Posts Tagged ‘Tomatoes’

Southern-Italian-inspired baked whole fish, and pasta with garlic and hot pepper

For dinner last night we made two dishes inspired by our travels in southern Italy, both very easy and delicious. One was a whole black sea bass, which we seasoned and baked. The other was spaghetti with a simple and flavorful topping.

We went to our local fishmonger on Saturday morning, and he had a fresh 2-pound back bass, which he gutted for us but otherwise left whole. To cook the fish that evening, I preheated the oven to 425, and lined a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. I arranged a few lemon slices on the parchment paper, rubbed 3 to 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on both sides of the fish, sprinkled salt on both sides too, and then lay the fish down on the lemon slices. I put a half-dozen more lemon slices in to the fish cavity, along with 6 to 8 sprigs of fresh thyme. Last, I rolled some cherry tomatoes around in a bowl with another tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, put the tomatoes onto the same baking sheet, and put it all in the oven for 30 minutes.

A fresh black bass

A fresh black bass

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

Meanwhile, I put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the spaghetti, and set out other ingredients I had around: a dried cayenne pepper from my garden of two years ago, a tablespoon of capers in brine, and about 1/3 cup Calabrian caper shoots in olive oil we had recently been given a jar of. I took a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano out of the fridge to come to room temp, and finely grated 2 cups worth using a zester.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

Caper shoots in olive oil

Caper shoots in olive oil

I put a large skillet on low heat, and added about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. I sliced six cloves of garlic into thin slices, being careful to pull out and discard the green sprout from each clove – the garlic is a bit old and tired now, almost time for a new season. I added the garlic to the oil, and let it gently cook for 15 minutes, being careful that the heat was low enough that the garlic did not get very brown. Then I removed the garlic with a slotted spoon, and put in the hot pepper flakes from 1 cayenne pepper, the capers and the caper shoots.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

Meanwhile, the salted pasta water had boiled, so I put in about 3/4 lb of spaghetti, and cooked until al dente. I drained the pasta well, and then poured it in to the large skillet with the olive oil and other ingredients, and stirred well. I tossed in about 1/2 cup of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, and stirred in the cheese. And, the fish was just out of the oven! We gently pulled the fish off the bones on each side, and served with the cherry tomatoes and pasta, with sea salt, olive oil, and fresh lemon wedges on the table for additional seasoning.

The fish just out of the oven.

The fish just out of the oven.



It all paired very well with a chilled Viognier. Yum!

Molecular Gastronomy Dinner

I have not eaten at a molecular gastronomy restaurant, but last Friday my friend Tammy, who has a business called Tammy’s Tastings, came over and gave a group of us a mini cooking class, demonstrating some of the techniques that molecular gastronomy chefs use. It was a lot of fun, if somewhat odd! What is molecular gastronomy? The way I see it, it’s cooking techniques that involve some kind of modern technology, or, just a new, creative use of very old techniques (such as smoking). And the desire to be playful and defy expectation, while providing delicious food and an experience for all 5 senses.

First, we made an amuse-bouche, using an anti-griddle! This is a cookie sheet sitting on top of a piece of dry ice (wrapped in a towl). The liquid cream and sour cream froze on contact, and then we added the fresh chive, grated some smoked salmon over, and garnished with pink peppercorn skins and a whole peppercorn. Eaten in one bite – it was super-flavorful.

The cream froze instantly on the dry ice anti-griddle.

The salmon amuse-bouche garnished and ready to eat.

Next was a clear, liquid, caprese salad! The base was the clear juice from ripe tomatoes. We sphereified fresh mozzarella-cream liquid, and sphereified fresh liquid basil, to go in it. The flavors were as intense as eating the salad in its normal, solid form, but fun to eat in this unusual way.

Making fresh basil spheres, a few dozen at a time.

Liquid caprese salad. One of the mozzarella spheres had burst, but still tasted wonderful.

We followed that with a very different salad – fresh kale with a sherry vinagrette – as a granita! Several of us took turns shaving the pure liquid kale ice, and then carefully shaved a bit of the frozen sherry vinaigrette on top. And sat down to eat it immediately, before it melted.

Shaving the frozen liquid kale for the granita.

The kale salad with sherry vinaigrette granita ready to eat.

The main course, was steak with “eggs 3 ways” – mostly made using a sous vide. A sous vide keeps water at a constant low temperature that you set, so you can bring food up to its ideal cooked temperature and then leave it there with no danger of overcooking. You can have perfect soft-boiled eggs, and steak at the perfect level of doneness all the way through. In the case of steak, chefs usually just pan-sear it afterwards to get the tasty brown outside, with the insides done exactly how they want, without the layer of gray overcooked meat that you usually see.

Eggs in the sous vide

Our main course of sous-vide-cooked steak, and three different egg preparations.

And not to forget the hickory-smoked potato pancakes – Tammy had a little black device that directed smoke from hickory chips, into a container with shredded potato, which we then molded and fried. These were delicious, and went very fast!

Infusing the shredded potatoes with hickory smoke, from a tiny cache of fresh hickory chips that you light on fire in one end of the device.

Molding the smoked potato shreds, which we then fried them on a regular hot griddle, as opposed to a freezing one.

The last two courses were both very fun. The first involved puffs made from pure beet juice, which were amazing. Light as air, and they dissolved on our tongues with the taste of pure beet. We hollowed out little holes in the bottoms with chopsticks, and stuffed them with soft goat cheese. And served them along with celery infused with apple cider and stuffed with blue cheese, and garnished with pine nuts.

Beet juice puffs

Goat cheese stuffed beet puffs, with stuffed celery

And our last course was a dry sundae in a shot glass – freshly-powdered peanut butter, banana, and nutella – the peanut butter was especially intense, the other flavors a bit milder, but intriguing to eat dessert in one dry bite!

Freshly powdered peanut butter

Dessert! A powder sundae.

All in all it was a very entertaining and flavorful evening. Definitely not my personal style of cooking, but great to know more about how it’s done, and fun to enjoy the playfulness of it and how it engages one’s senses.

Tuscan Tomato and Bread Soup – Pappa al Pomodoro

Another recipe from Ari, for all us tomato-lovers. -Jillian

To quote Calvin Trillin, “. . . pappa al pomodoro, (is) the bread-and-tomato soup that is somehow missing from most of the supposedly Tuscan restaurants in America.” He wrote that a number of years ago, but in rereading his quote, I think it still holds true — for some reason this soup rarely shows up on restaurant menus (at least ones that I’ve seen). It is really good, and rereading this bit, I think I’m reminded how good it is. In fact, I’m probably going to go ahead and make some in the next day or so — it’s really that good. In our part of the world there are only about eight weeks a year when it’s worth making and those eight weeks are now!

If you aren’t familiar with Pappa al Pomodoro, it’s a great and exceptionally easy to make Tuscan tomato and bread soup. Like most of the foods I love, it relies on great ingredients — good tomatoes, excellent Tuscan olive oil, fresh garlic, and good bread. Like all good country recipes, there are hundreds of variations, so every book you look in and everyone you talk to is going to give you a slightly different version. But if you’ve never made it, here’s the simple overview:

Chop a couple cloves of fresh garlic and saute in a lot of olive oil slowly ’til it’s soft (you can also add some chopped onion if like. Or the sun-dried organic garlic from the Mahjoubs in Tunisia is great as well — very sweet and very good). Lightly seed four or five good-sized tomatoes and then cut into chunks. (Actually, I recommend roasting the tomatoes to char their skins first, a tip I learned from Judy Rodgers excellent “Zuni Cafe Cookbook” – just roast over an open flame as you would bell peppers, cool slightly then slide off any charred skins.) Add the tomatoes to the oil and garlic for 10 or 15 minutes, enough to cook the tomatoes but not so much that you turn them into a dense paste.

Then cut about the same amount of leftover bread as you did tomatoes (Rustic Italian, Paesano or Farm bread would all work well). Add it to the pot along with a bit of broth or water. Simmer for another fifteen minutes. The soup should be pretty thick, the texture of a hearty bean soup. Add a good dose of chopped fresh basil, some sea salt and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let stand for about ten or fifteen minutes so that the bread absorbs the liquid.

When you’re ready to serve, give the soup a quick stir. Be gentle so that the bread maintains its shape and texture — there should be chunks of bread in the soup, not breadcrumbs. The texture of the soup should sort of resemble a very loose bread pudding almost. Ladle it into warm bowls then pour on a very generous ribbon of full flavored fruity olive oil — the oil is one of the key flavors so the bigger more interesting the oil you choose the better the soup will be. If you want you can make a “cross” on the soup with the oil on each bowl before serving as they do in Tuscany. To my taste, the more oil the better.

Serve with sea salt and pepper and a nice green salad and you’ve got a pretty great meal. -Ari

Pan-Roasted Tomato Sauce


Saturday's tomato harvest from my garden. -Jillian

The tomatoes are coming ripe in droves in my little garden, and are at the Farmer’s Market now by the bushel. Ari wrote up a few tomato recipes recently, all of which sounded really tasty and easy so I thought I’d share them here one at a time. First, here’s Ari’s Pan-Roasted Tomato Sauce. Enjoy! -Jillian

Pan-Roasted Tomato Sauce

I’ve told a few of you about making this over the last few weeks as the tomatoes were coming in the market in such profusion. I’ve been asking around about it because I’m sure something like this sauce must exist in some traditional cooking somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. If you know about it send me some info – love to learn something new.

Anyways, the story of the sauce really came out of being sort of lazy. I had a lot of tomatoes and they were really good and I was wanting to make some tomato sauce. I like roasted tomatoes a lot but it’s sort of hard to do them on the open flame and I was tired and didn’t feel like risking the mess they make if you flame-roast and aren’t really careful about what you’re doing. So I decided to cut my tomatoes into chunks and drop them into a hot, dry skillet. “Dry” as in no olive oil or anything. Just metal and heat. You could probably add garlic cloves if you want too though I didn’t. I let the tomato chunks cook without stirring for a while, probably about six or seven minutes, so that they got sort of pan-charred. Then I stirred them once, to move them around in the pan and char the parts that weren’t already getting black. I added a little sea salt, stirred and char again. The tomatoes do get kind of dark—I’d say it was in the pan for probably fifteen minutes but each cook can of course decide for him or herself what they like.

While that was happening I got my pasta water boiling. When the tomatoes are dark enough to my taste I add the salt and then the pasta and start that cooking.

When the tomatoes look cooked and charred I add some hot water from the pasta pot, some olive oil, and the Maras red pepper Zingerman’s Deli gets from Turkey. If there are fresh herbs you want, add them too. Ditto for a piece of Parmesan rind if I have that sitting around—adds depth of flavor at basically no cost. Add some anchovies at the end if you’re feeling so inclined (being a big anchovy lover, I’m often so inclined), or some chopped arugula or other greens. I keep the sauce simmering pretty steadily while the pasta cooks, adding more water from the pasta pot to thin it if I need to.

When the pasta is almost done I drain it, then dump it into the sauce, stir gently but thoroughly and then cook for another minute or two so that the pasta absorbs a bit of the sauce. (I’ve been very partial to the Rustichella Primo Grana Chitarra of late.) Anyways, served with ricotta or some fresh goat cheese crumbled on top it’s a very easy and very good way to eat. You could, now that I think about it, drop cubes of fresh mozzarella in at the very end, just long enough to warm them but not so long that they melt completely into the sauce.    -Ari

15-Minute Sicilian Bottarga Pasta

The familiar dilemma – not much time to fix dinner, and, not much food in the house! I made a quick, delicious pasta dish recently with ingredients I had on hand.

First, I looked in the fridge and freezer to see what kinds of ingredients I had. A pasta dish came immediately to mind when I found the jar of dried bottarga (which is salted, dried tuna roe) that I had purchased at a market in Palermo on a previous Zingerman’s Food Tour to Sicily, and remembered the wonderful pasta dishes with bottarga that I had eaten on that trip. I also turned up my last container of Roma tomatoes I had frozen last fall, and I always have a chunk of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on hand. Together with a bag of penne, some garlic, and a green onion and a handful of chard from my garden, I was set.

Dried bottarga from Palermo

Chard from the garden

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Garlic, green onion, and Roma tomatoes

First, I started the pasta water, and put my bag of frozen Romas in a bowl of hot water to do a speedy defrost. Then washed the chard and tore it into bit sized pieces, grated a generous amount of Parm Reg (about a cup), and chopped the green onion and 4 cloves of garlic.

When the pasta water came to a boil, I added a tablespoon of salt, and the bag of penne pasta.

I added a tablespoon of olive oil to another pot and fried the green onion and garlic for 2 minutes over medium heat, and then poured in my bag of Roma tomatoes (about 3 cups worth of tomatoes and juice). I let that cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes and letting some of the juices cook off.

When the pasta was almost done I put the chard into the pasta pot, let it boil about 30 seconds, and then drained it all. I mixed the cooked, drained pasta and chard into the pot with the tomatoes, garlic, and green onion, immediately added the cheese and a teaspoon of the bottarga, and ground some fresh pepper over, and tossed. After tasting I added a little more bottarga (to taste, about 1/2 t more), and a pinch of sea salt, and dinner was ready. (The bottarga and the Parm Reg are both salty so no additional salt may be needed.) Perfect with a glass of a Sicilian white wine, and more grated Parm on the side for those who like their pasta extra-cheesy.

Almost ready

Dinner on the back deck

Moroccan Fish Tagine – Tagine Bil Hoot

Last Saturday night for dinner, I cooked a fish tagine, following a recipe from Cooking at the Kasbah, by Kitty Morse.

You don’t have to have a tagine, you can use an enameled cast-iron pot with a lid. Use a firm-fleshed fish like mahi mahi, red snapper, or sea bass. The author says that small sticks of bamboo are often crisscrossed at the bottom of the cooking vessel to prevent the fish from sticking to the pot; this uses carrot slices instead.

I made this with mahi mahi and pitted green olives in water, and my frozen Roma tomatoes from last summer’s garden. I added a little extra water to the tagine with the carrots since I think my Romas had less water than 4 fresh tomatoes would have had. The fish was very thick so took 20 minutes to cook. It did need salt at the end. Garnish with plenty of cilantro. I cooked quinoa instead of couscous for a gluten-free grain, and served the fish and veggies over it, very nice to have something to sop up the juices.

Recipe follows the photos, enjoy! -Jillian

Toasting the saffron

Marinating the mahi mahi

Tomatoes, garlic, and cumin cook for a few minutes to thicken

Then you layer the carrots on the bottom, onions over that, and spoon the sauce over

Adding the fish, olives, and lemon to the veggies

The finished dish over quinoa; a nice melding of flavors - fish, preserved lemon, olives, spices.



– 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
– 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced, plus more for garnish
– 1/2 cups olive oil
– 2 teaspoons Sweet Hungarian Paprika
– 8 threads Spanish saffron threads, toasted and crushed
– 1 teaspoon ground ginger
– 1 lemon
– 4 six-ounce boned fish fillets, firm fish like red snapper, sea bass, mahimahi
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
– 1 teaspoon ground cumin
– salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
– 2 carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
– 1 onion, thinly sliced
– 1 tablespoon preserved lemon pulp
– 12 green or black olives, pitted
– fresh cilantro for garnish


1. Toast the saffron for 2 to 3 minutes in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Then crush. In a large bowl, mix the parsley, cilantro, olive oil, paprika, saffron, and ginger. Add the juice of half a lemon. Coat the fish fillets with this mixture and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, turning over once or twice. Cut the other half of the lemon into thin slices and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the tomatoes, garlic, and cumin. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Place the carrot slices in a single layer on the bottom of a tagine or enameled casserole or dutch oven. Cover with the onion slices. Spoon the tomato sauce over the onion. Cover and cook over medium heat until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Set the fish on top of the vegetables. Spread a little preserved lemon pulp over each fillet and top each one with a slice of lemon. Add the marinade. Surround the fish with olives. Cover and cook over medium heat until the fish is flaky, 10 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

Kefta – Moroccan Meatballs!

In preparation for our end-of-March Zingerman’s Food Tour to Morocco, I’ve been playing with Moroccan cooking – I love the spices and combinations of ingredients. My latest dish was Kefta – Moroccan meatballs made with beef and lamb. Saturday we had a potluck holiday party to go to, and this was a perfect dish to bring; easy to make, and easy to eat! For the sauce I used home-grown Roma tomatoes and garlic. The meatballs called for 1 lb beef and 1/2 lb lamb, half a grated onion, and some spices (paprika, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, salt, pepper). The tomatoes and garlic are simmered for a few minutes with some olive oil and more spices, and then the meatballs are added and cook quickly too, so the whole dish was ready in only 20 to 25 minutes. The meatballs were tasty and tender, and we heard some good reviews from the party-goers! A few photos follow. -Jillian

The beef-lamb meatballs ready to be cooked

My tomato sauce

The cooking time was great, only 20 minutes!

The Kefta, ready to take to the party

End of summer harvest

I grew four kinds of tomatoes this year, and they all did well. I always grow grape tomatoes up the western edge of my porch, they provide great shade and convenient snacking. And two kinds of slicing tomatoes, and Romas. With the Romas I made tomato sauce and salsa,  and I froze some for winter soups, and dehydrated some (my version of “sundried”). The slicers I mostly ate fresh, but I oven-roasted some in olive oil and froze those too.  So I think some Italian dishes with tomato are in my future this winter!  The pepperoncini peppers did well too, I pickled a bunch, but have been eating them fresh and in stir fry lately. The seed package said to pick them green, but I discovered, of course, that the redder they are the hotter they are, to a point – they are certainly not fiery hot. Which is fine with me – I guess my spice preference fits in well with my feeling that ‘all things in moderation’ is a healthy way to go.

Late summer harvest - tomatoes, chard, pepperoncini peppers, crowder peas, and a batch of salsa.

What to do with 30 pounds of Roma tomatoes!

I got home from vacation and found that my three Roma tomato plants were loaded with ripe fruit, about 30 pounds worth. So, last night and this morning I made my first batch of tomato sauce of the season, and canned it.

Here’s my ingredients, all from my garden – Romas (plus a few Medfords that were ripe too), garlic, yellow onion, fresh basil and thyme (plus some salt, pepper, bay leaf, oregano, and sugar).

I cut the tomatoes in quarters, chopped the other ingredients and put them all in a large pot, brought it to a boil and simmered for about 20 minutes, and then put it through the Foley Food Mill. (My grandmother used to say that you can’t call yourself a cook unless you have one in your kitchen. I don’t give it heavy use I must admit, except at tomato time of year.) Then I let the now-smooth sauce cook on low hear overnight, so it reduced down to a thicker consistency, about half the volume.

Freshly picked!

Small batches in the Foley Food Mill.

Next morning, I filled up the canner with water and went and did other tasks while it came to a boil.

Once boiling, in went the first batch, 6 pints and 8 half-pints. For 35 minutes. And then a second batch, just one more pint and 3 half-pints. I lost one of the half pints in the second batch, perhaps I overfilled the jar, since the bottom broke cleanly off. But all the rest were fine.

Looking forward to winter pasta and pizza!

A full canner.

The finished sauce!