How to use the autumn tomato

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For a few years, I had the pleasure of accompanying my best friend and her husband to a Canadian lodge each fall for their anniversary.  It was the perfect vacation.  A kind of a summer camp for grown ups.  You get to sleep in a cabin.  You can participate in different activities such as kayaking or tennis or bike riding.  You can be incredibly lazy and read and nap all day long if that’s what you are into.  This place feeds you well several times per day.  The reason I bring this up is that breakfast could be a choice of light fare or you could choose to put together a giant stick to your ribs feast.  Since Canada is part of the United Kingdom, the breakfast choices included some English seeming choices.  One of which is the choice to have a grilled tomato with breakfast.  Once I discovered this option, I had to have it most mornings that I stayed there.  It was quite delectable with eggs, indeed.

 

After I stopped going on vacation with my friends to Canada, I forgot about grilled tomatoes as a breakfast side dish.  One weekend at the “In laws”, my boyfriend’s step mom made broiled tomatoes as a side dish for dinner.  They were so good that I had to have seconds.  They were broiled tomatoes with herbs and Parmesan sprinkled on top.  Oh, they were so very yummy.  Roasting the tomatoes for 15 minutes and then broiling the cheese on top gives the tomatoes a wonderful sweet flavor.  They are divine!

 

I use tomatoes a lot when they are in season and it is rare for me to buy them and then not finish them up for whatever their intended purpose was.  I am a Virgo and adhering to a shopping list and the ensuing plan for the groceries during the week is a must or else I start going a little crazy.  You don’t really want to see me if I start getting a little crazy.  This week I somehow managed to buy too many tomatoes.  When I went in the kitchen to figure out what to eat for breakfast, I realized that if I didn’t do something, I would lose them.  They would eventually spoil.  On the rare occasion that I have tomatoes just milling about the kitchen, I have improvised my own version of broiled tomatoes.  They are amazing as a side dish to eggs and toast.  Just add coffee and a cold glass of OJ and it is fine dining.

 

I know it is late in the season to be posting a recipe about roasting tomatoes but we are still lucky enough to have the last of the fall tomatoes.  I hit the Farmer’s market after breakfast and decided to replace the tomatoes I used up this morning with a fresh batch.  The heirloom tomatoes are definitely on their way out after a week of chilly, foggy weather.  If you can still get some tomatoes locally or you are someone who doesn’t care how far your tomatoes travel to get to you, roasting them in this fashion should yield a tasty, flavorful side dish even though the tomatoes are starting to be a pale facsimile of their glorious summer selves.  If you have any of these roasted tomatoes leftover, you should use them for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.  I don’t think you’ll end up with any leftovers.

Roasted and broiled tomatoes

3 or 4 large ripe tomatoes, sliced horizontally into 2-3 thick slices.

 

2 large garlic cloves, minced

 

Dried basil to taste or fresh basil, minced, to taste

 

Dried oregano to taste or fresh oregano, minced to taste

 

Pepper

 

½ to 1 cup of shredded hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romano

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Use a broiler safe pan that is large enough to accommodate the amount of tomato slices you will have.  I use a well-seasoned iron griddle.  If the pan you are using is something that is not seasoned and sticking could be an issue, oil the pan.  Place the tomato slices on your pan.  Sprinkle them with garlic, basil, oregano and pepper.  Top each herbed tomato slice with a generous mound of cheese.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Turn on the broiler and broil until cheese melts and browns slightly.  Serve immediately.

Become a leaf eater

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Over the years, I have always relied on what nutritionists have touted as the wonder veggies.  If I found a way to get some broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage into me, I felt virtuous.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not about to say anything bad about these veggies.  They are high in nutrition.  As a matter of fact, I feel that any food that grows on a plant has to be good for me.  A few years back, I started eating swiss chard and kale.  They compliment each other well.  They are wonderful in pasta or as a side dish.  At this time of the year, they are readily available and at their peak of flavor.  One day, I decided to find out how nutritious they are.  Holy cow!!  You eat these two veggies and you’ll be set for the day on vitamins A and K.  Together, they will just about give you all of the vitamin C you need.  You’ll get omega three fatty acids and a whole host of other vitamins and minerals.  Check out these links to see some charts on what you get by eating kale and chard.  Amazing.

 

After learning how good for me these leafy greens are, I started to try to add them to my diet as much as I could.  One dish we really love is a pasta dish with sausage, roasted red peppers and the greens.  You make a lovely wine enhanced tomato and sausage sauce and then you melt the greens into it, cooking them until they are just sweet and tender.  Yum!

 

Here is a note about the ingredients for this dish:  Since we typically crave this dish in the winter, I usually purchase canned roasted red peppers.  I get these at Trader Joes who imports them from Spain.  I have never been to Spain so I think it is unfair that my red peppers get to come to the U.S. from Spain.  Since I can still find red peppers at the Farmers Market (they may be the last, it is starting to get cold now).  I roasted them myself this time.  If you have a rotten, stupid electric stove and oven like I do, broil the red peppers on a heavy-duty pan.  Broil them on all sides until the skin is blistered and charred.  Place the peppers in a covered dish to steam for 10 minutes or so.  Let them cool enough to handle and then peel and seed them.  You can use any kind of sausage for this recipe that would work with a tomato based sauce but we prefer chicken basil sausage.  Italian sausage is good too, but the chicken is mild tasting and the basil helps give the sauce a little bit of a kick.  Make sure the kale and chard is extremely clean.  Like spinach, it can be sandy.  The sand tends to stick in the bumpy textured leaves.  I usually chop the leaves and then use the bowl and colander of a salad spinner to wash the leaves.  I fill the bowl full of water and then swish the leaves around and then drain.  I repeat this until I see no sand in the bottom of the salad spinner.  It is usually a triple wash process.  This dish can be made with any tube pasta but penne is especially good.

Penne with Sausage, Roasted Peppers and Greens

3 chicken and basil sausages

 

5 cloves garlic, chopped

 

1 large onion, chopped

 

1 lb penne

 

15 oz can of tomato sauce

 

½ cup (or more) dry red wine

 

7.25 oz jar roasted red peppers drained and torn into strips or 3 medium homemade roasted red peppers and any juice that accumulates after you peel them, torn into strips

 

1 bunch each of kale and chard, chopped and washed very well

 

¼ cup Parmesan plus more for serving

 

Boil the water for the pasta.  While the water heats, brown the sausage with garlic and onion over medium heat in a large deep skillet for about 10 minutes.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook per directions on the bag (probably 8 minutes) until al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, add tomato sauce, wine and peppers to the sausage mixture.  Bring to a boil and then add the cheese and greens.  You may have to add the greens in handfuls, stirring and adding more to the pan as they wilt and make room. If the mixture starts to look dry add a splash of wine.  Cook until the greens are wilted and tender, lowering the heat to medium if necessary. Drain pasta and add sauce to the pasta mixing everything to combine well.  Serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.

  

Chicken legs aren’t photogenic but they sure are scrumptious Italian style

Chicken Fricassee

Chickens aren’t safe with me around.  I like to eat chicken fried, roasted, stewed, and poached.  I love chicken any time and any day and just about any way.  The only chicken I won’t eat is canned chicken.  Unfortunately for you my dear reader, you may get sick of chicken once this blog begins to age.  Chicken recipes?  I’ve got a million of ‘em!

 

I have an old, well-worn, often used cookbook called “The Regional Italian Kitchen” by Nika Hazelton.  Almost every recipe I have tried from this book has been delicious.  Last fall, right around this time of the year when we still have basil at the Farmer’s Market and the tomatoes and peppers are at their peak, I discovered a wonderful recipe for chicken.  It is a chicken fricassee that features a sauce of red peppers and tomatoes.  The flavors are wonderful and the dish pairs well with thick slices of Polenta.

 

Polenta is one of those foods that now have a reasonable fast food version that you can pick up at any supermarket.  Polenta now comes sealed in tubes of plastic.  I have to admit that I have bought my share of these polenta tubes in the past because they are easy to use and minimize any mess.  The chicken fricassee is a little bit of a production number so I have to admit, I only made polenta once last fall and gave up on it after I burned myself and had to soak my sauce pan for a week to get the leftover polenta off.  I wanted to make fricassee last night but I forgot that polenta was the side dish of choice.  I did not buy the convenience tube.  I did have a bag of polenta in the pantry.  I made polenta from scratch, I did not burn myself but I did trash my saucepan.  It was worth it.  Homemade polenta tastes fresh and hearty.  If you have time, I highly recommend doing the work. 

 

The chicken dish normally calls for a whole chicken cut into serving pieces.  This recipe is highly adaptable.  You can use chicken breasts.  I used 2 lbs of whole chicken legs last night (I should have used 3 lbs.  The chicken to sauce ratio was a bit low). There are a bunch of time intensive instructions in the fricassee recipe like skinning the peppers or peeling the tomatoes.  The recipe is fine without all of the attention to detail.  Recipes for both the chicken and the polenta follow.

 Chicken Fricassee with tomatoes, peppers, and capers (Spezzatino di Pollo Picante)

Adapted from The Regional Italian Kitchen by Nika Hazelton

6 tbsp. Olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

 

1 medium onion, sliced

 

4 large red bell peppers cut into strips

 

3 large tomatoes, diced

 

¼ cup fresh basil, minced (or 1 tbs. Dried basil)

 

Salt to taste

 

Freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Tabasco to taste (or other vinegary hot sauce such as cholula)

 

2-3 lbs whole chicken legs (or 1 whole chicken cut into serving pieces)

 

Whole-wheat pastry flour for dredging

 

1 cup dry red wine

 

1/3 cup pitted black kalamata olives, cut into halves

 

4 tbsp drained capers

 

Heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a deep frying pan (big enough to hold sauce and chicken).  Add garlic.  Cook for a minute until golden.  Add onions and peppers.  Cook the onions and peppers over low heat until the peppers begin to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and basil.  Season lightly with salt (the olives and capers are salty so don’t overdo it), pepper and hot sauce to taste.  (The hot sauce should add flavor and a touch of heat but not make the dish too spicy).  Mix well.  Simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  During this time, heat the remaining 3 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan.  Coat the chicken lightly with flour and fry on all sides until golden.  If the sauce is still cooking, transfer the chicken to a plate.  When the sauce has cooked for 30 minutes, stir in the red wine.  Add chicken to the pan, making sure you cover the chicken in sauce.  Sprinkle olives and capers over the chicken.  Simmer the chicken covered for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is very tender.  Serve with Polenta. (see recipe below the polenta picture)

  

Polenta

Polenta 

Recipe from the back of the bag of Bob’s Red Mill Polenta

 

6 cups water

 

1 tsp salt

 

2 cups polenta

 

3 tbsp unsalted butter

 

In a deep sauce pan, bring water to a boil.  Add salt.  Add polenta gradually, stirring and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Use a long handled wooden spoon to stir, polenta tends to spatter and will burn you!  Be careful! If the polenta does start to shoot out molten polenta bombs, you can lower the heat to just below a simmer. I did so last night and the polenta cooked just fine.  Cook for 30 minutes until thick.  At the end of the cooking time, stir in the butter. Oil a deep pie pan.  Spoon the polenta into the oiled pan, smoothing the top down.  Let the polenta cool for at least 10 minutes.  Invert the polenta onto a serving plate.  Serve polenta sliced.

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Mint

This meal has become a standby this summer.  I have an herb pot on my patio that is full of perennial herbs.  I grow two kinds of mint, oregano, parsley, chives and rosemary.  This pot has gone to sleep each winter and come back to provide me with wonderful herbs each spring for the last decade.  The mint grows better than anything else and it is the herb I have the least use for.  I saw this recipe while looking through “Italy al dente” by Biba Caggiano this summer and I knew it would be a good use for my abundance of mint. 

 

The recipe is actually supposed to be a squid recipe.  Although I am not exactly a Locavore, I do try to be aware of where my food comes from and I try to buy local when I can.  Well, it turns out the squid I always assumed my little gourmet market sold was local, was actually defrosted from a big frozen block that is shipped in from China.  This kind of pissed me off.  The Santa Barbara channel, from what I hear has abundant squid, which we fish, and export all over the world!  So china ships us squid and we are probably shipping squid to China.  Makes a ton of sense.  I am able to sometimes get shrimp at the Farmer’s market, which makes it very local.  If not, the shrimp comes from Mexico at the market so it ends up being a shorter trip from producer to me if I go with shrimp instead of Chinese squid.  Besides, the shrimp tastes like it was made for this dish.  It is simply scrumptious.

 

If you decide to make this pasta, be sure to use good quality canned plum tomatoes.  The original recipe asks you to run the tomatoes with their juice through a food mill.  I just break them up with a spoon.  Any mint should do, but spearmint would be ideal.

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Mint

Adapted from the spaghetti con Calimari, Pomodori e Menta recipe in Italy al Dente by Biba Caggiano

 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

 

2 large cloves garlic, minced

 

1 small onion, chopped

 

2 to 3 anchovy fillets (packed in olive oil), chopped

 

Red pepper flakes to taste

 

1 28oz can plum tomatoes with juice

 

Salt to taste

 

1 lb. Shrimp, peeled and deveined

 

8 to 10 fresh mint leaves, chopped

 

¼ cup fresh parsley, minced

 

1 lb spaghetti or linguine

 

optional:  garnish with either grated or shaved parmagiano reggiano

 

Put water on to boil.  Add a couple of teaspoons of salt when the water comes to a boil.  Start cooking the pasta right about the time you are cooking the onions…

 

Heat the oil in a large skillet (you want a pan big enough to fit the sauce and the pasta).  Add Garlic and sauté for a minute.  Add onion, anchovies, and chili flakes.  Cook, stirring, until the onion is golden, 4-5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and season with salt.  Break up the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.  Cook the tomatoes uncovered, stirring occasionally for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the shrimp, mint and parsley.   Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 4 to 5 minutes until the shrimp are just cooked through.  The pasta should be done right about now. The pasta should be tender but firm to the bite.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.  Toss the pasta over low heat until the pasta and sauce are combined. 

  

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