Category Archives: Tomatoes

Meat on a stick.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

When I was a kid, fondue was a special family night. Mom would plug in the electric pot full of vegetable oil on the dining room table, as we grabbed for whichever long, two-tined fork was tipped in our favorite color. We cooked cubes of top sirloin in the hot fat, then dipped them into the homemade Béarnaise and burgundy sauces that Mom set out in small bowls.

I know fondue pots are a lost fashion of the 1970’s, but I have so many fond memories; like the time my godmother, Aunt Ali, served cheese fondue, and I spent the rest of the night throwing up. (Totally not her fault. It was an 8 year-old’s stomach bug. And the fondue was delicious!)

Whether at the end of a fork , skewered with wood  for a party or metal for the grill, meat on a stick is one of those foods – like anything smothered in cheese or made with bacon – that leaves us clamoring for more. These kebabs, spicy with Tunisian Harissa – a paste of sun dried chills, sweet with brown sugar, rich with tomato paste and earthy with fresh thyme, are exotic but easy. Oh, and if your fork handles have colored tips, I’ll take the blue.

Top Sirloin Cherry Tomato Harissa Kebabs

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 tbs Harissa
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup Pomegranate Vinegar* or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large green peppers cut in 2” pieces
  • 1 1/2 pounds top sirloin steak cut in 2” cubes (about 2 steaks)

*Pomegranate vinegar is back at Sapore (and it’s delicious!).

 

Directions:

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Photography by Sam Armocido

  • Make marinade: Whisk together Harissa, brown sugar, tomato paste, red wine, Pomegranate Vinegar, cinnamon, thyme and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Mix together tomatoes, peppers and steak and toss to coat with marinade. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
  • If using wooden skewers, soak them for an hour before grilling.
  • Load skewers with beef, tomatoes, and peppers.
  • Prepare a hot grill and cook over direct heat for 2-3 minutes per side, about 8-10 minutes total for medium rare.
  • While grilling, place remaining marinade, and any extra tomatoes, in a small saucepan and cook at a high simmer until thickened.
  • Brush cooked kebabs with sauce and serve.
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This is how you learn.

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Farm Camp at Arcadia

Farm Camp at Arcadia
Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi.

“They have farm camp?!” I asked my friend Pamela Hess. “That is the coolest thing ever!”

To my complete delight, she invited me to do a cooking class with the campers at Arcadia, a cool, non-profit farm – where Pamela is the Executive Director – dedicated to reconnecting us with our food and the people who produce it. These kids have spent a week feeding chickens, pulling weeds, harvesting fresh produce and learning how to cook. They already knew amazing recipes like zucchini pasta, fresh salsa, and veggie quesadillas. They even have mad knife skills.

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Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

From the second I arrived they were all over me. “Who are you? How’d you become a chef? What are we cooking?” They uncorked bottles of vinegar and oil knowing instinctually to smell them. When they found something they loved, they immediately shared it with someone else. They asked how we were using each new ingredient and tool that I placed on the table.

We cooked together for just over an hour, far longer than my childhood attention span. We made pan con tomate, and tossed vinaigrettes over zucchini and corn, and arugula, fresh from Arcadia’s farm.

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Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

During Q&A one of the campers asked me how I learned to cook. I talked about the years I spent exploring and practicing in the kitchen, but they didn’t really need an answer from me. When it comes to learning, they are already experts.

Pan con tomate

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 18 slices of baguette, 1/4″ thick, about 1/2 of a baguette
  • 1-2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt
  • Olive oil – the good stuff!
Farm Camp at Arcadia

Farm Camp at Arcadia
Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

Directions:

  • Warm your oven to 400 degrees and toasts the bread until crisp and golden on the edges, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Rub toasted bread a couple of times with the clove of garlic.
  • Cut each tomato in half and grate into pulp using a box grater. If the pulp is really watery, strain through a fine sieve to thicken.
  • Spread a teaspoon of pulp over each baguette slice. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with a drop or three of oil, and serve.

Corn and Zucchini Salad

Serves 6-8

Cutting corn off the cobIngredients:

  • 1 large zucchini cut in a 1/2″ dice
  • 4 ears corn, kernels removed
  • 1 tbs chopped basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar – we used Blackberry Balsamic
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!

Directions:

  • Mix together zucchini, corn and basil in a large bowl.
  • Chop garlic, sprinkle with coarse salt – like sea salt or Kosher salt – and mash into a paste on your cutting board using the flat side of your knife or the tines of a fork.
  • Add the garlic to a small bowl with the vinegar and honey. Whisk together.
  • While whisking, pour the oil into the vinegar mixture, in a thin stream. Whisk until it forms a thick, creamy emulsion.
  • Dress the veggies lightly and serve.

Fresh Arugula Salad

Serves 6

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Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

  • 1/2 pound baby arugula
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup vinegar – we used Pomegranate vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!

1.4 whisking vinaigretteDirections:

  • Place the arugula in a large salad bowl.
  • Chop garlic, sprinkle with coarse salt – like sea salt or Kosher salt – and mash into a paste on your cutting board using the flat side of your knife or the tines of a fork.
  • Add the garlic to a small bowl with the vinegar and honey. Whisk together.
  • While whisking, pour the oil into the vinegar mixture, in a thin stream. Whisk until it forms a thick, creamy emulsion.
  • Dress the salad lightly, tossing with tongs to coat. A perfectly dressed green salad should just glisten with dressing and there should be almost nothing left in the bottom of the bowl when you’re done serving.

Everybody hates leftovers

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Gone are the days of meatloaf Mondays, canned corn Tuesdays, green bean wednesdays and mashed potato Thursdays building to Shepherd’s pie Fridays. Yet, in today’s time and budget-starved world, more and more people cook Sunday for the whole week. Even as we portion meals into plastic containers, we are guilt-filled with the knowledge that by Thursday our meals will remain untouched in the office fridge as we head to the closest food truck rally.

Thinner waists and fatter wallets – casualties of boring leftovers – were the inspiration for these two dishes. We used the same ingredients – chicken, cauliflower and spinach –  in two distinctly different dishes. They are simple enough to prepare in one night, delicious enough to hold our attention throughout the week, and the ingredients are cheap.

Yum! Pass me the leftovers.

Smokey Tomato Chicken, Cauliflower and Spinach

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes – about 1.5 lbs
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tbs Spanish paprika, or Hot Hungarian paprika
  • 2 tbs Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar to deglaze the pan*
  • 1 28oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, puréed
  • ½ head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 tsp Dark Chocolate Balsamic vinegar*
  • 1 bunch spinach, stemmed, about 4 cups loose

*Supermarket solutions: You can order these online from Sapore or sub sherry vinegar for Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry and a 25 year balsamic for the Dark Chocolate Balsamic.

Directions:

  • Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat (use a pan you have a cover for). Add chicken and brown on all sides. Remove chicken and reserve.
  • Add an additional tablespoon oil if the pan is dry, reduce heat to medium and add onions. Sauté until softened, 4-6 minutes.
  • Stir tomato paste and paprika into onions and cook for one minute, until fragrant.
  • Add tomatoes to pan, stir together with other ingredients and simmer for five minutes.
  • Add cauliflower and cook for 10 minutes. Add chicken and cook until cauliflower is tender but still firm. Another 10 minutes or so.
  • Stir through Dark Chocolate Balsamic vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Add spinach to pan, cover and remove dish from heat. Leave for 10 minutes until spinach is wilted.
  • Stir spinach through, check seasoning and serve.

Curried Chicken, Cauliflower and Spinach

This spice list may seem a bit daunting. Most of these are available at your local supermarket. See everyday substitutions below.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes – about 1.5 lbs
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbs mustard seed
  • 2 tbs cumin seed
  • 1 tbs turmeric
  • 1 tbs asafetida*
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbs ground coriander
  • 1 ½ cups chicken stock
  • ½ head cauliflower , cut into florets
  • 1 tsp fenugreek*
  • 1 bunch spinach, stemmed, about 4 cups loose
  • ¼ tsp mango amchoor*

Supermarket solutions: Asafetida adds depth and could be replaced by leeks cooked with the onion. Fenugreek offers the herbal notes of dried oregano with the floral notes of coriander. Mango amchoor ads acidity. A splash of sherry vinegar can replace it.

Directions:

  • Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat (use a pan you have a cover for). Add chicken and brown on all sides. Remove chicken and reserve.
  • Add an additional tablespoon oil if the pan is dry, reduce heat to medium and add onions. Sauté until softened, 4-6 minutes.
  • Add mustard and cumin seeds, and toast until mustard seeds begin to pop.
  • Add turmeric, asafetida, cinnamon and coriander and cook for one minute until fragrant.
  • Add stock to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits.
  • Add cauliflower and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Add chicken and fenugreek and cook until cauliflower is tender but still firm. Another 10 minutes or so.
  • Add spinach to pan, cover and remove dish from heat. Leave for 10 minutes until spinach is wilted.
  • Stir spinach through, season to taste with salt, pepper and mango amchoor, and serve.

Pumpkin quesa-different.

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Photograph by Sam Armocido

Think of your favorite recipe. The one you’ve made for years. It’s flavors are burned on your tastebuds. You can recreate it from sense memory. Go into your kitchen and prepare it, writing down each step and each ingredient. Grab the cookbook off the shelf and let it fall open it to the familiar, splattered and stained page.

Surprise.

Even the recipes we know best change over time as our palates and our dinner partners, the markets we shop from and the popularity of ingredients evolves. Bland canned tomatoes give way to San Marzanos, or fresh stewed. Cayenne is replaced with smoky chipotle, ancho or complex Piment d’Espelette. Children demand simpler flavors, new boyfriends or wives shape your meals with their own experiences and preferences.

One year ago I served up sausage and pumpkin quesadillas. This year the heavy blend of cumin, chile powder and Spanish paprika overpowered the sweet hearty Hubbard squash. Chopped tomato brightened the rich flavors with sweetness and acidity. Savory andouille sausage was replaced with equally spicy but less earthy Mexican chorizo.

Change isn’t always good or bad. Sometimes it’s just different. Fortunately in the kitchen, it’s usually delicious.

Pumpkin Chorizo Quesadillas

*A pizza cutter is the best way to slice quesadillas. A knife pushes all the filling out.

Photograph by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 links Mexican (uncooked) Chorizo
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 cups Hubbard or acorn squash purée*
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp Serrano Chile Honey vinegar**
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 10-12 6” tortillas

*For squash puree, split and roast squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet, at 400 degrees. When flesh can be easily pierced with a roasting fork, like soft butter, it is done. Let cool, scrape pumpkin from skins and mash.

**I still can’t get enough of this vinegar from Sapore. You can substitute sherry vinegar and 1/2 tsp honey.

Directions:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12″ skillet at medium. Remove casings from chorizo and brown meat, crumbling a it cooks. Remove meat with a slotted spoon when fully cooked.
  • Add oil, if needed, to make up 2 tbs fat in the pan, and sauté onion.
  • When onion is soft, add squash purée and heat through. Season with paprika, Serrano Chile Honey vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix sausage into squash.
  • Assemble quesadillas on top of 1 tortilla, layering cheese, squash mixture, diced tomato and finally topping with more cheese and a second tortilla.
  • Cook quesadillas over medium heat, lightly browning both sides. Slice and serve.

Pounding soup.

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My Mom gave me a small photo album on my 21st birthday. In each sleeve was tucked a recipe card, and every recipe reminds me of her. I’ve got Mom’s zucchini bread and her father’s braised red cabbage. She also included her Soup au Pistou. Pistou – which translates to “pounded” – is a French version of Italian pesto without the pine nuts.

With the addition of hard cheese and fresh tomato, pistou is stirred into this Provençal vegetable soup. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the last of the season’s zucchini and green beans. It’s rich with vegetable stock and hearty with the addition of pasta and white beans*.

The card in my book attributes the recipe to my Godmother, Aunt Ali, and to her sister-in-law, my Aunt Barb. Mom has made a few changes of her own, and now so have I.

But I still use broken spaghetti for the pasta. It reminds me of Mom, and that makes it taste better.

*I try and avoid typically over-salted canned beans in favor of soaking and cooking my own. This, however takes time and planning, so the “optional” beans are usually left out.

Soup Au Pistou

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 whole ribs celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley
  • 4 cups sliced summer squash
  • 2 cups green beans in 1” pieces
  • 1 cup small pasta, like elbows or broken spaghetti
  • 2 cups cooked Cannelloni or Great Northern beans
  • 1-1.5 cups pistou sauce (see below)
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • In a 4 qt soup pot, over medium heat, heat olive oil.
  • Sauté leeks for five minutes, add garlic, carrots and potato and cook, covered for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add stock, celery, bay and herbs. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until vegetables can be easily pierced with a fork.
  • Remove celery, bay and herbs. Add squash, green beans, white beans and pasta. Cook for 15 minutes until pasta is al dente.
  • Stir through pistou sauce or serve on the side and allow your guests to add their own.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and butter, if needed, for richness.

Chive Pistou Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup basil leaves, not packed
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup Chive Oil*

*You can substitute good olive oil, but Sapore’s new Chive Oil is lightly grassy, adds great depth, and makes this sauce extra wonderful! Stop in or order some online.

Directions:

  • Pound garlic, with a pinch of coarse salt, into a paste.
  • Add basil and pound into garlic.
  • Add parmesan 1/4 cup at a time and pound into a thick paste.
  • Add enough tomato to make a thick sauce.
  • Stir in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

I’m still wearing white shoes.

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*Sincere thanks to Jenny Lehman for this beautiful photo of the soup she made at home from this recipe.

Spring and fall in Washington easily compensate for summer’s most humid days and the city’s damp, insipid attempt at winter. One of the great joys of these seasons is their length. In New England, where I grew up, spring announces itself with a six-week flurry of daffodils, Forsythia and Rhododendron that fade as quickly as they arrive. DC’s season’s last months, lingering over spring flowers and the long change to autumn, marked by crisp leaves, bright mums and jaunty scarves and caps.

Why force it then? I’m puzzled by the appearance of pants and sweaters on the first 75 degree day in September while I’m still enjoying the end of summer in shorts and a tee. I feel the same way about food. Hearty soups are inappropriate on a warm, humid day no matter what date the calendar marks.

Presented with the year’s first Delicata squash, I wanted to serve up a soup that was light and celebrated this cultivar’s sweet, floral notes*, saving rich, sugary Hubbards and Kabocha’s for colder weather. A double stock, flavored with anise-y fennel, the season’s last tomatoes and earthy Shitakes bring out the lighter notes in Delicata. Using the seed mass beefs up the squash taste. This soup delivers so many layers of flavor, for so little work, the first bite caught me by surprise. Farm-fresh butter adds welcome richness. In a rare decision, we left out vinegar. Even rich balsamic dulled Delicata’s delicate sugars.

*”Seriously, floral notes and light sweetness? Next you’ll be telling me about lingonberry accents in my Pinot.” My parents and I actually conducted a squash tasting at home one night. That’s just how we roll.

Delicata Squash Fennel Soup

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-1.5 cups fennel stems and fronds
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4-6 Shitake mushrooms, stems and caps
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 6 parsley stems, about 3″ each
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1” cubes. Seed mass reserved.
  • 1-2 tbs butter

Directions:

  • While you chop the squash and onions, simmer the vegetable stock with fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs and bay leaves for 20-30 minutes.
  • Warm oil in a 4qt soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook one minute until fragrant.
  • Add squash and sauté 5-7 minutes.
  • Strain the stock into the vegetables and cook until squash is easily pierced through with a fork or tip of a knife.
  • Purée soup in a food mill or with an immersion blender. I prefer a food mill for this soup because of the smoother purée it produces.
  • Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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It’s been a dry summer in Southern Virginia on the Chesapeake. Irrigation ponds are down four feet or more and many farmers have  let row crops slide to take care of their livestocks’ drinking needs. on a personal – and  far lesssignificant – level, this means that Ellis and Paul won’t be picking up crates of late season tomatoes on their Sunday drives home from the Northern Neck.

My husband Jason has mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it means no frantic Tuesday nights spend blanching, peeling and seeding a couple hundred tomatoes before they go bad. On the other, it threatens a winter freezer free of quart after quart of tomato sauce, preserving the fresh, bright taste of late summer tomatoes and licorice-y basil.

I blame Jason’s conflicted feelings on Andrew Carmellini. His cookbook, Urban Italian, contains a fresh sauce recipe so perfect that we haven’t changed a thing. It may be the one recipe I have never tweaked, not even a little. Lots of fresh tomatoes, cooked quickly and seasoned with basil and garlic-infused olive oil create a bright, sweet and spicy sauce, as easy and non-complex on your palate as it is to cook in 45 minutes per batch.

In Ellis and Paul’s stead, I’m reaching out to Dan at Agora Farms, who can hook me up with the best tomatoes grown in Lancaster County, PA. Dan, we’re going to be needing tomatoes. And lots of them!

Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce

You can use plum tomatoes, like Romas or San Marzanos, for a richer sauce. I don’t even bother to peel and seed them. They will release a lot less water, so take less out and keep a close eye on them. 

Peeled tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh beefsteak type tomatoes*
  • 1 head garlic, top chopped to expose cloves
  • 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil – the good stuff!**

*Three fresh tomatoes and a pound of pasta will make a hearty meal for four people. Don’t worry about being too exact on the infused oil proportions, just make a little less and add it to taste.

**I’ll be using the spicy Sicilian oil from Sapore.

 

Sauce on the stove

Directions:

  • To peel tomatoes, cut an “X” in the skin at the base and blanch them in boiling water until the skin wrinkles and cracks – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes in ice water. The skins will slide off easily. Return the water to a boil between batches.
  • To seed tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze them over the sink, watch for seed explosions that will cover the walls of your kitchen. Laugh richly and keep going.
  • Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a large, shallow stock pot over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  • Cook tomatoes until soft and bright red, about 45 minutes.
  • Remove liquid while cooking. A total of about 2-3 cups. You want the sauce to remain wet and liquid, but not soupy. Save some of the tomato water in case you take too much out early on.
  • While tomatoes cook, place garlic, basil, pepper flakes and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until basil begins to crackle and pop. Reemove from heat and let the flavors infuse the oil for twenty-ish minutes.
  • Strain oil into tomatoes. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Blend with masher or immersion blender.
  • Will freeze through the winter. (If you don’t eat it all immediately!)