tomatoes

Tomato tart

tomatotart

“Mama, it’s like a pizza!” Ernest said brightly when he bit into it.

It was like pizza, but with a pie/tart crust. So, in the end, not really like a pizza at all. But is was round and baked and topped with tomato and cheese, so the comparison certainly makes some sense.

What it was, in fact, was delicious. Much richer than pizza, of course. It was, perhaps, a little extra rich since I used half butter and half lard to make the crust – it’s my new thing and it is awesome, such flaky and flavorful crust I have never known, I swear. Mix 1 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium or large bowl. Cut in 4 Tbsp. butter and 4 Tbsp. lard until you have a corn meal-looking mixture with some larger chunks in it (a few can even be as large as a pea). You can cut in the fat with a pastry cutter, two knives, a fork, or, as I do, with your cool little fingers as long as you work a bit quickly. Stir in 3 Tbsp. ice cold water to form a dough. Dump dough onto a very well floured surface, knead it a few times to get it to hold together, and pat it into a disk about 6 inches across. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to several days if you like to plan ahead. The dough is very soft and so needs to be well-chilled before you roll it out.

After chilling, return dough to that very well-floured surface to which you have added more flour to return it to its well-floured condition after patting the disk into shape. Roll dough out to desired shape and size – for this tart about 12 inches across. Turn the dough about 90 degrees after each pass of the rolling pin. This ensures that the dough isn’t sticking. If it does start to even seem like it’s thinking about sticking, lift half the dough up and throw a bit of flour underneath. Again, this dough is soft, which means it would very much like to try and stick to things. Don’t worry if it breaks or cracks – just patch it up. It will still taste divine and it will let everyone know you made it yourself.

I owe the entire concept, the very idea for this tomato tart to Sam over at Chews Wise, who, after making a peach galette much like my peach crostada, used the remaining tart dough to make a savory tart of “sauteed leeks, mustard and tomatoes, and basil. You cook the galette crust flat for 10 minutes, then take out, schmear on mustard, put on leeks, tomatoes and basil and put back in oven for another 20 minutes or so. You don’t fold the edge over, just leave it flat, like pizza.” He got the idea from a 2003 New York Times story.

And he was right, it is a perfect dish for my blog. But I didn’t smear anything with mustard, I smeared the partially-baked crust with some of the tomato conserva I made, added sliced tomatoes and a bit of fresh mozzarella, sprinkled the whole thing with salt and called it dinner.

A note on pie crust: See the crust in the picture? See how it is past golden and heading straight into brown territory? That is what properly cooked pie crust looks like. Cooked pie crust, in fact, smells of cooked pie crust. There is a trend afoot of bakeries and restaurants and, I’m sure, home cooks, of not baking pies and tarts all the way. It’s like the half-cooked tender-crisp way with vegetables has spread into the pastry world. While hot-but-crisp asparagus is a fine thing, a pale and half-baked crust is an unfortunate creature unable to stand up to fillings, never meeting its full flaky potential. The phrase “half-baked” is a negative descriptor exists for a reason. Bake that crust!

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Tomato conserva

tomatoconserva

You are absolutely right. Tomato conserva looks exactly like tomato paste. Tastes like it to, but only the way one could say that homemade gazpacho tastes like V-8.

I’ve been wanting to make this for years. Ever since my friend Max made it, wrote about it, and let me taste some. Tomato conserva is tomato paste, but freshly made by your own hands and with super-delicious tomatoes. Plus, as my dad said this summer when I elicited his opinion (that is, fished for a compliment) of the homemade butter I’d made: “Well, it’s just like everything, isn’t it? The homemade kind is always better.”

Words to live by. At least words for me to live by.

So my dashing husband has been raving about these super sweet tomatoes our market has been selling recently, then the price dropped to $2.50/lb, then I found myself unable to concentrate on words and keyboards and screens yesterday morning and turned my attention to the 5-lb. pile of tomatoes on the counter.

I followed the same basic method Max used, which is the method Paul Bertolli outlines in his inspiring Cooking by Hand. Unlike Max, I would like to note, I didn’t fall asleep while baking down the paste. In the spirit of honesty, full-disclosure, and embarrassing moments in cooking that are at the heart of this blog as much as is good food, I should also note that I did go out on a quick errand while the conserva was baking and almost forgot all about it. I am extremely grateful I sensibly decided to get the produce I was buying home and put away before embarking on the jaunt across town to pick up a sewing machine part that had suddenly occurred to me as the perfect thing to do on a day when I couldn’t concentrate anyway while I was at the store. After that, I stayed put. The sewing will have to wait for the next time driving across town into the fog sounds like a good idea.

First you rinse and cut up the tomatoes – Bertolli wants you to dice them but since they get cooked and run through a food mill that seemed unnecessary to me so I just halved them instead and tossed them in a very large, heavy pot:

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Then you add a bit of olive oil (I used about 1/4 cup) and salt (about a teaspoon) and bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer for about three minutes:

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Then you run the whole mixture through a food mill:

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I wasn’t in the mood to dirty up more dishes than necessary, so I didn’t test and see if just pushing the half-cooked tomatoes through a sieve or colander would work just as well. My guess is it would work fine, just be messier and more work – what you’re doing is both turning the tomato flesh into a pureed pulp and getting out the skin and seeds:

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Now – and this is all rather fun, I thought – you pour the tomato mixture onto a large, rimmed baking pan (if you only have smaller pans you may need to use two:

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Carefully put the sheet in a 300° oven. Bertolli recommends convection and I bet that would be great, but I don’t have one and it turned out fine. Bake, stirring the mixture every 30 or 40 minutes or whenever you think of it – make sure you really scrape up the edges and work them into the mixture as a whole each time – for about 3 1/2 hours (convection would take less time):

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Reduce heat to 250° and bake until “thick, shiny, and brick-colored.” I had a hard time imagining how that was going to happen when this whole thing started, but Bertolli is right, that’s exactly how it looked after another 3 hours in the oven:

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See how shiny it got? The transformation sort of floored me. My dashing husband was working at home and I made him come down and see just how very shiny it was. Since he, too, had thought that description unlikely when I had read the recipe to him earlier (he really does humor me a great deal). He did a lovely job of feigning interest and delight.

I let it cool and then transferred it to three half-pint jars, leaving plenty of room at the top for a protective layer of olive oil. At that point I realized I could have cooked it down a bit more – then it would have made an amount that would have pretty much filled two half-pint jars perfectly. But I’m okay with the somewhat goofy amount in each jar. If I were a more patient person I would have gotten more of the air bubbles out of each jar, but I’m really just not very patient. Plus all the methods I know for doing that with jams and pickles didn’t work with this stuff – it is sticky and gooey and quite frankly not super-cooperative about being put in jars.

Olive oil went on top, lids were screwed on, and the jars popped into the fridge where they will wait, quietly, for us to gobble them up. A tablespoonful into a sauce here, a thin layer spread on crostini there… I’m thinking I better make another batch. Seems like this would be perfect for hot-water processing so it would be shelf-stable, doesn’t it? Bertolli is mum on the subject. Any canning experts out there have two cents to share?

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Corn, cucumber, tomato salad

cucumbertomatocornsalad

I am burying the lede. I forgot to take a picture of the lede. The lede should be (and in life was) the rib-eye steaks from our meat CSA. I defrosted a pair – they were cut a bit thin and I was worried they would cook up ill, but they were delicious simply grilled over a hot flame for 5 minutes on each side having only been lightly drizzled with a bit of oil and salted fairly liberally a moment before being laid ever-so-gently on the piping hot grill grate. I was so excited to eat them that picture-taking was the last thing on my mind as I sliced them diagonally and dabbed them with a garlic compound butter.

I served them to my dashing husband and young Ernest along with some grilled potatoes (with more of the butter slathered onto those, you can be sure) and the salad you see above. It was all very summery and satisfying. It was my last dinner in San Francisco for awhile. Ernest and I are headed to Northern Minnesota for a nice long stay again this summer. What draws us there? Well I could go on and on about the clear lake water for swimming and the extended family for fun and the walleye pike for eating but let me sum it up thusly: the living is easy and the child care is cheap.

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“Late Summer Vegetable Stew” (clean-out-the-fridge to you and me)

This was a hit at my house, but that may have been because for a minute there is looked like no one was willing to make dinner and yet we were all famished. I served this Late Summer Vegetable Stew on some polenta (I made it with some vegetable broth I had used in some recipe development for someone else–yuck! what’s the deal? anyone out there have a brand of vegetable broth they like? a recipe so I can make my own?).

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Minnesota market

As regular readers know, I live in San Francisco. As very regular readers know, I am in Minnesota for a few weeks. I’m at my family’s cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota. This afternoon I stopped by the market in a nearby town before picking up Ernie from day camp. I was not surprised there were no fresh jalapeños to be found, nor that there was no tofu, and I guess, when I thought about it, I wasn’t surprised by this either:

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But I thought you might be. Yes, you’re seeing right. That’s two kinds of 100% Minnesota-grown wild rice and canned cooked wild rice. This at a small market in a small town.

I did not partake. We had chicken and cheese quesadillas with a remarkably un-spicy avocado and tomato salad.

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Cold summer nights

Ernie summed up the frustration of many a San Franciscan on the way to school this morning: “Mama,” he asked, “why are these summer days so cold? Summer days are supposed to be hot.”

And yet they are not.

It’s dreary and cold, the middle of summer, and our cupboard is overrun with rice. Yes, that’s right: rice. I agree it is a better problem to have than being overrun with mice, but it’s ridiculous:

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And this is after I pulled out six (6!) 1-lb.bags of Minnesota wild rice because it was just embarrassing. My dashing husband asked how it could have happened. I had no clear answer. Yes, there was a rice story for Sunset. Yes, some of the above was given/sent to me by rice growers. But still. How does a person end up with three bags of “forbidden rice”? How much risotto do I think I’m going to make? Why a 5-lb. bag? I hope it was on super-sale.

So I let Ernie pick out the rice we would have for dinner and got to work. Something warming and yet summery. I didn’t hit it perfectly, but we were all surprised by how delicious everything was together.

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Some small white beans cooked in a broth of onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and peppercorns until tender, heat turned off, generous salt added, and allowed to cool in their broth until drained and sauteed in olive oil with garlic, red chile flakes, and parsley. I cooked the “wild rice” (I used some of the cultivated California stuff infecting my cupboard) with onion and celery and used the bean broth as the liquid. A handful of chopped walnuts thrown in at the end highlighted the nutty taste and texture. I will say this: California “wild rice” always seems to take about a thousand years to cook and it goes from underdone to overdone in about a second. If you’ve never had it, track down some of the real stuff. The kind that grows in rivers and marshes in Minnesota and Canada. You’ll never look back.

So now we’re warm and cozy, so we can stand a bit of summery “health salad” of chopped cucumber (garden and Armenian), red onion, and tomato. I used the red brandywines we got from the farm this week. They’re perfect for salads–firm enough to stand up to being dressed a bit. I also used some red wine vinegar I’ve been making. More on that later….

And I’m sorry for all that rhyming above. I don’t know what got into me.

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Tomato, chile, chickpea pasta

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This is one of those “working girl’s friend” type dinners. Fast, easy, cheap, crowd-pleasing (or at least non-complaint-generating). Ernie’s came complete with the tomatoes picked out. Then he spotted a “tomato.” To you and me it was a barely discernible speck of pinkish-hued something. To him it was a tomato and he was having none of it. He remained calm, but methodically picked it out–which took some doing because, well, it didn’t really exist–and smooshed it onto the edge of my proffered plate. It was otherwise an uneventful dinner. Ernie was excited to move on to the after-dinner activity of putting together the puzzle of a train my dashing husband bought him at a junk store.

I saw it and remarked at the big, grown-up puzzle. My dashing husband explained, “He can do it, he’s really good at puzzles.”

It’s true, Ernie is unusually good at puzzles. He got a slew of 100-piecers for his birthday and loves them. I said that I wondered, that I thought he’d need some help, that this was a real grown-up puzzle. My husband, sounding perhaps the tiniest bit testy, said, “it just has smaller pieces, he can do it.”

“Honey,” I said, “it’s a 1,000 piece puzzle.”

“1,000! 1,000? No, it’s 100.”

“No, it’s 1,000.” The box was examined.

“Oh, I guess he will need some help, huh?”

So now you know what we’ll be doing with the rest of the summer….

Have such fun at your house! First, boil a mess of pasta is salty water (it should actually taste salty–don’t be shy). While that’s coming to a boil and then cooking, slice 4 cloves of garlic (or more or less–it’s your dinner), a jalapeño chile or two, about 6 green onions into 2-inch lengths and then halved or slivered lengthwise, and chop up maybe 4 medium tomatoes (I like to squeeze most of the seeds out, but I don’t want to tell you what to do). Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas. When the pasta is done drain it. Put the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat, add however much olive oil you would like and cook the garlic, chiles, and green onions until they’re all sizzling. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add pasta and cook and stir until it looks hot and yummy. Serve with parmesan.

Then, and only then, when you are sated and fortified, get down on the floor and pray to whatever you can summon the strength to believe in that there aren’t any pieces missing.

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Tomatoes and bread

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My dashing husband has a theory: bread and tomatoes go together. Not just bread, but yeasted products–such as pizza dough–in general. He just may be onto something….

(In all fairness, he was wondering if something about the combination’s “pH levels” were “good for you.” Hey, whatever you say, crazy man! I like tomatoes on bread too!)

So, just for him, I made tomato sandwiches for dinner. Mine was open-faced with ricotta cheese; his, the standard two-piece stacker with pesto. We were both pleased with the choices we made.

And for Ernie? Ernie had the lentils from the lentil salad I also made (brown lentils tossed with minced red onion, minced dried tomato, minced parsley or whatever herb lives in your fridge at the moment, salt, lots and lots of black pepper, sherry vinegar, and just a sprinkle of crumbled feta) with the leftover corn from last night and some rice. Like his mother and maternal uncle as children, the child does not care for raw tomato or really tomato in any identifiable form and, as we all know, bread is gross and thus sandwiches inedible (oh internets, what oh what are we going to do when we need to start making him lunch to take to school everyday? His preschool provides lunch. I am spoiled! Spoiled, I say! But the child won’t eat a sandwich and how many tupperware containers of cold noodles with parmesan–which he would happily eat everyday–will my conscience get away with?).

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Summer…stew?

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Pressing deadlines and a fridge full o’veggies meant we had this very odd vegetable stew for dinner last night. I made the mistake of referring to it, briefly, during the cooking process as “couscous” (cuckoo!), because I used the spice mix I made to make a most delectable dish inspired by Algerian restaurants in Paris and published in a formal way in Sunset magazine, so Ernie cried when I served it to him and it had, alas, no couscous. There was too much of this… stew that needed to be eaten (oh, that’s always a lovely way to think of dinner) to fill up on couscous (wow, I was fun last night, wasn’t I?). Plus, I had no time to be making couscous. Oh. That’s just sad. That means I didn’t have five minutes to pull together.

If for some reason you want to make a sumer veggie stew, make the ras el hanout in the Sunset recipe. Sautée 3 small summer onions, chopped, in olive oil with plenty of salt. Add 5 cloves minced garlic and an inch of freshly shredded ginger. Add more salt. Add 2 dried chiles (arbol!) and 1/2 tsp.saffron (I’m still working on the collection from when two of my dearest friends were Spanish historians and made regular pilgrimmages to Iberia and returned with scads of cheap saffron; now they’re both married with two boys apiece, so no more free saffron for me!). Sprinkle in 2 tsp. of the ras el hanout, sautée a bit more. Add bout 4 cups chicken or veggie broth (an aside: anyone have a good recipe for vegetarian broth?). Bring to boil. Add a mess of chopped green beans and zucchini. Bring to a boil again. Add chick peas, some leftover cooked potatoes, and kernels from 2 ears of corn. Again, boil. Stir in 5 chopped dry-farmed heirloom tomatoes. Add more salt. Serve topped with harissa and preserved Meyer lemons from the tree in your backyard, or, you know, whatever you find in the back of your fridge.

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Soupe au Pistou; or, I bravely insist it is so summer!

soupe au pistouOver on Local Foods I’ve called it “Summer Vegetable Pesto Soup,” but you and I know it’s really soupe au pistou, don’t we internets? It’s sort of the ultimate San Francisco summer dish, since it uses summer veggies but is, well, a soup and thus hearty and warming, in its way. I used chick peas instead of fresh shelling beans because I haven’t come across fresh shelling beans yet. I would get a bit put-out, but then I’d look like a brat. The rest of the country waits for corn and here I am demanding my shelling beans.

Oh, and now I’ve gone and reminded myself of my poor Midwestern brethren in Iowa with their sandbags and potentially failed crops. I am a brat. I take it all back. I’m grateful for my skinny zucchini and vine-ripened, non-salmonella-infected tomatoes, not to mention delicious green beans marinated in a red onion-y vinaigrette (recipe at Local Foods).

me 6.16.08Plus, my son took this awesome picture of me tonight. His little hands can’t hold still long enough for an in-focus picture (focus is way too conventional for little mister “Look Mama, I took a picture of the floor!” anyway), but as age is setting in, I find I don’t find the gauzy-filter effect.

‘Fess up: Who else has the brightly striped lime green apron from Ikea?

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