Category Archives: Tomatoes

Summer comfort food.

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When the wind is blustery and damp with snow, there are few things more satisfying than a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. Whether you keep it simple or gussy it up with roasted tomatoes and fresh herbs, the flavor is deep, rich and satisfying.

When the sun is bright and warm, and you’re dining outdoors, cooled by a light breeze, a rich, hearty tomato soup seems like a slap in the face to one of summer’s most treasured gifts from the garden. The good Lord already took care of packing sweet sugar and tart acidity into those tomatoes. Why do you have to go and play with it?

I wanted a soup – quick cooked to protect the freshness of the tomatoes. Few ingredients so you’re not wasting a perfectly beautiful summer afternoon locked up in the kitchen.

And I found it. A twenty minute soup. A simple bowl of summer.

Fresh Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 7 large, very ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 4-6 basil stems*
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Tomato oil**
  • Sherry vinegar
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, cut in thin strips
*My basil plants needed a break this weekend so I used cilantro. It was a different taste, for sure, but deep and more complex. Equally delicious.
**Another treat from Sapore Olive Oil and Vinegar on Capitol Hill. I have been burning through this stuff this spring, giving April-May tomatoes a July-August flavor. It’s a new pantry staple!

Directions:

  • Sauté onion in olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat until soft and translucent.
  • Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
  • Add tomatoes and basil stems and cook for 10-15 minutes until softened.
  • Pass soup through a food mill. If using a food processor, remove basil stems first. The food processor also removes the tomato stems for a smoother texture.
  • Return puree to pot, add a quarter cup of Fresh Tomato oil, and simmer an additional 5-10 minutes minutes to bring the flavors together.
  • Season to taste with additional Fresh Tomato oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. The vinegar is there to brighten the tomato flavors. If the ones you are using are nice and acidic, you may not need it.
  • Garnish with fresh basil and an additional drizzle of tomato oil.
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Putting it together.

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At Easter brunch I was speaking with my friend Amy about the live cooking demos I give at Eastern Market each Saturday. She said, “I love it! I always go to my local farmers market and have no idea what to do with the beautiful food there.” I have the same problem.

Each week I talk to the farmers at the Market and ask “what’s going to be at its prime for next weekend?” I head home with bags of food to think and study. I’ll read through recipes in four or five cook books, search on line and wait for inspiration to hit. What flavor combinations sound most exciting with this ingredient? Are there other fresh ingredients I can use? And, what will be relatively quick and easy?

Some weekends, you walk through the market and the produce just speaks to you. Fresh, young, early season arugula that isn’t too peppery yet. The temptation of early season tomatoes that you know could use a little flavor boost, and a wonderful new fresh tomato infused olive oil that I was introduced to by the folks at Sapore, the new olive oil and vinegar store near the Market. The oil takes April tomatoes and makes them taste like July.

Sometimes the ingredients just come together. And it’s truly magic.

Tomato Vinaigrette

The secret to this rich, bright tomatoey dressing is a combination of grated tomato pulp and the fresh tomato infused olive oil from Sapore*.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, cut in thin ribbons
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup Ripe Tomato infused Olive Oil, or other high quality olive oil

Ingredients:

  • Cut tomato in half, scoop out seeds with your fingers and grate, cut side in, on a box grater. The skin will protect your hand from the sharp grate.
  • Mash together garlic with a pinch of salt using the flat side of the knife or the tines of a fork. Sharp, hard crystals of sea salt help shred the garlic.
  • Whisk together garlic paste, 1/4 – 1/3 cup tomato pulp, basil and vinegar. Season with black pepper.
  • Whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt pepper and more vinegar or oil as desired.

*”You want me to buy an entire bottle of olive oil for one recipe?” Absolutely! First, this dressing is delicious and you’ll make it again and again. Secondly, you’ll want leftover oil to drizzle over your early or late season tomato sauces to give them fresh, summer flavor.

In season.

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Growing up, spareribs and artichokes was a special family meal (this explains a lot, I know). You knew it was a what was in store when extra napkins appeared on the table with no silverware for an evening of finger food. Our teeth scraped the flesh off each artichoke leaf in an effort to reach the center, when Dad would ceremoniously scrape the choke from the base, cut it into an even number of pieces, and toss it into the remaining butter and cider vinegar in the dipping bowl. The meal ended with wonderful piles of bones, sucked clean, and spent artichoke leave. It was a feast.

This meal was so special, such an event in our home, that I always wanted it served on my birthday, which is in August. Each year, Mom would remind me that artichokes were only available in spring, and I would be stuck with some less exotic treat like fresh corn on the cob, or the first of Mom’s dill beans (how I suffered).

Growing up, produce was seasonal. Asparagus in spring, strawberries for a few short weeks in June, corn appeared in early August.

In my teens that started to change. These treats were available year round. Suddenly you could serve asparagus on New Year’s Day and eat “fresh” tomatoes in February. By the time I started cooking seriously, in my early twenties, there were only a few vegetables left, like fiddleheads, to truly mark the arrival of each season.

At 30, I moved to Washington, DC and began shopping at Eastern Market, and after a few months realized that my cooking had found a new rhythm. Asparagus appeared in spring with magical, uneven spears, tinged heavily with purple. Six weeks later we enjoyed the last few spears of the season, significantly less tender and sweet, in soup or baked in phyllo with sharp Gruyère. Strawberries came and went quickly. Sour cherries were only available for a week or two – much to the delight of my husband, who lamented pitting them by the pint for pies and sauces. Summer continued with tomatoes and zucchini, the first squash and apples in fall, and late season brassicas: cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

While perpetual abundance is perfect when you desperately need an asparagus fix in the dead of winter, it disrupts the circadian rhythm of our dining table. I have discovered a new joy in waiting for spring’s first scant produce – two to three weeks of spring onions, arugula and radishes. We celebrate the last bowl of asparagus soup on a warm night in May. I marvel each fall when Bob’s vegetable peeler makes short work of the thick skin on a butternut squash.

Happy spring! Celebrate the food on your plate. I’ll see you at the Market.

Pan con tomate y jamón-ish.

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Toasted bread, rubbed with raw garlic, topped with grated tomato, sprinkled with crisp sea salt, drizzled with fruity, round olive oil and a slice of salty, fatty, richly gamey jamón Serrano. Pan con tomato y jamón is a classic spanish tapas, or small plate, and a favorite of my husband, my family and my good friends Craig and Annie (who you probably don’t know – but they are really lovely, I promise).

So, with 10 beautiful, locally grown San Marzano tomatoes on the counter whose days were numbered, pan con tomato came immediately to mind. San Marzanos are an heirloom plum tomato classically grown in the ashy soils of Mount Vesuvius. Not a great choice to grate for pulp, but the best plum tomato ever! So, into the kitchen to work on a garlicky, smokey, spicy tomato jam. Here are the results, spread over over toast with jamón Serrano, for a not so classic, but still delicious bread with tomato and ham.

*BTW this tastes like bacon. No lie!

Tomato Jam

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 lg shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs Spanish paprika
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 10 San Marzano tomatoes or 6 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • Sherry vinegar
Directions:
  • In a small sauté pan, melt butter with olive oil. Sauté shallot over low heat until softened, 6-8 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add paprika and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to burn.
  • Add sugar and dissolve.
  • Add tomatoes and cook until thick and jammy. 15 -20 minutes.
  • Add parsley and rosemary and stir through to warm.Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of sherry vinegar.