Wednesday, September 2, 2015

August 2015 Digest

Heirloom and Other Tomatoes

Tomatoes: Get Your Summer Fix

I love fresh tomatoes, and I eat them rabidly from June through September when they are available from my farmers market, New Morning Farm. The rest of the year, I eat tomatoes rarely--occasionally I'll make something with canned tomatoes. But from October to May I won't buy tomatoes at the grocery store, for the simple reason that they aren't very good.

Tomatoes are a temperamental vegetable (or fruit, if you want to get technical). They bruise easily and they don't store well. Through selective breeding, some growers have developed tomatoes can grow year-round and store and transport well, but in doing so, they have sacrificed what's important about tomatoes: their flavor. Cut open a tomato from the grocery store and you'll find a whitish mealy inside. Taste it, and there will be little tomato flavor. It's no wonder a lot of people claim they don't like tomatoes if this is what they mostly experience.

In contrast, cut into a seasonally ripe summer tomato and it will be vibrant red inside, juicy and flavorful. That's what tomatoes should be like, and I load our menu with them at this time of year.

The simplest way to serve tomatoes is raw in a salad. Inspired by the ingredients of a Manhattan-style chowder, I created this Manhattan "Chowder" Salad with broiled salmon, fresh tomatoes, fried potato cubes--a stand-in for croutons--and other ingredients. No-cook recipes, the kind you might make when it's just blisteringly hot outside, are another good way to make use of raw tomatoes. I loved this recipe I found in a recent issue of Bon Appétit, Flatbread with Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce. It's like an uncooked pizza and perfect with a variety of fresh heirloom tomatoes. For more "no cook" ideas, some with tomatoes (some without), check out my 8-2-Eat No Heat Dishes list.

Of course, summer tomatoes are also good cooked. One of the first recipes I learned to make with fresh tomatoes is the Pasta with Quick-Cooked Tomato Sauce from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins' classic The New Basics Cookbook. I've adapted the recipe a bit to take advantage of another wonderful summer ingredient: fresh basil. This is a good recipe for a weeknight, as its done in under 30 minutes.

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta
Roasted Ratatouille Pasta

When you have more time available, recipes with roasted tomatoes are where it's at. Roasting concentrates tomatoes' sweet and savory flavors. I added roasted tomatoes to Japanese Yaki Udon, a fried noodle dish, to create Roasted Tomato Yaki Udon, a sort of "Japanese spaghetti." Tomatoes, roasted alongside eggplant, bell pepper, zucchini and onion, form the backbone of Roasted Ratatouille Pasta, which also features a garlic and white wine sauce. Substitute olive oil for the butter and you have a delicious summer vegan dish.

Ground Cherries

Ground Cherries: No Temptation for Young George

We all know the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, but if he'd instead had ground cherries, which grow on vines, he might not have been so tempted. Ground cherries look like small tomatillos, as they are encased in papery skin, although when the skin is removed, they look more like golden grape tomatoes. However, they don't taste at all like tomatoes--they are sweeter and fruitier, more like pineapple. I used them in an Asian Slaw with cabbage, cilantro, peanuts, chicken and a ginger dressing.

Greek Burger

Greek Burgers: The All-American Dish Gets a Greek Makeover

Burgers are enjoyed year-round of course, but there's something particularly special about burgers during the summer, especially if you grill them. Although quintessentially American, burgers have demonstrated remarkable flexibility lately, making way for all sorts of interpretations (kimchi, anyone?). I go Greek with this recipe, made with ground lamb instead of beef, topped with tzatziki and nestled into a pita.

Ghibellina: Escape the Hot D.C. Summer with Good Italian Food

If you can't physically get out of D.C. during the hot, humid summer, you can at least get a little mental escape through amazing food. Our dinner at Ghibellina hit the spot with delicious salad, corn ravioli and pizza.

D.C.'s "Hidden" Underground Cocktail Bar: 2 Birds 1 Stone

I knew that 2 Birds 1 Stone was underneath the Doi Moi restaurant, but it took us quite a while to figure out exactly how to get inside. Once there, though, we enjoyed masterful cocktails in a surprisingly bright (for a subterranean space) environment. The Devil's Grin, for example, which I found the recipe for from a Koji Nnamdi Show episode.

Szechuan Peppercorn-Infused Gin and Mint: Silence Is Golden Cocktail

You know how sometimes you find a particular muse for cooking, and it's like the gift that just keeps on giving? My cocktail muse this year is Death & Co., the New York bar I wrote about earlier this year and which put out a book I also really love. This cocktail was inspired by the bar's drink Waterloo Sunset, made with Szechuan peppercorn-infused gin, ginger liqueur, Dolin blanc and mint. I call it "Silence Is Golden." Read the post to find out why (hint: it's a bit of music chart fun).

Food Recipes

Flatbread with Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce - a no-cook recipe from Bon Appétit that layers seasoned sliced tomatoes atop mashed chickpeas and yogurt-cucumber sauce on top of flatbreads.

Manhattan "Chowder" Salad - A salad of broil salmon, fresh tomatoes, fried potato "croutons" and other ingredients inspired by Manhattan-style chowder.

Pasta with Quick-Cooked Tomato Sauce - A simple dish of fettuccine, cooked summer tomatoes and basil, adapted from a recipe from The New Basics Cookbook.

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta - Ratatouille vegetables are roasted and combined with a garlic-white wine sauce over pasta.

Roasted Tomato Yaki Udon - A "Japanese spaghetti" of fried udon noodles with mushrooms and roasted tomatoes.

Asian Slaw with Ground Cherries and Chicken - My first recipe with ground cherries, which look like golden grade tomatoes and taste bit like pineapple, is an Asian-style slaw with cabbage, chicken and a ginger dressing.

Greek Burgers - Ground lamb, Tzatziki and pitas put a Greek twist on the American classic.

Cocktail Recipes

Silence is Golden - Szechuan peppercorn-infused gin, ginger liqueur, Dolin blanc and mint in a cocktail inspired by a Death & Co. drink.

Devil's Grin - From 2 Birds 1 Stone bartender Adam Bernbach, this is a white whiskey drink with Campari, amaretto and lime.


No Heat Dishes

Fresh Summer Tomato Recipes


Ghibellina (Italian, Washington, D.C.)

2 Birds / 1 Stone (Cocktail Bar, Washington, D.C.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Pasta with Quick-Cooked Tomato Sauce

Pasta with Quick-Cooked Tomato Sauce

It's hard to believe Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukin's The New Basics Cookbook is over 26 years old. The number one song in America when this book came out was Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," his first (and only) #1 hit. Back then an "app" was something you ate before an entree and a "tweet" was a sound a bird made. Nobody bought music from Apple (unless you count the record companies). Cell phones wouldn't find in your bag, let along your pocket.

Well, you'll be chirping with delight if you make this easy tomato sauce for pasta. After my mother's spaghetti recipe, this was the second pasta dish I learned to cook when I was in high school, and it's still a hit today.

I made a couple of minor alterations. The original recipe calls for a mix of fresh and canned tomatoes, but since it's summer, I went with all fresh. I also substituted fresh basil for the recipe's flat-leaf parsley and upped the volume of fresh herbs, since fresh basil is so wonderful with tomatoes and, after a failed first attempt earlier this summer, I have a beautiful basil plant growing on my balcony now.

Pasta with Quick-Cooked Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Quick Cooked Tomato Sauce from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

Salt, to taste
1 lb. dried fettuccine pasta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 cups fresh tomatoes, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup tomato paste
Dash of grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 yellow onion, cut into thin slivers
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
Grated pecorino-romano cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.

2. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Add the fresh tomatoes and tomato paste and stir to combine. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and increase heat to medium-high until the mixture bubbles, then decrease heat to medium. Simmer until the tomatoes are tender and falling apart, about 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Preheat oven broiler with rack about 4-5 inches from the broiler. In a medium bowl, toss the slivered onion with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread onion mixture on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Broil about 5-7 minutes, stirring every couple minutes, until the onions are lightly golden brown (be sure to stir to prevent onions from burning--some will still be quite browned around the edges, which is fine). Set onions aside.

4. Stir the pasta and fresh basil into the pasta sauce and turn off the heat. Serve the pasta in shallow bowls topped with some of the broiled onions and grated pecorino-romano cheese at the table.

Friday, August 28, 2015

8-2-Eat: 8 Recipes for Fresh Summer Tomatoes

8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. The last 2 weeks, I've shared a number of recipes for making use of fresh summer tomatoes. Here are 8 more of my favorites from summers past.

1. Tomato Bruschetta. Many of the best ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes are simple delights like tomato bruschetta--garlic-rubbed grilled bread brushed with olive oil and topped with tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. This recipe was accompanied by an article on the evolving use of the term "bruschetta."

Roasted tomato panzanella.
2. Roasted Tomato Panzanella. Panzanella, an Italian bread salad, is our favorite way to enjoy summer tomatoes. Although I usually serve it with raw tomatoes, sometimes I like them roasted too.

3. Greek Salad with Chicken. Classic Greek salad is a great way to showcase not just tomatoes but a variety of raw summer vegetables.

4. Freekeh Tabbouleh with Mint. Tabbouleh is usually made with bulgur wheat, but I love this version with the smoky-roasty flavor of freekeh, another wheat grain. Sweet sungold cherry tomatoes are my favorite tomato for this.

5. Peach and Tomato Salad with Tofu. This salad, a Hugh Acheson recipe, beautifully blends two summer staples into a spicy vegan salad (pictured above).

6. Ultimate Club Sandwich. I use a low-heat oven to dry out the tomatoes in this club sandwich, which also features avocado, bacon and Monterey Jack cheese.

Roasted tomato risotto.
7. Roasted Tomato Risotto. Most risotto recipes call for using chicken broth, but for more tomato flavor, I used my own roasted tomato broth in this recipe.

8. Tipsy Gazpacho Cocktail. I was inspired by the flavors of gazpacho in creating this gin cocktail made with roasted tomato syrup, a finalist in last year's Washington Post tomato recipe contest.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Roasted Tomato Yaki Udon

Yaki Udon is a simple Japanese dish of fried udon noodles--those wide Japanese noodles that resemble linguine--usually served with a mixture of meat and vegetables. I thought it could be interesting to develop a version of Yaki Udon that uses tomatoes.

By now, a lot of you have probably heard of the so-called "fifth taste," umami. The term is Japanese and mean roughly "savory." Lots of Japanese dishes are loaded with umami flavor, which comes from foods high in glutamates like mushrooms, seaweed and certain types of fish. Dashi, for example, is a Japanese broth made from dried kombu seaweed and dried fish flakes known as bonito or katsuobushi. Dashi doesn't taste like much by itself, but the glutamate-rich broth is used to enhance the flavor of other ingredients (I've used it to poach salmon, for example).

Tomatoes, although not something we commonly associate with Japanese food, are also loaded with glutamates. This isn't so apparent with raw tomatoes, but when roasted, those savory notes really come through. I thought it would be interesting to make Yaki Udon using a roasted tomato sauce. A sort of "Japanese Spaghetti" if you will.

I roasted and pureed fresh tomatoes for this dish and then made a sauce with onions, scallions, garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Although spaghetti is commonly garnished with grated parmesan, I used black sesame seeds. Although it takes awhile to roast the tomatoes, this can be done ahead of time. Otherwise, the dish comes together quite quickly.

Roasted Tomato Yaki Udon

3 lb. ripe red tomatoes, cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks
4 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1/2 tsp. sea salt
10 oz. package dried udon noodles
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4-5 scallions chopped, white and light green parts separated from the green part
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced into 1/4-inch slices
2 tbsp. low-sodium tamari (may use soy sauce)
1 tbsp. mirin
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2-3 tbsp. black sesame seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine tomatoes, 2 tbsp. vegetable oil and sea salt in a large bowl and toss to combine. Spread the tomatoes in an even layer in a 9 X 13 baking dish. Roast the tomatoes, stirring every 30 minutes, until the tomatoes have shriveled, browned a little around the edges and significantly reduced in volume, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Set aside to cool. Transfer tomatoes and any remaining juices to a food processor and pulse 5 to 6 times to make a chunky sauce. Store sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the udon noodles and cook until the noodles are al dente, about 4-6 minutes (may vary by noodle brand, consult package directions). Drain noodles and set aside.

3. Heat remaining 2 tbsp. of oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the white and light green chopped scallions and the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and their water has evaporated, about 4 minutes.

4. Add the noodles to the stir fry and stir to combine. Add the soy sauce and mirin (the liquid will help break up the noodles if they are sticking together). Stir to combine the noodles with the other ingredients and cook about 1-2 minutes. Add the roasted tomato sauce and the sesame oil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook just enough to reheat the tomatoes, 1-2 minutes. Add the sesame oil and chopped scallion greens and stir to combine.

5. Serve the noodles in bowls topped with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.


Dashi-Poached Salmon

Monday, August 24, 2015

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta with Garlic and White Wine Sauce

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta with Garlic and White Wine Sauce

Ratatouille is such a perfect summer dish. And easy too. Basically, you sauté a bunch of beautiful in-season summer vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions and serve them with fresh herbs like thyme and basil. I've done a simple version before. This is a little more complicated, but I promise it's worth the extra work.

"I am the Ratatouille Man."
I love the combination of vegetables in ratatouille, and I thought they would work well as a basis for a pasta. It's not uncommon to serve ratatouille over pasta (or rice), but I wanted to do a little more with it, making a sauce that integrates the pasta and the vegetables.

I first roasted the vegetables for quite a long time, as they give off a lot of liquid. After about 80 minutes they were quite soft and just starting to turn a little brown around the edges. As that was finishing, I made a simple sauce of garlic cooked in butter to which I added first a little tomato paste and then some white wine. This formed the base of the sauce into which I folded the roasted vegetables.

If you love vegetable pastas, this summery version is sure to please. It was a real hit in our house. I recommend serving it with grated cheese. Parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano would do, but I think the brighter flavor of pecorino-romano works well here.

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta with Garlic and White Wine Sauce

1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. dried pasta, such as fearful (I used tricolor)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. tomato paste
3/4 cup gruner veltliner wine (or other dry white wine)
Dash of ground nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil ribbons (chiffonade)
Grated pecorino-romano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Combine eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell pepper and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste and stir to coat vegetables with the oil. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast vegetables until shriveled and the edges are lightly browned, about 60 to 80 minutes, turning vegetables every 20 minutes. Remove roasted vegetables from oven and set aside.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the dried pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.

4. Heat remaining tbsp. of olive oil and 2 tbsp. of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook another minute. Add the wine, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and increase heat slightly to bring to a bubble, stirring to combine the ingredients into a sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the roasted vegetables until combined. Turn off the heat and stir in the cooked pasta and basil. Serve in shallow bowls with grated pecorino-romano at the table.


Basic Ratatouille

Friday, August 21, 2015

8-2-Eat: 8 No Heat Dishes

8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. Today, I feature 8 dishes you can make without turning on the oven or stove--perfect for those really hot summer days.

1. Chickpea "Potato" Salad. I recently featured a roasted version of this, but the tasty original requires no heat to transform simple ingredients into an updated version of the picnic classic.

2. Smoky Smooth Hummus. Garlicky chickpea-and-tahini laden hummus is perfect for dipping pitas and cut vegetables into and it requires no heat for either the dip or its dippers.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
3. Heirloom Tomato Panzanella. An Italian salad of bread cubes (toasted generally, but if you want to absolutely use no heat you can just cut them up), tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

4. Creamy Andalusian Gazpacho. Yes, it's a soup, but it's a raw summery one requiring no cooking that celebrates all things great about tomatoes.

5. Spicy Pistachio Guacamole. I suppose it's hard to call this "no heat" with those slices of jalapeño, but it will still keep your kitchen cool (and taste delicious).

6. Classic Tuna Salad Sandwich. The tangy crunch of this sandwich classic is perfect on a hot summer day.

Cold Chickpea-Tahini Soup
7. Cold Chickpea-Tahini Soup. This is pretty much all the ingredients of hummus yet put together as a soup. If you like hummus--and who doesn't?--give this a try.

8. Flatbread with Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Yogurt Sauce. This wonderful dish is sort of like an uncooked pizza: flatbread topped with yogurt-cucumbers sauce, smashed chickpeas and seasoned tomatoes. It's also addictively good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Manhattan "Chowder" Salad

Manhattan "Chowder" Salad

As a kid, I loved clam chowder, and it's still one of my favorites. It's a wonderfully creamy soup flavored with the briny clams, butter and (in the best versions) a little smoky bacon. But I'll never forget the time I ordered Manhattan clam chowder, not knowing it was something different altogether.

"What is this?" I'm sure I asked my mom.

What I think of as clam chowder is the New England variety, which is also popular on the West Coast: a creamy broth with onion and other vegetables, potato, clams and (if you make it right) bacon. Did I mention it's supposed to have bacon in it? My mom's version was so bacon-y, we called it her "bacon chowder."

And Manhattan clam chowder is not these things. It has a thinner, tomato-based broth instead of a thick, creamy base. Frankly, it's just not as good, despite the fact that it's composed of so many things I love: onions, celery, potatoes and tomatoes (plus clams, which I don't "love," but are good when used right).

With this in mind, I decided to take the parts I like about Manhattan clam chowder and re-fashion them as a salad. I kept the onion and celery, but included them raw. I fried the potatoes into cubes, which makes them a bit like croutons. Instead of tomato broth, I used raw beefsteak tomatoes. And I replaced the clams with salmon, which is much more flavorful for a salad. A garlicky white-wine vinaigrette pulls the whole thing together.

Manhattan "Chowder" Salad

1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6-7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 oz. salmon fillet
2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (may use other tomatoes, you want about 2 cups)
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/8-thick pieces on a sharp angle
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into strips with a julienne peeler or shredded
1/2 small red onion, cut into thin slivers
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. aleppo pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, very finely minced or pounded into a paste
1 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

1. Fill a medium with 1 1/2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the potato cubes and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Immediately drain the potatoes and set aside in the colander for 5 minutes.

2. Heat 2 to 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet (use enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet) over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir the potatoes occasionally until they are browned and crisp on all sides, about 10-12 minutes total. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate.

3. Preheat oven broiler. Brush a foil-lined baking sheet with olive oil. Place the salmon fillet skin-side down on the baking sheet and brush the salmon with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt (if you have it, smoked sea salt is great here) and pepper and broil about 5 inches from the broiler for about 5 minutes. Turn the fish over and broil about another 5 minutes until the salmon is cooked through. Remove and discard the skin and any gray layer. Transfer the salmon to a cutting board and flake with a fork into bite-size pieces.

4. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, celery, onion, thyme, parsley, aleppo pepper flakes and salmon. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar and 3 tbsp. of olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat evenly. Divide the salad into shallow bowls and top each with a handful of fried potato cubes.