GRILLING TOMATOES

Our friends and neighbors who are also ultra-prolific gardeners went away on a trip and gave us a load of tomatoes before their departure. Some were big, heavy, and seemed very juicy, others were on a smallish side. I wanted to do something special with our gift, and went on a road never traveled before by making a grilled tomato sauce.  A final touch was wilting some arugula in it.  I will be traveling around this road on a regular basis from now on, this was a tasty sauce, and so simple to put together!


ORECHIETTE WITH GRILLED TOMATO SAUCE AND ARUGULA

(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

8 to 10 tomatoes, preferably from a friend’s garden
a little olive oil
salt and pepper
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cups of arugula
Orechiette pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

Rub the tomatoes with a little olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper, and place on a hot grill until the skin gets nicely charred. Turn them every few minutes to get grill marks on all sides.   Different sizes of tomatoes will be ready at different times (obviously), so remove them from the grill accordingly.  Take the stem and central core out, place the flesh, skin, and seeds in a food processor and process until smooth, or retaining some chunks, if you prefer.

Saute the diced shallot in olive oil with a little salt and pepper until golden.  Add the processed tomatoes, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until it gets the consistency  you like.  Season with more salt and pepper if needed, and in the final couple of minutes add the arugula, cooking gently until it wilts.

Meanwhile, cook the orechiette pasta according to the package instructions, drain, and mix with the sauce, warming everything together for a few minutes.  Add to a serving bowl, and shave some Parmigiano on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: All modesty aside, this sauce was a perfect use for tomatoes that were not uniform in size and type, all I had to do was pay attention to the grill and remove each one as they got done. Grilled tomato sauce would work well on many venues: as a topping for pizza, bruschetta, over a mild, grilled fish, or as a basis for pasta sauces with different herbs and/or greens.   Not bad as a starting point for soup, I suppose, although the idea of soup with the heat wave we are having is not very appealing.  I never quite got the taste for cold soups, maybe next year I’ll explore that untraveled road.  😉

ONE YEAR AGO Twice-baked goat cheese souffles

TWO YEARS AGO:  Hearts of Palm Pie

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VEGETABLE MILHOJAS

I prepared this recipe the week before our departure to the “nano-kitchen,”  (which I’m still adapting to), but using only the appliances I took with us, as a warm up for the “adventure.”   I’d also  like to say that this is a simple and straightforward recipe.   In some ways it’s not, but in other ways it is:  it takes  time and effort in the prep work, but once that’s completed it’s painless.  After tasting it, I predict that you won’t mind the road you traveled to make it.  I suggest that you assemble it on a weekend afternoon with nice music playing, perhaps this excellent  CD from Yo Yo Ma (skip the Metallica, or you may lose some fingertips).  I made individual servings with 3″ ring molds that I originally bought for cakes, but never used for that purpose.

VEGETABLE MILHOJAS
(adapted from Michael Bauer’s Secrets of Success)

for the tomato sauce:
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 lb tomatoes, seeded and diced
2  garlic cloves
5 basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste

for the veggies
1/2 pound eggplant, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 pound zucchini, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 pound kabocha (or other squash), peeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 pound celery root, peeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/2 bunch basil  + 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 pound soft goat cheese (Montrachet type)
salt and pepper

Make the tomato sauce by sauteeing the garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds, adding the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes and reserve.

Heat a non-stick skillet (or preferably a large electric griddle), sprinkle each slice of vegetables with a little salt and pepper, and add to the hot surface of your non-stick pan (or griddle) for a couple of minutes on each side, until it just starts to show some color.  Do not let it burn, or completely cook.  Reserve the slices.

Mix the olive oil with the basil (you can use a food processor or finely slice the basil to help releasing its flavor.

Assemble the dish: coat a 8 x 8 inch baking dish slightly with olive oil to prevent the veggies from sticking.  Layer the eggplant slices, zucchini, squash, and celery root.  Add a little basil oil as you form each layer.  Continue layering the veggies until they are all used up.   Spoon some tomato sauce over the top, crumble the goat cheese and bake in a 450F oven for 10-15 minutes until the veggies are hot and the cheese shows some golden brown spots.

(If making the dish in individual rings, coat them slightly with olive oil to help removing the rings before serving – bake on a baking sheet, and use a flat spatula to remove each ring to the serving plate).

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Michael Bauer states that the secret of this dish is to thin-slice the vegetables,  and he’s absolutely right.  By doing so, the different layers bake into a single entity in which each flavor mingles with that of its  neighbors. It’s a feast for the taste buds.   I advise you to avoid excess  tomato sauce, because this is not about the tomatoes,  which just give it some extra moisture and flavor.  This recipe lets the veggies do the talking.  I couldn’t find celery root, so instead I used butternut squash, for its texture and color.  “Dry sauteéing” is an interesting, low-fat technique.  You’ll still need some oil while layering the dish, but it will finish lighter than similar versions that rely on “regular” sauteéing.  Eggplant, in particular, absorbs oil and I usually avoid frying it, so this preparation suits my style.  Play with different vegetables, as it’s fun to change this basic recipe.  It’s perfect for entertaining:  assemble it ahead of time, and bake it just before serving.

ONE  YEAR AGO: A peachy salad for a sunny day!

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MY NEW FAVORITE TOMATO SAUCE

Strange things happen in my kitchen.  Countless recipes wait in an imaginary line,  that most will stay in for years, until I finally get around to making them.  But occasionally a recipe casts a spell on me, forcing a menu change, a search for exotic ingredients, the abandonment of seasonal cooking, and my personal resolve to drop everything else and cook it right away, as soon as humanly possible.  I bring this up because it happened last weekend, when the  Barefoot Contessa’s guest chef, Joseph Realmuto,  shared the recipe for his restaurant’s favorite tomato sauce (for the past 22 years).  It involved vodka,  slow roasted tomatoes and onions, and was finished with heavy cream.   I stopped in my tracks, slowly turned, headed  to the kitchen,  and made it.  And that, my friends, was the right move… 😉



PENNE A LA VECCHIA BETTOLA

(adapted from Joseph Realmuto, original recipe from La Vecchia Bettola, Firenze)

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 T dried red pepper flakes
1 T dried oregano
1/2 cup vodka
1 can best quality whole tomatoes (28 ounces)
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
fresh herbs of your choice (oregano, basil)
parmiggiano reggiano cheese, grated

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the onions, cook for about 8 minutes over medium heat, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano, and saute for a couple of minutes, mixing constantly. Add the vodka and simmer until the mixture is slightly reduced. Drain the tomatoes and add them to the skillet, crushing them slightly with your hands or a large wooden spoon (careful, they will splatter!). Season lightly with salt. Cover the skillet and place in the oven for one and a half hours. Remove the skillet from the oven, let it cool for 15 minutes, then place the contents in a blender. Puree until smooth.

While you cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, finish the sauce back in the skillet, setting over medium heat, and adding heavy cream. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 5 minutes, add the cooked pasta, and allow them to gently simmer for a few more minutes. Add fresh herbs and parmiggiano cheese right before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: In this day and age it’s hard to believe I’d even bother with another recipe for tomato sauce.   I usually alternate between my two favorites: the first involves a quick saute of onions in olive oil, a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper and some herbs; the second is a   very popular recipe from Marcella Hazan, worth all the butter it calls for.  😉

With the addition of this recipe I have my own tomato trilogy. It’s a breeze to prepare, but the combination of vodka and slow roasted tomatoes makes it taste complex. I reduced the cream  because 1 full cup of heavy cream seemed excessive;  feel free to do as your heart (and palate) desires. The vodka provides a background of heat that’s perfect with the intense flavor of tomatoes, concentrated by roasting.  It’s a delicious sauce that may be prepared in advance and blended right before finishing.