Jun 292014
 

Tomato-watermelon salad

It’s summer and peak tomato season is nearing, which means one thing for sure: I am soon to be entirely in the grip of Tomato Madness.

I wait all year for tomato season to roll around, abstaining from buying those cardboard-like, sprayed-with-ethylene-gas-to-make-them-turn-orange facsimile tomatoes through the cold months, biding my time until the (swoon!) heirlooms show up in the farmers’ markets. (I grow a paltry number of them at home but am not yet proficient enough at it to satisfy my appetite for the fruit.) They’re beautiful, aromatic, colored all the way through, and the taste? Unlike any tomato you’ll find in a grocery store.

The inevitable result of this is a tomato binge in the summertime. One weekend last August, our trip to the market yielded just such a thing: in addition to the 2-3-ish pounds I already had in the house, I came home with 6 pounds of my all-time favorite Black Krims (gazpacho, anyone?), along with a whopping 1.75-pound Gold Medal tomato that my favorite farmer gifted me when he saw me going crazy on the Krims (for they are his favorite too), figuring that he’d never be able to sell it because it was so huge. Seriously, the thing was as big as The Wee Baby Om-Nom Sauce’s head.

Huuuuuuuge tomato!

Huuuuuuuge tomato!

(Oh, and speaking of Krims: I had a plant in my back yard last summer and I got so excited at one point because I had two beautiful tomatoes on it that were just a few days away from ripeness. I went out there one morning and they were gone. I’m not going to blame the squirrels, or the bunnies, or the birds, or the odd deer that comes through the neighborhood, because I suspect that the culprit was THE DOG. She developed a taste for tomatoes when I was growing black cherry tomatoes in Tucson and I haven’t been able to break her of it: I catch her with MY harvest now and then. And this year? A bunny came through and ate two of my five tomato plants — that’s right, not tomatoes, but the plants. But I digress.)

I came home and immediately busied myself with making my favorite soup (because if cherry-pie-making-day is Mr Om-Nom Sauce’s favorite day of summer, then surely mine is the one when I make gazpacho), but upon finishing that, I had to face the (1.75-pound) elephant in the room: what to do with the Gold Medal? I sifted through lots of ideas in my head and finally settled upon re-making a tomato-watermelon salad I had thrown together on a whim earlier that week for a cook-out. Because after the guests had left, Mister Om-Nom Sauce said “I’m going to clean up the kitchen” and I responded with, “Ok, Imma gonna stand here and eat this salad,” and predictably, the left-overs disappeared with breakfast. So clearly, more of this (delicious, healthy, refreshing, nutrient-packed) salad needed to be made. And if you have any ginormous tomatoes on hand that you don’t know what to do with, send them my way, because that is a problem that I love to have.

Tomato-watermelon salad

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May 182014
 

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh: in which I give my first-trimester nausea the finger and talk about delicious, delicious food (that I can’t eat right now).

Summer will be here soon, and with it, tomatoes! Oh tomatoes, one of my favorite summer foods: so flavorful, and such a short season. It makes me a little misty. I bought my Black Krim plants last week, so to summer I say bring it. I will so be over all this nausea by the time your fruit is ripe.

A tomato for tabbouleh

Black Krims are my tomato of choice for just about everything, especially things like gazpacho, caponata, and tomato and bread soup. Their intense, pure tomato flavor is unrivaled by any other variety I’ve sampled. It only seemed logical to try them out in tabbouleh, where it often seems that the veg are not so much the centerpiece as an afterthought. I adore this recipe because it turns most tabboulehs that I’ve tried on their heads by amplifying flavor and texture. Once you’ve had it this way, you just can’t go back.

So I know that this is getting posted a bit early, at a time when the only tomatoes you see in the farmers’ markets is in whole-plant form, but tuck this gem away and dream of summer days when the produce will be ripe and a cool veg-and-bulgur salad will be the best idea imaginable.

Tabbouleh

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Jul 282013
 

Mexican shrimp salad

It’s summer. It’s hot. You’ve been asked to bring a side along to a cook-out or pot-luck or other food-type party and you’re stumped. You and eight of your closest friends all brought slaw to the previous shin-dig and you desperately want to bust out of the boring BBQ-sides rut and bring something fun and unique, but if someone even thinks about suggesting that you turn on the oven, it’ll be their head that ends up in that appliance. Oh, and also? You’ll only have about 30 minutes to throw together your inspired creation.

Enter: Mexican shrimp salad! This delight is bursting at the seams with fresh summery flavor, comes together in no time, and is definitely better when made well-ahead of time. The best part? Everyone adores this stuff. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser. Consider yourself delivered from side-dish-purgatory!

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Jul 142013
 

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for aglio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Italy, 0.

Alio e olio

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Mar 032013
 

Life can be stressful sometimes. Kids need looking after, appliances need fixing, food needs cooking, and the whole damn house needs a thorough vacuuming. We haven’t even mentioned self-maintenance time either, where you relax, immerse yourself in your hobbies, and other things that make you feel like a complete functioning human. Forget all that self-actualization crap: some days it’s hard to just keep your head above water. I like to treat my stress with an intense workout, but when you’re battling all the stuff I just mentioned, sometimes it just isn’t gonna happen. If you find yourself in that dilemma, try this:

Set your food on fire.

Of course, I’m not advocating wasting perfectly good food: you don’t want to reduce it to ashes. Just, y’know, take some fish, pour some booze on it, and flambe it! It’s fun, it’s pyrotechnic, and it’s productive — you are putting dinner on the table, after all. And in the tradition of so much good Italian food, it only gets better the next day. What’s not to love about that? Plus, it comes together pretty quickly, so even a cheerful three-month-old can be content to watch you make this dinner without needing gobs of TLC.

So put the devil in his place: give this a go in your own kitchen and let the pyrotechnics fly!

Monkfish fra diavolo

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Sep 082012
 

Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz

My favorite summer soup is also one that can go disastrously, epically wrong. It all lies in the tomato: use super-market tomatoes or try to make this soup in the winter, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even local restaurants can get it wrong: why on earth would you ship in insipid dyed-with-ethylene-gas “tomatoes” when you can get perfectly ripe ones in the peak of tomato season? There was a restaurant in Tucson that I absolutely loved, but when I noticed that the tomatoes on their sandwiches were exactly this type, I swore to never sample their gazpacho.

Gazpacho is one of the best vehicles out there for peak-of-summer, flavor-saturated, eat-them-over-the-sink tomatoes. When it comes time to make a batch, I head out to the farmers’ market (because I have not yet mastered the art of tomato -growing) and load up on whatever looks — and more importantly, smells — the most flavorful. I tend to flavor black heirloom varieties (like Black Krim, Black Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple), but there are plenty of other varieties in other colors that pack just as much flavor.

This Spanish treat is an ideal one for summer for another reason: it’s completely raw, so there’s no need to add to the heat in your kitchen by turning on a stove! Another bonus: it’s extremely healthy! Be sure to drizzle plenty of fruity olive oil over the top, though: not only is it delicious, but it will help you absorb all the vitamins in the soup! Oh, and one more thing: I like vegetables for breakfast. I know, weird. When this soup is in the fridge, I can’t think of a better meal to start my day. Give it a try some time!

A side note: this summer I had a watermelon gazpacho for the first time. I was amazed at how well the ripe watermelon and tomato complemented each other (though I know that this is by no means a well-kept secret in the food world). I’m going to have to try to find a good recipe for that too, so if you have one, by all means, please share it!

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Aug 292012
 

A whole, plated savory bruschetta tart

When it comes to cooking, sticking within limits can be so boring. If you’re ever in the mood to pull out a stop or two and make something the likes of which you’ve never had before, this savory tart is an excellent choice.

I first came across this recipe in a book that we received as a wedding gift. I can’t recall what first possessed me to try it; perhaps it was the description (it used to be served at the author’s Napa Valley restaurant) or the ease with which this could be fit into a dinner-party menu. Either way, I’m extraordinarily glad that I tried it: while I don’t make it terribly often, it’s been firmly set in my repertoire ever since. So much so that for my last birthday (my 30th), I decided not to go to a restaurant and to make this for dinner instead.

Savory bruschetta tart

So don’t be intimidated by the eggplant (this recipe introduced me to the veg), the method (my first-ever dip into deep-frying), or the unusual presentation: this is a dish whose bright, fresh flavors are welcome at any occasion!

Savory bruschetta tart

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Oct 022009
 

Everyone needs a recipe that can answer a host of dietary and culinary questions single-handedly. These questions might be along the lines of “How am I going to use this vat of spinach before it goes bad?” or “How can I make canned beans interesting?” or “What can I make that is attractive, delicious, very nutritious, and quick?”

Cannellinis star alongside tomatoes and wilted spinach
Nikon D50

For me, this recipe answers all those questions, plus a few more nagging ones about lean proteins and just how, exactly, one can get all the benefits of spinach without smothering it in salad dressing. It also answers the call when it hears the stomach thinking “Oh my god I am so hungry but I don’t wanna cook anything involved and I don’t want any meat today” but the tastebuds are all like “Dude, don’t forget about us!”

This recipe seriously comes together in a matter of minutes, tastes and feels like genuine comfort food, but packs in a lot of nutrition when you’re looking the other way. Serve it alongside some whole-grain pasta tossed with a fruity olive oil and couple of tomatoes you didn’t use in this dish, some brown rice, or a whole-grain bread, and you’ve got a complete lean protein and a satisfying well-balanced meal.

Cannellinis star alongside tomatoes and wilted spinach
Nikon D50

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Jul 112008
 

Lasagna: there is so much to love about it. It’s cheesy, it’s gooey, it’s a meal in itself, it’s comfort food. It’s easy to make to boot. This was something I could make in my dorm kitchen, following the recipe on the back of the Barilla box. What that recipe lacked in finesse it made up for in cheese. Not that we minded – we were college students starved for a homemade meal, and so we always had fun popping this into the ovens in the dorm kitchens, opening a bottle of wine, and making a meal such that we were the envy of most dorm residents.

Now that I’m out of college though, that cheese-laden flavor-lacking thoroughly Americanized version isn’t going to cut it anymore. And that Souffer stuff? Forgetaboutit. Why oh why would you buy something like that when lasagna is like the easiest thing to make ever??? Anyway, I’d been looking for a good recipe for a several years until this winter when we had a dinner party at my swim coach’s house and my friend Ginger brought a tray of the most fantastic lasagna. It had just the right amount of cheese and wasn’t greasy and had some substantial herbs to it, which is really something that most recipes lack. So what did I do? I asked her for the recipe, of course.

The assembled lasagna awaits the oven
Nikon D50

“Oooh, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mom about it!” Apparently the lasagna recipe is akin to a state secret: Ginger’s mom worked really hard to develop the recipe (it shows!) and only gave it to her daughters under the condition that they would keep it as proprietary information. Lucky for me though, Carol agreed that it was ok for Ginger to give me the recipe because I had shared my family’s pumpkin cookie with her. Totally a great swap, if you ask me. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have permission to share this recipe on this blog! I’ve modified it only a little bit, because the core premise of the recipe is so solid. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which I think is a really great idea because it’s really tough to find good ricotta in the States. I absolutely love the sauce that you make for the recipe, and it’s fantastic with either traditional or turkey Italian sausages. I did substitute dried Italian herbs for dried basil because basil’s flavor is so volatile in the presence of heat and the dried version retains so little of the fresh’s flavor – but I just added in the fresh basil later in the recipe. The overall effect of the recipe is a way-less heavy version of the typical lasagna, but still retains all of the flavor that you want.
Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing this recipe with me! You did an awesome job creating this lasagna and I really appreciate being let in on the secret!

Mmmm lasagna
Nikon D50

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May 142008
 

I love orzo. It’s such a hybrid – it looks like it wants to be rice, but it’s got the taste and texture of pasta, and because of its small shape it’s perfect in side dishes and salads. This dish that I’m about to share with you is my favorite orzo dish. There’s really nothing not to love about it – it has lots of highly flavored elements that manage to not compete with each other, a couple of highly nutritious veggies, and a wonderfully textured sauce that tastes rich and creamy without actually being either of those things.

Fresh cherry tomatoes star in this dish
Nikon D50

This recipe also has the bonus factor of minimal stove use, which is key in the summer. You use a stove but it’s much more about mixing things together at the end than it is about simmering for hours. I love taking this dish to dinner parties because people tend to expect a typical pasta salad dish – made with mayonnaise and flat-tasting – until they actually try it and realize how much complex and fresh tasting it is than what they were expecting. So give it a try and let it change your ideas of a pasta salad.

Perfect on a summer day!
Nikon D50

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