Category Archives: Tomatoes

All the fond memories that eggplant has inspired.

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Does anyone have any really cute stories about eggplant? I’m at a loss. Sure, Mom made eggplant parmesan when we were kids and it was good. I can’t get enough Thai eggplant with Thai basil – in fact I had some last night – but that’s hardly an endearing memory.

Here’s the best I’ve got: Eggplant is from the family Solanaceae which includes tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and other members of the nightshade family. It is susceptible to many of the same pests and diseases including soil borne fungi. For that reason, farmers have to rotate crops and let several years pass between growing more eggplant  in the same soil. Fascinating, right?

When I was a young plant nerd selling super-cool plants for Quansett Nurseries, I had the opportunity to meet Victory Garden host, Roger Swain. Trust me kids, this is like sitting next to Justin Bieber on the bus. He told me about a process they had developed in Japan to graft disease-resistant root stock onto eggplant plants to avoid the need for crop rotations, AND they were doing this with robots. Cue the fainting couch – I was over-nerded. (This is like playing video games on your couch with Grant Morrison while talking about his runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol – freakin’ cool, right?)

So, no fond memories behind this dish. It’s adapted from my vegetarian cookbook girlfriend* Deborah Madison, and the combination is inspired.

*To be clear, a “cookbook girlfriend” is an author whose recipes I feel a strong connection with. I have never actually met her.

Sweet And Sour Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2” x 2” sticks
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper and Blackberry Vinegar*
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tbs. mint, chopped
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Olive oil

*From Sapore of course! Buy it online here or substitute a good, complex Sherry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Sprinkle eggplant with 1 tbs salt. After 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry. This takes the bitterness out of the eggplant and makes it easier to brown.
  • Heat 2 tbs olive oil over medium heat. Sauté eggplant for 12-15 minutes until browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté onion in 1 tbs olive oil until softened and starting to brown on edges.
  • Turn up heat, add vinegar, honey and tomato. Cook, stirring frequently until vinegar evaporates, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Stir in eggplant, mint and cheese.
  • Sweet and sour is all about the flavor balance between sugar, salt and acidity. Check the flavor and add vinegar, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.
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“Tomatoes and zucchini again?!”

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Boredom is an occupational hazard of seasonal cooking. By the end of July you have served summer squash and tomatoes exactly 47 1/2 times and the season is just approaching its peak. This week when I mentioned tomatoes and summer squash to Nancy, a weekly attendee at my Eastern Market demos, she asked pointedly, “how are you going to make it different from the other tomato and zucchini recipes you’ve made over the past 8 weeks?”

She had me. I had combined tomatoes and squash in meatloaf and goulash. Sautéing them and tossing them together with fresh herbs is a treat in early summer, but it doesn’t cut it as we head into August. Somewhere between fried zucchini and a cherry tomato sauce Nancy said, “This sounds like Zucchini Parmesan.” And so it is. Stovetop style.

The zucchini is breaded with Panko and Herbes de Provence making it crisp and light. The fresh cherry tomato sauce gets depth from anchovy paste and brightness from a nicely acidic Late Harvest Zinfandel Vinegar. The flavor is rich like a winter braise and light like a summer sauté. It’s anything but boring and everything that summer veggies at their peak are meant to be.

Summer Squash Parmesan

I’m going to beat you to the punch. Yes, you need to fry the summer squash in plenty of olive oil. I tried going light with a tablespoon or two, there wasn’t enough depth to reach in between the Panko crumbs and make the squash really crispy. You want healthy, try this zucchini meatloaf. Otherwise, go right on ahead and indulge yourself. You deserve it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 2 tbs Herbes de Provence
  • 2 cups Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 medium summer squash or zucchini, sliced in 1/3” inch rounds
  • 4 -6 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbs Late Harvest Zinfandel Vinegar**
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

**I don’t know how Renee found a red wine vinegar that has this much acidity while still maintaining balance. It packs a punch without being overbearing. Buy some online at DC’s Sapore  or use a good red wine vinegar from your home pantry.

Directions:

  • Whisk together eggs and milk in a shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper.
  • Mix Herbes de Provence and bread crumbs in a bowl. Put half in a pie plate.
  • Dip squash in the egg wash and then in the bread crumbs. Press the crumbs onto squash. When the Panko in the plate gets wet and clumpy, discard it and add the reserved half of the mix.
  • Fry squash over medium heat in 2-3 tbs olive oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
  • In a separate pan sauté garlic over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add anchovy paste and cook another 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add tomatoes and cook 5-6 min until softened.
  • Add the vinegar to the pan and scrape up all the tasty brown bits in the bottom. Let the vinegar reduce to coat the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Serve the fried squash topped with the tomato sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Reflect on how good life is.

Is our bread too big?

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With the exception of Jesus, no one ever seems to encounter the problem of having too little bread. Just look at the myriad recipes created expressly to use up leftovers: crostini and croutons, bread pudding and bread crumbs. With all due deference to good bread and skilled bakers, are we simply making our loaves of bread too big?

The simple answer, is no. Leftover bread is a gift, and its value is no more apparent than in Panzanella, and Italian salad of stale bread and tomatoes. The salad is dressed with sharp vinegar and olive oil to soften the bread. Paired with garden fresh tomatoes, the large croutons make the salad light, not heavy.

You don’t even have to wait for the bread to get stale. Grab a fresh, toothy, crusty, country loaf, cut it into large 2″ cubes and fry it up in a little olive oil. You may never encounter leftover bread again.

Tomato Panzanella

Make sure the bread has toasted through so it holds up to the dressing.

For Salad:

  • 6 cups country bread cut in 1” pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 large, perfect tomatoes, cut into 1″ pieces. My favorites are the heirlooms Brandywine and Black Cherokee.
  • 1 Candy Sweet red onion
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil

For Dressing:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup Late Harvest Zinfandel Vinegar*
  • 2/3 cups Tuscan Blend Olive Oil*

*More wonderful products from DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar. A good, strongly acidic red wine vinegar and a rich, buttery olive oil will fit the bill nicely here. Or you can order them right from Sapore online.

Directions:

  • Toss bread in 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast bread in a 375 degree oven or a sauté pan over medium heat until golden brown and crisp.
  • Toss together tomatoes, onion and basil.
  • Make dressing: pound garlic and a pinch of course sea salt into a paste. Whisk in vinegar and black pepper.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream.
  • Check the dressing with a piece of tomato. Season to taste with additional, salt oil or vinegar.
  • Add bread to the tomatoes and toss through with the dressing.

Dinner, July 4th 1999.

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My husband, Jason, will tell you that I can’t remember what I was just talking about, but I can tell you exactly what I had for dinner on the third Tuesday of June in 1996. I’m not quite that good, but I do have a memory for meals.

Many of those memories come from summer. Long, late, lazy meals with family and friends. Fresh fish with the Creelmans in Madaket, lobsters and cornbread with the Bugbees on Southport Island, my first frogs legs at Bastille Day on the beach in Newport, RI. I remember fourth of July 1998 at home making the same baked beans and ham that Gram Forgiel made for my Mom. Fourth of July 1999 was a honeydew and cantaloupe salad with ginger and honey, grilled lamb chops and a tequila, lime, kiwi chutney cooked quickly in the microwave to keep the colors bright.

Summer meals are memorable because they don’t compete. There’s no thirty-day buildup, panic or planning like we have for big holidays. The meals are not grand nor the expectations high. The food is fresh, the techniques simple, and the flavors are as bright as our memories of them.

This peach salsa is quintessential summer. Quick and easy – no cooking – colorful and fun, flavors light and fresh, and pairings are simple – cumin spiced shrimp, grilled chicken or pork, a bowl of crisp tortilla chips. It’s delicious. Dare I say, memorable.

Peach Tomato Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 2 peaches, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup finely diced bell pepper
  • 1/2 large cucumber, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 tbs Smoked Olive Oil*
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbs honey

*The smoked olive oil from Sapore is like catching a mouthful of campfire smoke (this is a good thing!). To substitute, swap out the smoked oil and jalapeño for a chipotle chile or two.

Directions:

  • Mix peaches and vegetables together in a bowl.
  • Stir through oil, then cumin and cilantro.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and honey. The salt will bring out the flavor in the veggies, especially the fresh tomatoes, while the honey brings out the flavor in the peaches.
  • If this makes it into the fridge before you eat all of it, check the seasoning when you bring it back out to serve. It holds up beautifully for a few days, although the colors will darken a bit.

*Peeling peaches is fun for nobody. We all hate doing it. Cutting that “x” in the bottom then blanching. 1/2 the peel is left behind and the outside of the peach starts to soften, making it hard to cut neatly. Visit Bob King at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market and buy one of his magic peelers. Ask him to show you how to shake it back and forth to peel the peaches. Come back and thank me. 😉

Vegetables aren’t candy.

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You know when parents talk about sneaking vegetables into their kids food? None of us really believe that it works, right? Vegetable strips are not “french fries,” shredded vegetable patties aren’t “burgers,” and raisins may be sweet, but nature’s candy is a bridge too far.

Zucchini, however, is a different animal altogether. Put it in cookies, pancakes, bread and pizza, and I’ll gladly be fooled any day of the week. It was my Mom’s recipe for zucchini pizza – where shredded zucchini mixed with a little cheese, flour and egg forms the crust – that inspired me.

This meatloaf does everything that “sneaking-in-veggies” recipes are supposed to. It turns a pound of ground beef into eight, hearty servings, each of which has almost half a cup of zucchini. Replacing the usual tomato paste with a homemade tomato jam sneaks half a tomato in there t0o, along with an amazing amount of flavor. All these veggies lighten the meat loaf so it feels summery, not dense and wintry.

Zucchini Meat Loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced or bacon*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar**
  • 2 medium or 4 small zucchini shredded, about 3.5 cups
  • 1 pound ground beef, not lean
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs chopped basil
  • 1.5 cups Parmesan cheese
*Pancetta is salt cured, not smoked. If you use bacon you can simmer it for a couple minutes first to remove some of the smoky flavor.
**Another magic vinegar from Sapore. If you need a substitute, use a nice, acidic Sherry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Make the tomato jam.: Over medium heat sauté pancetta in one tbs olive oil until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Add onion. Cook until soft. Add garlic. Cook 1 min until fragrant.
  • Add tomato and cook until thick and jammy. Add a little water when pan gets dry. Deglaze pan with vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Mix the warm jam with the rest of the ingredients, reserved pancetta and salt and pepper.
  • Fry a small patty of the mixture then season to taste adding additional salt, pepper, cheese or vinegar as needed.
  • Press into a 9” square baking dish or form into a loaf on a baking pan. Bake at 325 for about an hour.
  • Let rest 10 minutes tented with foil and serve.

I didn’t used to like tomatoes.

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I feel like I should be sitting in a confessional, leaning in close, talking directly to the camera.

“I didn’t used to like tomatoes,” I would say in a hushed tone. “For years I thought raw tomatoes were gross!” Perhaps this revelation is so shocking that I should ask to be silhouetted with my voice modulated.

It’s true. As a child I hated raw tomatoes. I loved Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Give me artichokes and onions, just about anything Mom put on the dinner table, but I grimaced each year when she asked me to try one bite of a ripe tomato, fresh picked as we stood in her garden.

Nine years ago that started to change and today I love raw tomatoes. I chalk it up to a wiser palate. This past week I decided to venerate the first of this summer’s tomatoes, picked fresh under the hot sun. Two thick slices of beefsteak-type tomatoes didn’t need anything more than salt and pepper, but I went ahead and added a simple balsamic vinaigrette made with fresh basil and garlic scape pesto, fragrant from pounding in the mortar.  I fell in love with tomatoes all over again. Then I called my Mom.

Tomato Salad With Pesto Vinaigrette

For pesto:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 tbs minced garlic scapes
  • 1.5 cups thinly sliced basil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbs Arbosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil

For dressing:

  • 2 tbs minced shallot
  • 3 tbs pesto
  • 2-3 tbs Aged Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 cup Arbrosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil

Directions:

  • Using mortar and pestle, pound garlic or scapes with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt. Then pound in basil, followed by pine nuts, cheese and oil. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt.
  • Make dressing: whisk together shallot, pesto and vinegar.
  • Whisk in oil in a thin stream. You may not need all the oil. Start with 1/2 cup and taste as you go.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Taste the dressing with a piece of tomato and correct the balance of oil , vinegar and pesto as needed.
  • Serve over thick slices of the freshest tomatoes you can find! Top with ribbons of fresh basil.

How do I come up with recipes?

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I am often asked how I come up with the recipes I cook at Eastern Market and publish in this blog. They all start with inspiration – or desperation – figuring out how to feature a seasonal ingredient or use a new product from one of the great shops I work with.

Sometimes it’s easy. I’ll pull a recipe out of my head that I’ve cooked many times, like asparagus soup or zucchini pancakes. Along the way, these recipes get tweaked with new ingredients and new ideas I’ve learned elsewhere.

Other times an idea pops into my head, like last week’s Indian style peas and corn. I’ll flip through cookbooks and search the web to understand the range of ingredients, seasonings and techniques that other people have used, then pull together the ideas that sound the best and start testing the recipe, making changes until I’ve got something I’m proud to serve.

The hardest recipes, and some of my greatest satisfaction, come when I’m stumped. This past week I wanted to work with summer squash. The Saturday before I had sautéed it, tossed with a compound butter. Rather then another variation on sautéed and tossed with herbs, I wanted something really new. I began flipping through cookbooks waiting for a recipe to excite me. I found a squash goulash, 70’s style with ground beef, green peppers and sweet paprika. I removed the beef so the squash could take center stage. Red peppers kept some bitterness without the bite. Red miso and tomato paste added depth, while Spanish paprika or pimentón, brought a bit of heat. Some fresh vegetable stock gave the sauce another layer and I was ready to serve this week’s Summer Squash Goulash. My sincere thanks to Too Many Tomatoes, and my Mom who raised us on its recipes, for the inspiration.

Summer Squash Goulash

Makes 3-4 main course servings unless you eat it at 10:30 at night, in which case two of you will be fighting over the last bowl. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups thinly sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 tbs sweet paprika
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tbs red miso paste
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1.5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cups summer squash thinly sliced in half rounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • Sherry Vinegar

Directions:

  • In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until softened. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned on edges.
  • Add pepper, paprika, tomato paste and miso. Cook 1-2 minutes until paprika is fragrant.
  • Stir in tomatoes and cook until softened and water begins to evaporate. Add stock and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  • Add squash, basil. Cover and cook until squash is softened but still firm.
  • Uncover and let thicken to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.