Posts filed under ‘tomatoes’

Substantial summer salads

Tuscan Bread Salad

Tuscan Bread Salad

Wouldn’t you know it: The mood for salad struck this week, just as the hot spell finally broke and we got some rain? Where were my salad cravings when it was 100 degrees in my kitchen? As wilted as the greens in my refrigerator, I guess.

No matter. The salads I’m interested in this week are more than just greens-and-crunchy-stuff, they’re salad-as-a-meal, complex and flavorful but not the least bit difficult to make. And they use a lot of the same ingredients, but with quite different results. One brings back memories of my daughter-of-a-Southern-mother childhood; the other is a tradition from an entirely different part of the world. They’re both delicious – and they both benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.

Tuscan Bread Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hearty bread*, cut or torn into bite-sided cubes. You want bread of substance for this, and you want it a little stale; I used the heel end of a round sourdough loaf I bought at the farmers’ market last weekend; whole-grain bread is also wonderful.
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small cucumber, or a couple of lemon cucumbers*, scrubbed, peeled (if the peel is tough, otherwise don’t bother) and cut in chunks
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes*, cut in chunks, or several little tomatoes, halved. I used small BlackPlums from my garden
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped*
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp capers (optional)
  • 2-3 Tbsp fresh basil*, coarsely chopped and then rubbed between your hands to release the aromas
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh greens*
  • Pecorino romano cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F. Toss the bread with 1 Tbsp olive oil, lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until the bread is toasty brown and fairly hard. Cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, capers and basil. Pour over the bread mixture and toss well to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the bread soak most of the liquid.

Before serving, correct seasoning if necessary. Dress plates with a bed of washed, torn greens, top with a generous portion of bread salad and use a vegetable peeler to shave a few curls of Pecorino romano cheese on top.

Serves two, generously (or one, with plenty left for the next day’s lunch). If you’re the sort of person who insists on protein at every meal, this is also very good with drained albacore tuna mixed in just before serving.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

Roast pork tenderloin with black-eyed pea salad

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Roast Pork

I know, I know: People who didn’t grow up with black-eyed peas sometimes find them a little off-putting. An ex of mine once sampled my traditional mom’s-recipe New Year’s Eve black-eyed peas, grimaced and muttered, “Tastes like dirt.” I can’t argue with that – but to my mouth, that’s “earthy,” and it’s a great flavor, especially when the beans are cooked from scratch instead of dumped out of a can. Now, normally, I automatically throw a chunk of salt pork or (when I can find it) ham hock in with black-eyed peas. This salad is so flavorful, though, it can do without (vegetarians take note). And while I’m having it as a dinner side dish tonight, I plan to eat it again for lunch tomorrow, all by itself, and quite possibly dinner tomorrow night, too. It’s that good.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black-eyed peas (or 2 cans, if you must, or an equivalent amount of frozen black-eyed peas.)
  • 2 large tomatoes* (or an equivalent in smaller ones), chopped
  • 1 large cucumber* (or 2-3 lemon cucumbers), peeled if necessary and chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion*, finely chopped
  • A fistful of fresh Italian parsley*, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil*, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme*, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 small hot peppers*, seeded and diced (I dipped into my endless supply of little red chiles of unknown provenance, provided by a friend who grows them in vast quantities)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Cool and drain the cooked beans; if you’re using canned ones, rinse them to get rid of the liquid from the can, which is kind of nasty. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave, rinse and cool.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes, cucumber and onions. Add the herbs and toss thoroughly to mix.

In a small bowl, combine garlic, peppers, olive oil, vinegar and sugar and whisk well to blend. Pour over the bean mixture, and toss until the beans are well-coated with dressing. Taste; add salt and pepper if necessary. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Serve with cornbread for a complete-protein vegetarian meal, or as an accompaniment to roasted pork tenderloin (rub a small, lean tenderloin with olive oil, pat on a mixture of paprika, dry mustard powder, cayenne and a little salt, and roast at 450F for about 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes or so to firm up before slicing on the diagonal into medallion.)

Makes 4-6 servings, and it’s a great potluck dish, too!

* Local ingredients, from the Albany farmers’ market or my garden

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August 20, 2008 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment

Growing your own

Early harvest

Early harvest: Tomatoes, basil, mint, garlic

Tonight’s dinner is as simple as can be: Three plum tomatoes, sliced, tossed with minced basil and garlic and dressed with a gloss of olive oil and the slightest sprinkling of salt. A piece of locally baked (Great Harvest) whole-grain bread with good Tillamook butter. A glass of crisp, honey-scented pinot gris from Elk Cove winery, just up the valley in Gaston.

A light meal, but one of great significance, because those tomatoes are the very first ones to ripen in this year’s garden.

I’ve been eating from the garden for over a month now, mostly raspberries and container-grown strawberries that just won’t quit bearing. The herbs, planted in an assortment of containers, are going like gangbusters this season, too. I’ve just finished drying the garlic I planted last fall.

But it’s the tomatoes that make me feel like a Real Gardener, even though my habits are less than diligent and my ambitions modest. After a disappointing season last summer, this year’s tomatoes – six plants, each a different heirloom variety – are starting to produce what looks like it could be a bumper crop. Helped, no doubt, by the fact that my neighbor let me remove a limb from his big-leaf maple that had gradually turned my full-sun raised bed into a morning-sun-only spot.

Now that the sun is back, the tomatoes are going nuts. I’m already eyeballing the beefsteak-style varieties, green though they still are, with visions of tomato sandwiches dancing in my head.

July 29, 2008 at 7:10 pm Leave a comment

Green beans and …

FasolakiaI’m getting ready to leave town Thursday for the long weekend, and I still hadn’t finished off the wonderful green beans I bought at the market last week. There were other things in the vegetable drawer that really needed to be cooked and eaten in the next two days, too because by the time I get home they’d have passed their prime.

Serendipitiously, I had everything I needed to make one of my favorite green-bean dishes: Fasolakia, the lovely Greek summer stew of green beans and tomatoes, herbs and … other stuff. Some recipes call for potatoes. Or Kalamata olives. Me, I decided to throw in a chopped Portobello mushroom, because that’s one of the things I had on hand, and green beans go nicely with mushrooms.

Whatever you add, this is an easy, low-labor dish that shows off the bright flavors of fresh ingredients. I’ve had it made with canned or frozen green beans, and it was tasty, but with fresh, it’s just splendid. Try it with tender new green beans, or as the season progresses, older ones – just cook it a bit longer. It’s gorgeous made with fresh tomatoes, but since the green bean and tomato seasons here don’t really coincide, canned tomatoes work just fine.

Fasolakia with mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • A small onion, or half a big one, chopped coarsely
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (or more) minced
  • 1 pound of green beans. String them if you need to and cut into 1-2 inch lengths
  • 1 large Portobello mushroom, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1 can of low-salt diced tomatoes and their juice
  • A tablespoon or so of fresh oregano, minced, if you’ve got it (yay, herb garden!). A quarter as much dried, if you don’t.
  • A generous amount of chopped, fresh Italian parsley – at least a quarter cup.
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Method:

Pour enough olive oil into a heavy-bottomed skillet to cover the bottom. Heat and add onions , garlic, green beans and mushrooms. Stir to coat with oil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the onions and garlic begin to go translucent and the green beans start to become tender (How can you tell? Poke them with a fork!).

Stir in the canned tomatoes and juice, the oregano, parsley and a generous amount of black pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer; cover the pan and continue cooking until the beans are nice and tender but not mushy. Taste and add salt if desired (I rarely do)

With early-season beans, no more than about 10 minutes of simmering is required; as the season progresses and the beans get tougher, you’ll need to cook them longer.

You can serve this as a vegetarian main dish, perhaps with a nice crusty bread to mop up the sauce, or as a side dish. A pound of beans makes two generous main-dish servings (guess what I’m having for lunch tomorrow) or perhaps four as an accompaniment. It’s fantastic with lamb.

(Note: Besides being tasty, tomatoes serve an interesting function in this dish. Tomatoes and other acid foods react with the cellulose in sp,e other vegetables in a way that inhibits the softening process as they cook. You may have noticed this if you’ve ever added tomatoes to a dried bean soup, for instance, or to a potato dish – no matter how long you cook them, the beans/potatoes never quite seem to get “done.” That can be a bother, but you can also use this bit of kitchen chemistry to your advantage: By adding the tomatoes to this dish after the green beans are already fairly tender, you’ll slow the softening and keep them from turning to mush while they absorb the flavor of the tomatoes and herbs.)

July 1, 2008 at 8:45 pm Leave a comment

Deconstructing Mom’s home cooking

Effortless pasta I am a child of the 1950s, the daughter of a woman who grew up hardscrabble-poor in Depression-era North Texas and went on to learn “modern” cooking and menu planning from Betty Crocker, and a man whose idea of Real Food involved meat, potatoes, and vegetables boiled all day (wtih fatback) on the back of the stove. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I like food at all.

Take pasta: When I was a kid, we never heard the word, for one thing. It was spaghetti, or macaroni, or noodles, and it came in one of three forms: With red sauce, with American cheese, or as filler in the dish mom called “slumgully” (hamburger, celery, dried onion flakes and canned mushrooms, simmered in her biggest skillet with a sauce made of nothing but ketchup and pan juices, and served over enough flat egg noodles to fill up four hungry kids when there was more month left than money. We loved it. We were kids. What can I say?)

Spaghetti was a big deal, because (in those days before the coming of Ragu), mom made her own sauce, cooking it all day long on the back of the stove. It was mostly canned tomato sauce, canned tomato paste and a little bit of onion. No garlic – my dad didn’t like it. Herbs: Oregano and thyme, from jars that sat on the back of the stove and had about as much flavor as the dust that clung to their surfaces. Hamburger (because it wasn’t a proper meal without meat, except on Fridays), either cooked down until it became one with the sauce, or (for special occasions) formed into meatballs as big as a child’s fist, bound together with egg and corn-flake crumbs.

I don’t want to slander my mother. She actually had a pretty adventurous palate – I can remember her dragging six-year-old me and my little brother through the back streets of the Japanese town near the airbase where we were stationed, and egging us on to sample raw fish, strange soups and exotic vegetables. It’s just that she considered it her job to get three meals a day on the table for a picky husband and four ravenous kids, so she stuck with what was safe, filling – and bland.

Still, some tastes form early, and I do have a taste for pasta with meaty red sauce. Over the years, though, I’ve discovered the joys of sauces that aren’t cooked all day long, that include fresh ingredients and herbs and spices. The result is still comfort food, but it’s comfort food with flavor. Mom, rest her soul, would approve.

This past weekend, I hauled my visiting sweetie down to the market with me. We picked up strawberries, and scones, and a pound of the most excellent breakfast sausage from Wood Family Farm. If you’re an Albany Farmers’ Market habitué you’ve probably tasted or at least smelled it; Dan Wood likes to keep a skillet of sausage simmering at his booth to tempt passersby, and tempting stuff it is, lean and well-seasoned. We took our sausage home and set it out to thaw, thinking to have it for Sunday breakfast. But we wound up going out for breakfast instead, my sweetie took the train back to Seattle – and here I was with a pound of sausage that needed cooking.

And though the weather forecast calls for unseasonable heat by week’s end, it’s still chilly tonight, so I came home from work and went straight for the comfort food: Pasta with an easy, flavorful sauce that took hardly any effort to prepare.

You may not have oven-roasted tomatoes in your freezer. I was kind of surprised to discover that I did – I thought I’d used the last container from the 2007 harvest. I was delighted to find I still had about a pint of the stuff – but it’s not essential. You can make this with fresh tomatoes (well, not quite yet, perhaps), or with canned tomatoes, or sun-dried tomatoes. It’s hard to go wrong. And you can substitute the heck out of the ingredients, too.

Pasta with easy, meaty red sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean,bulk breakfast sausage, locally made if you can find it
  • Half a small onion, diced
  • A few (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
  • A generous handful of fresh mushrooms (if you like them), coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups oven-roasted tomatoes, OR any combination of
    • Ripe, meaty tomatoes, chopped coarsely

    • Sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted in a little hot water (or if you’re using the kind that’s packed in oil, drained)
    • Canned, diced tomatoes. I like the low-salt ones
  • Handful of fresh basil, chopped (I skipped this, because I use a ton of basil in my oven-roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Pasta of your choice (I used rotini)
  • Good grated parmesan, not the tasteless stuff in the green can

Method

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, and stir around a bit to start it browning. Stir in the onion, garlic and mushrooms, turn the heat down low, and put a lid on the pan (I don’t have a lid that fits my skillet, so I use a pizza pan).

Go away for 10 minutes or so. A pocket oven timer comes in handy if you’re prone to getting distracted answering your e-mail.

Come back, give everything a stir. The onions and garlic should be soft by now, the mushrooms looking cooked, and the sausage pretty well cooked through. Dump in tomatoes-of-your-choice. Add herbs. Stir, cover, and go away for another 10 minutes or so.

When you come back, put a big pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Taste the sauce (don’t burn your tongue!) and correct the seasoning if necessary. It should be starting to taste like sauce, rather than its component parts, but will probably be pretty watery. Remove the lid, give it another stir, turn the heat back up to medium and let it simmer and sputter while you cook the pasta according to the package directions.

By the time the pasta is done and drained, the sauce should have reduced down a bit and thickened some. If it’s not quite ready, no worry, just toss the noodles with a little olive oil so they don’t stick while you finish the sauce. When it looks and tastes ready, ladle it generously over the noodles, sprinkle with a little parmesan, and enjoy.

This takes all of about 30 minutes to prepare, and very little of that is spent at the stove. The quantity described here could serve 2-4 people, depending on how hungry they are, and if you need to feed more, just do what mom did: Cook more noodles.

May 13, 2008 at 8:42 pm Leave a comment

Getting ready for the season

Countdown: 35 days till my local farmers’ market opens for the season!

I expected this would be a seasonal blog when I started writing it; sure enough, I haven’t posted an entry since December.

Because, really, who wants to read “I took the (whatever) from last harvest season out of the freezer tonight…” Winter cooking, at least in my house, is more about sustenance than it is about enjoying the process. I envy those of you who live in places where there are local farm markets all year round. Oh, we’ve had a winter market this year, two days a month, but I always forget which days until it’s too late.

However: Spring is definitely here in Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley. The daffodils are up, the ornamental fruit trees started blooming this week and we’re less than five weeks from the opening of our local market. So I’ve begun the annual process of clearing the pantry and freezer of the remnants of last year’s harvest to make room for this year’s.

Cuban bean soupIt’s still a little chilly here, and I’ve still got some of Matt-Cyn Farms’ wonderful beans on hand, so I put them on to soak last night and thumbed through recipes this morning. A little of this, a little of that, and I wound up with a Cuban-style bean soup with ham, enriched with tomato and brightened with the tang of fresh lemon juice. That, and some of the first $1.29 a pound asparagus of the season, oven-roasted, made for a wonderful dinner. And there’s plenty left for lunches next week.

Cuban Bean Soup with Ham

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried beans. Black beans are traditional; I used half black turtle beans and half bicolored yin-yang beans from Matt-Cyn Farms
  • 10 cups water or vegetable stock, or any combination of both. I keep my vegetable trimmings in a bag in the freezer; when I have a couple bags full, I throw them in water with some pepper and herbs and make stock.
  • 1/4 pound ham, cubed. Bone-in ham steaks are an economical way to buy ham; include the bone for flavor (remove before serving!)
  • At least 2 cloves garlic, finely minced. I used 6; I would have used more if it hadn’t all been sprouting (instead, the sprouting cloves will go in my garden)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (many recipes call for green, but I find green bell peppers unpleasantly bitter. The red, yellow or orange versions add a pleasing sweetness to the dish).
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, or an equivalent amount of tomato goo*
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t bother with salt; the ham was sufficient.
  • Dry sherry (optional)
  • Hardboiled egg, chopped (for garnish)
  • Lemon wedges (for garnish)

Either soak the beans overnight, or use the quick-soak method (Cover beans in water, bring to a boil, put on a lid and cover the pot. After an hour, the beans will be ready to cook). Discard soaking water.

In a large, lidded pot, bring stock/water to a boil. Add soaked beans and ham. Once the beans come back to a boil, turn the heat way down and simmer, partially covered, until tender (1-2 hours).

Make the sofrito: Pound the garlic, cumin, oregano, mustard and cayenne together until well blended. I use a mortar and pestle. You could also throw it in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, then sauté the onion and red pepper, stirring, until wilted. Add the spice mixture and stir for a minute. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of liquid from the beans. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Check to make sure the beans are tender (because once you add the lemon and tomato, their acid will prevent the beans from getting any softer), then stir the sofrito and the tomatoes in and simmer for another hour, partially covered.

I’d planned to puree some of the beans and add them back in to thicken the soup, but it was plenty thick enough without doing so.

When ready to serve, check the seasoning and, if you like, stir in a couple of tablespoons of dry sherry to finish. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped egg and a slice of lemon. Should serve six or so, with a nice salad and some chewy bread to mop the bowl.


Bonus: Tomato gooI probably ought to call it something nicer, like “slow-roasted tomatoes,” but my sister dubbed it tomato goo and tomato goo it is. It’s my favorite thing to do at the end of tomato season, when there are so many ripe tomatoes (from the garden or market) that I can’t possibly eat them all. It’s easy:

  • Quarter a bunch of ripe tomatoes, cutting out the blossom ends and any bad bits
  • Peel some sweet onions and cut them in large wedges
  • Peel several heads of garlic; leave the cloves intact
  • Chop up a few fistfuls of fresh basil.

Mix everything together and spread it in a shallow layer in a large roasting or baking pan. The layer should be no more than one tomato chunk deep. Drizzle with olive oil.

Put in a 250F oven and let it cook, stirring every half hour or so, until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated, the onions and garlic have caramelized and the tomatoes have turned into something as good as the best sun-dried tomato you ever ate. This will take hours. Read a book or do the laundry or something.

I always make two pans at a time, one on the top oven rack and one on the bottom. If you do that, swap the pans’ positions a couple of times for more even cooking.

When the goo comes out of the oven, cool and spoon into freezer bags. Press out the air, seal and freeze. To use, peel back the bag and cut off chunks. If you want to thaw it, use the microwave (open the bag first). Add to soups or stews, use as a pasta sauce (alone or with amendments), add to omelettes, spread on rounds of good toasted bread for instant bruschetta, etc. etc. etc.

March 15, 2008 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment

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