garlic scape pesto, blueberries, strawberries, kale pesto, homemade bread, cherries, blueberry cake, tofu chunks (freezing tofu changes the texture, and obviously it lasts longer there than in the fridge, if you want to buy it in bulk), basil pesto, cookie dough, chicken thighs, water buffalo sausage, egg whites, brownies (they freeze shockingly well, and then when you need a brownie, as happens, YOU HAVE THEM. It’s amazing), corn (sliced from the cob and into a freezer bag), green beans (blanched and frozen), tomatoes, tomato reduction, and now fresh tomato pesto (although I’m not totally convinced this will freeze as well as the other items, due to the high water content). Anyway, you understand.)

I was at the grocery store today to do some price comparisons and you can get tomatoes for cheaper there but I’m not convinced they would taste like anything at all. And they looked a little grayish. Like I’ve said before, Backyard Farms does have pretty great hothouse tomatoes, but they were not cheaper than ones at the farmer’s market, so save them for winter emergencies. What I’m trying to say here is, it’s worth it to eat seasonally. You might not enjoy fresh pesto tomato toasts in the winter, but instead you can savor rich tomato reductions over pasta or in chili. And by preparing now, you can save yourself money and disappointment (over lackluster store-bought sauce, which is a real thing although the phrase sounds a little tropey to me at this point) later.

Fresh tomato pesto, aka Pesto Trapanese à la Food 52
10 ripe tomatoes, like roma or plum (NOT the juicy kind); or MORE if you want to freeze some
1/2 cup almonds
Garlic (4ish cloves—make sure there is plenty)
A handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Boil water in a large pot. Score the undersides of the tomatoes (cut a little x on the bottom). Prepare a large bowl of ice water if you have time. Put the tomatoes carefully in the boiling water only for about 1 minute (you will probably want to start taking them out before the minute is over, because it takes some time if you only have a spoon, or even with a small strainer—I wanted to keep the water to cook pasta later, so I didn’t pour everything into the sink, and anyway that might damage the tomatoes). Place them right into the ice water. The skins should now peel off very easily. Core the tomatoes and carefully squeeze out the seeds and juice into another bowl (I followed this guide). Reserve this juice for later. You should be left with reasonably un-watery tomatoes; let them drain more if you can. For freezing, put them in a freezer bag (maybe 2/3 full), get rid of all the excess air, seal it up, and put it in your freezer.

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The Kitchn also notes that you can just freeze whole tomatoes, although I don’t have room in my freezer for that.

Tomatoes for the pesto should be chopped a bit. If you don’t have time for blanching, etc., and you don’t mind skins, I suspect it would still be delicious. Do squeeze out the juice though, or it will be too watery.

Toast the almonds (nuts always need to be toasted. It releases all the flavors and makes everything better. I generally toast a bunch at once, because that way I don’t have to turn on my oven every time I need them for something like this). Grind up the almonds and garlic in a food processor (traditionalists will stick to a mortar-and-pestel, but I don’t have one so I guess I risk blade oxidation) until pretty small but not into a paste (almond butter is delicious, but not the goal here), then add basil and chop a bit. Throw in the tomatoes and some olive oil and pulse until your desired texture—some chunks of tomato would be fine, but it is also good nice and creamy.

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Serve over pasta, on toast, you know the drill. Actually this is particularly good over some gently sautéed or crispy kale.

What do you do with all the extra tomato juice?? This may be better than the actual pesto. If you like green smoothies you can add it to that, or just strain it and drink it. A friend of mine also suggested that tomato juice is useful for bathing a cat who has been sprayed by a skunk. For those of you without cats to worry about, and those who are willing to take a very small risk for something fantastically delicious, I recommend simmering it on the stove for a long time, straining out the seeds as you can/feel like it and reducing it a whole bunch. This tomato reduction is PACKED with flavor, is truly amazing, and can then be (guess what) frozen. I’ll let you know when I use it, but my guess is that it will be a replacement for tomato paste.

Make sure you label and date everything in your freezer.

Happy tomato-ing!

Tomato Tart

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I’m really digging this savory tart thing. I think because I was baking before I started cooking, and dealing with crust and ovens feels very familiar to me; but then you get to add juicy tomatoes and eat it for dinner instead of dessert.

I may have found my new favorite cheese and I used it in this recipe. Unfortunately it is not a local cheese, although I did buy it at a local store: it’s a Dutch double cream gouda from Cheeseland. Very smooth and melts like a dream.

For the tart itself, I was looking at a couple different options—originally I was thinking something with a custard base, but a lot of the tomato tart recipes online have just tomatoes and cheese. This is essentially taken from David Lebovitz, but I’m writing it here anyway.

Tart dough
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water
Tomato Tart
Mustard
2-3 large tomatoes
Melting cheese (like double cream gouda)
Fresh goat cheese (or a combination of cheeses you love)
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

For the crust: Cut up the butter and freeze it for a while (or just make sure it is cold if you don’t have time). Mix egg and water together and put in the fridge (or the freezer, but don’t forget about it!) while you measure out the flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour—I like to cut it very small before freezing it, and then I can kind of smoosh it into the flour with my fingers without it warming up too much. Mix in the egg/water mixture until combined, but don’t knead it too much or it’ll get tough. You can wrap and refrigerate it at this point, or just roll it out (usually determined by timing). If you don’t have a rolling pin, use an empty (washed) wine bottle.

Sprinkle a clean surface with flour and roll to fit whatever pan you have (I don’t have a tart pan and wasn’t feeling a pie pan because I didn’t want sloping sides with all the juice in the tomatoes, so I made it in an 8×8 glass pan, and then made an additional galette with the rest of the dough, which worked spectacularly). Either fold in quarters or roll gently onto the rolling pin to transfer it to the pan. Gently press in and arrange the sides as you wish. For a galette, just place a circle of dough on a baking sheet. Put in the freezer while you prep the other ingredients.

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Thickly slice tomatoes (1/3-1/2 inch). Cut up the cheese into small slices or very small chunks. Strip the thyme from stems.

Remove dough from the freezer and spread with mustard. Arrange the tomato slices on top and nestle in the chunks of cheese and gobs of fresh cheese. Top with thyme, salt, and pepper, and slide into the oven. With the galette, fold over the sides (they are hopefully un-frozen enough to do this at this point) and press them together.

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Bake for 30 or so minutes, until golden. Juices may get a little bubbly, just watch it to make sure they don’t spill in your oven. I also broiled mine right at the end to make the cheese on top nice and crispy.

Serve warm or at least room temperature. This reheats excellently in a toaster oven, or the oven (the galette was my office lunch one day this week, topped with arugula with some zucchini on the side).

Lentil salad with yogurt dressing

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I’m a little irritated because I wrote this all out  yesterday, and the Interwebs didn’t save it. My fault, I think, but still. (In case you were wondering, no, I don’t usually post the day I make something. Too much work to cook and write about it; besides, I want to have time to reflect on the virtues of the dish before sharing it.)

It also turns out that I am very bad at cooking lentils. They shouldn’t be, and in fact are not, that difficult to cook—lentils, water, heat, time—I think I just got overconfident since I have indeed successfully cooked them many times before. Not enough water and not paying attention = a little crunchy. But, still tasty and definitely edible.

Aside from the apparent challenges of heating legumes on a stove, this salad is pretty straightforward. Lentils, dressing, and whatever veggies you happen to have on hand. Also the dressing is awesome and can/should be used on other dishes as well—grain/pasta salad, straight veggies (especially cucumbers).

Lentil salad with yogurt dressing
Lentils
Veggies: cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes (sungolds are recommended)
Dill
Yogurt (maybe 1/4 cup per cup of lentils?)
Paprika
Cumin
Salt/pepper
Lemon juice (optional)

Cook the lentils according to instructions, or here from the Kitchn. Drain, if necessary, and place in a bowl. They should be relatively cool or at least room temperature, when you add the other ingredients.

Chop veggies—slice small tomatoes in half to make them easier to stab with a fork/pick up with a spoon. Roughly chop the dill, just to get the juices flowing (look at me using dill again!). Add to the lentils along with the yogurt and seasonings and stir. Taste and adjust.

Serve room temperature or cold. This keeps well and is an excellent potluck addition, as well as a good work lunch (bring along a few slices of fresh bread too).