48. J’s Brie-Basil Pasta

J and I went to an academic summer camp when we were both 17; I think it was the first time I felt surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people in the same small place. J and I remained friends over the years, seeing each other when we happened to be in the same city. He came to my wedding and gave me a recipe card RSVP that only said “let’s talk about this one in person…” – eventually, he sent me the following recipe, but cautioned me to wait through the winter months before I attempted it, because fresh tomatoes and fresh basil were key to the meal.

1. 4 large ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2. I pound Brie, rind removed, broken into irregular smallish pieces

3. 1 cup fresh basil leaves rinsed, patted dry and cut into strips

4. 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

5. 1 cup best quality olive oil

6. 1/2 teaspoon salt

7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8. 1 1/2 pound linguine 9or other pasta)

9. Fresh grated parmigiana-Reggiano

At least 2 hours before serving combine 1-7 in large serving bowl. I usually cover and let sit at room temperature to blend flavors. Also, I put the Brie in the freezer for about 10 minutes before trying to remove the rind. Putting in the freezer helps make it firmer and easier to remove. Otherwise you tend to lose a lot of the Brie as the rind does not come off very well.

Boil the linguine. When done, toss with the tomato mixture. Add grated cheese as desired.

I chose to make this recipe on a day when Husband and I were going to an outdoor festival and I knew we’d be hungry and ready for something savory and fresh when we got home – it helped us resist the funnel cake and fried chicken at the festival, which can’t hurt, right? After a truly spectacular breezy Sunday afternoon, we returned to the bowl of spicings and cheese and tomatoes: I’d frozen the brie for too long, so instead of breaking it into pieces I’d shaved the rind off with a knife and grated the whole thing into the bowl. We made fettuccine and the whole house filled with the pungent Brie scent and the snap of garlic. We twirled the pasta noodles and our lips got coated in cheesy sauce. I used all the fresh basil we had in our garden, which was good timing because the little bucket we’ve been growing herbs in is now swamped with water from recent rains. Hopefully it will dry out and grow back, because this might be my favorite dish yet. I didn’t get quite as much brie as he suggested (I did 8 ounces, plus a spare ounce of goat cheese I had lying around, for one pound of pasta) but I bet it would have been delightful if I had.

What is the quintessential dish of summer for you? I cannot imagine a flavor more summery than basil and tomato, cheese and garlic all rolled together and eaten with the window open and the twilight breeze blowing through the house.

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Farro!

I have had a bag of farro in my cupboard for a long time – it’s an “ancient grain” that lives in the same aisle of the grocery store as the rice and quinoa. It has a lot of fiber and protein, and was a favorite of my grad school buddy M, who was vegetarian and always looking for something hearty to supplement his diet. I made one farro salad for a party, but I still have community-garden garlic and the last dregs of the tomato plants, so I thought I’d try this out. I got inspired by this recipe I found on Pinterest, which seemed to mix some of my favorite earthiest flavors and obviously, this blog has been all tomatoes all the time lately.

The key, I realized, was that if my tomatoes were already swimming in water (last canned batch of tomatoes had a lot of excess liquid), I might as well prepare the farro in the tomato juices, rather than separately in water. It worked like a charm – I prepared the farro in the juices according to the directions on the farro package, and soon I had big, thick kernels that looked a bit like that cereal “sugar smacks” if you remember it from your childhood. My grandfather ate it all the time, which was definitely not as healthy as eating farro but does make me endeared to the idea.

In the end, just a little garlic and salt were all the chewy kernels and various-sized tomatoes needed. I used it alongside a shrimp scampi I’ll post later, but it didn’t need oil or a lot of fancy spicing – the combination of home canned tomatoes and the nuttiness of the farro were enough to be one of those dishes that are simple without being bland. Not to mention, surprisingly filling: I didn’t have to layer on the scampi sauce to fill like I was getting a whole meal when I used this as a base instead of pasta.

Caprese Salad: Eating Salad without the Greens

I have had the goal of eating 4 salads a week, and yesterday, we’d run out of salad greens. What we hadn’t run out of was ripe, delicious, garden tomatoes. Mostly I wanted to use cherry tomatoes, but I caved and used the ripest of the San Marzanos too.

You see, salad is a funny thing: some people consider potatoes coated in mayonnaise to be a salad, and others see only things with lettuce as a base as the healthy form of ‘salad.’ I’ve tried to stick to my belief that anything with a veggie base is salad, and caprese salad (characterized by the combination of tomatoes, basil, mozzerella cheese, and sometimes balsamic vinegar) is a wonderful variation that is filling while still being refreshing. I knew yesterday afternoon that I was in the mood to eat something unhealthy and I wanted to head it off with something fresh and lighter. This worked perfectly.

I sliced all the tomatoes up to bite size (no exact measurements here; just use what you want based on servings you want to have) and tore the basil leaves. I cut the mozzarella down to quarter-inch cubes or crumbles, whichever happened faster, and threw in a dash of olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar and a few grinds of crunchy salt. The salad worked up well but I got overzealous and added a bunch of dried basil, which rehydrated into a pretty overwhelming level of basil-ness. I didn’t think I could overdo basil, given my love for it, but this was that. Basically: add basil, taste, add more if you want it.

I know a lot of people who like to do the caprese combination on toast, but I would advocate eating it out of the bowl like a regular salad. After all, it’s one less piece of toast in your life, and it’s so tasty even when it’s in a bowl by itself (and even when it has too much basil!). This combo could be stretched to a full meal if mixed with some whole-wheat pasta or quinoa, or it could be served on a pizza/flatbread for a new variation on the timeless margherita pizza. Regardless, it makes me happy my definition of salad is pretty broad. 🙂

Smoked Gouda Tomato Soup

One thing my grandmother-in-law, J, loves to do is go all out on dinner. However, one evening when she got home and Husband and I were already sitting in her kitchen, she gave us a weary look and said, “what do you think about making tomato soup and grilled cheese and sitting on the porch?” It was the most wonderful, comforting idea.

I wanted to recapture that day with my soup for the soup-and-bread potluck. I chose this recipe to start from: http://www.thedreamingfoodie.com/2015/02/25/smoked-gouda-tomato-soup/ The description is great and there are pictures and clear instructions, but it’s also a simple soup as a jumping off point. I was at the point where I needed to off-load a large quantity of tomatoes again, so whereas a normal process would have included only a can opener, I spent a few minutes cutting away bad spots, thawing a half a bag of frozen tomatoes, and pulling a can from the basement. I mostly left the skins on, but wonder of wonders, when you thaw frozen tomatoes, the skins slide off like a dream, so I took the time to remove those at least; I think it helped with the overall consistency, even though my soup was definitely stringier than the average tomato soup.

Husband loves spice, and I was so busy with gingerbread and crusty peasant bread and the other soup I was making that I told him he could spice up the tomato soup if it was bland to him. Silly, silly cook, I am. The soup did turn out good, but fiery – his love for red pepper flakes shone through above the tasty garden tomato fullness and the italian spicing I had originally started with. We did still have enough basil to add some fresh leaves, so overall it worked.

With so many people bringing such ample quantities of soup, it is no wonder that we ended up with lots of leftover tomato; I finished it off at lunch with crusts of bread to help me through the spiciness. It isn’t quite like an evening on the back porch with J, but it still makes me smile.

 

Quinoa with sweet tomato, onion, and summer herbs

On Friday, I really traipsed into the thicket of tomatoes in our backyard and emerged with tons – 30 or more cherry and 10 San Marzanos. I want to freeze some to eventually can sauce, but a more pressing need presented itself: my aunt and uncle were coming over for dinner! They are the sweetest folks and one is vegetarian and the other is dairy/gluten free, so quinoa was an obvious option.

I prepared about 1 cup of quinoa according to the directions on the bag, but the long roasting time meant that I did that much later. I started by cutting up the cherry tomatoes and some San Marzanos into the roasting pan pictured. I then sliced and diced one purple onion and 4 cloves of garlic, and added maybe a teaspoon of olive oil to keep it all from sticking. I roasted it at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes.

When they came out, I added cut chives, basil, and oregano – all fresh because I’d gotten packets of fresh herbs from the community garden, and that stuff doesn’t last long! I left the whole roasting pan on the stove to stay toasty while my aunt and uncle got a tour of the house, but then added the hot quinoa to the veggies to mix up together.

We had quite a feast – Husband obviously made a salad, and I whipped up guacamole to make sure that everyone had a hearty enough meal. Afterwards was a gluten-free banana bread that I was pleased with, even though it was drier than I expected; I’ll post about it at some point. But sitting around the table, passing dishes and eating off placemats made me realize how much I missed that. When we’ve had our dinner parties, there have been too many people to sit down to table together, and that makes me think the next dinner “party” will just be, perhaps, 4 other folks. Last night was a less boisterous evening, but I think that the niceness of sharing the bounty of the garden and the chat that we all had about plants and electronic circuits and family history made me miss a regular sit-down dinner with family.

48. J’s Brie-Basil Pasta

J and I went to an academic summer camp when we were both 17; I think it was the first time I felt surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people in the same small place. J and I remained friends over the years, seeing each other when we happened to be in the same city. He came to my wedding and gave me a recipe card RSVP that only said “let’s talk about this one in person…” – eventually, he sent me the following recipe, but cautioned me to wait through the winter months before I attempted it, because fresh tomatoes and fresh basil were key to the meal.

1. 4 large ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2. I pound Brie, rind removed, broken into irregular smallish pieces

3. 1 cup fresh basil leaves rinsed, patted dry and cut into strips

4. 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

5. 1 cup best quality olive oil

6. 1/2 teaspoon salt

7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8. 1 1/2 pound linguine 9or other pasta)

9. Fresh grated parmigiana-Reggiano

At least 2 hours before serving combine 1-7 in large serving bowl. I usually cover and let sit at room temperature to blend flavors. Also, I put the Brie in the freezer for about 10 minutes before trying to remove the rind. Putting in the freezer helps make it firmer and easier to remove. Otherwise you tend to lose a lot of the Brie as the rind does not come off very well.

Boil the linguine. When done, toss with the tomato mixture. Add grated cheese as desired.

I chose to make this recipe on a day when Husband and I were going to an outdoor festival and I knew we’d be hungry and ready for something savory and fresh when we got home – it helped us resist the funnel cake and fried chicken at the festival, which can’t hurt, right? After a truly spectacular breezy Sunday afternoon, we returned to the bowl of spicings and cheese and tomatoes: I’d frozen the brie for too long, so instead of breaking it into pieces I’d shaved the rind off with a knife and grated the whole thing into the bowl. We made fettuccine and the whole house filled with the pungent Brie scent and the snap of garlic. We twirled the pasta noodles and our lips got coated in cheesy sauce. I used all the fresh basil we had in our garden, which was good timing because the little bucket we’ve been growing herbs in is now swamped with water from recent rains. Hopefully it will dry out and grow back, because this might be my favorite dish yet. I didn’t get quite as much brie as he suggested (I did 8 ounces, plus a spare ounce of goat cheese I had lying around, for one pound of pasta) but I bet it would have been delightful if I had.

What is the quintessential dish of summer for you? I cannot imagine a flavor more summery than basil and tomato, cheese and garlic all rolled together and eaten with the window open and the twilight breeze blowing through the house.