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pasta alla norma

What do you get when a druid priestess, a Roman proconsul, and a vestal virgin walk into a bar? Bellini’s opera Norma. The ridiculously soapy opera was a huge hit when it debuted; this pasta dish was named for the title character. Even an opera lover like myself has to laugh when I eat this dish; it is almost unseemly to name food for a woman who has an affair outside of her religion  and her political ken (he was a Roman occupier, she a Celt), who upon being scorned by her illicit lover attempts infanticide (Come on! I had to do it! How many times do you get to use that word in a food blog?), and then ultimately decides it would be better to determinedly perish upon her lover’s execution pyre? Her own people, the Celtic tribesmen, lit the match. One wonders what we see in these faint-hearted music-based “reality” TV shows when gutsy entertainment such as this is to be had. Most of us would quail at the thought of it, even without the exhausting, wild, and reckless soprano part Bellini wrote for his heroine.

And yet, here she is, limned in eggplant, a bit of tomato, a few glugs of olive oil, and a dab of ricotta. The tomato sauce is just to coat the pasta, no more. It would be a crime if there were more tomatoes, masking the roasted eggplant, overwhelming the creamy ricotta. I wonder sometimes whether the dish was christened by someone who saw in these simple and untutored ingredients the makings of a rich and unctuous drama. For Pete’s sake, the dish is vegetarian and yet it is rich and fascinating enough, so much so as to be unseemly. But is this not the very meaning of civilization—the human capacity to mask all that is savage and passionate in the trappings of respectability? A truth as finely evident in opera as it is in cuisine. Go ahead and make it. I won’t tell the neighbors.

Pasta alla norma

Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal, or 2 as the sole course

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 eggplant, about 1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced (1 cup)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 very large or 2 medium beefsteak-type tomato, peeled with a vegetable peeler and chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup whole-milk ricotta
  • 1/2 pound pasta (such as rigatoni, mezzo rigatoni, or cart wheels)
  • kosher salt

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. In a large bowl, toss eggplant with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and then spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle eggplant with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. (Only 1/4 teaspoon if using table salt.) Bake in the oven 20 to 25 minutes, removing from oven twice to stir and toss the eggplant. Eggplant should be baked until it is cooked all the way through.

2. While eggplant is baking, warm the 2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add crushed red pepper and stir a bit. Add chopped tomato and bring back to a simmer. Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt over tomatoes. Then turn heat to very low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add water a tablespoon at a time if sauce becomes dry.

3. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Strain pasta, reserving about 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

4. Add cooked eggplant to tomato sauce, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Off heat, mix in ricotta and basil. Stir in cooked pasta and add reserved cooking water 1/4 cup at a time to loosen sauce and distribute it nicely. Taste to make sure the dish is properly salted, adding more kosher salt if necessary. Serve immediately, piping hot.

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greek salad

Dinners at our house are super boring for the past three weeks. Tomatoes have been peak, and with little rain, the fruits are rich, and lush, and flavorful. After a trip to Greece a couple of years ago—which would have been utterly worthwhile if the only thing that happened was that I learned to make Greek salads—I made the mistake of making a Greek salad as I learned on my trip. Now, during tomato season, Ty is disappointed by any other side dish. (Not that this is only a side dish; we had a Greek salad by itself for supper twice in the past week.) He gets twitchy if we start running low on feta, or olive oil. We both vigilantly eye the supply of tomatoes ripening on the sideboard, eager to be certain that there will be one that becomes perfectly ripe each and every day. In the same way that college football fans talk about “clock management,” I am obsessed with tomato management, worried that the tomatoes I selected at the market on Saturday or Wednesday might not ripen in daily succession, one after the other, ready for a trip to the salad bowl.

I was never really a yellow tomato girl, but I think the farmers are learning more about which varieties are most tasty with each passing year. The salad I photographed for this post had a yellow-to-red ombre tomato in it, and it was gorgeous and delicious. It’s an extraordinary year for flavor in our Connecticut cucumbers and bell peppers as well. The vegetables are all crispy and toothsome. Even though I posted this Greek panzanella recipe last summer, I think I skipped right over the main attraction. I hope you’re not offended by the simplicity of this recipe. Enjoy the rest of tomato season and try to squeeze in a few of these salads.

Greek salad

For every two adults:

  • 1 large, ripe tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/2 large, green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • fleur de sel or kosher salt
  • 3 to 4 grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 3 to 4 thin slices of feta
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of fruity extra-virgin olive oil

1. Combine tomato, bell pepper, red onion, and cucumber in a salad bowl. Rub dried oregano between your hands into the bowl. Sprinkle with a few pinches of fleur de sel (about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss to combine. You can let the salad sit at this point for 15 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of the meal.

2. Just before serving, add feta to salad and drizzle with olive oil. Gently toss to combine ingredients.

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charred pepper + tomato soup w seared scallops

We are all in our kitchens trying to figure out what to do with all the gorgeous stuff coming from the market, are we not? When I walk to work in the morning, when I am standing in line waiting for an iced tea in the afternoon, when I am on hold, when I walk home at night, while I am in the shower, all I think about is what to do with all the tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, peaches, nectarines. Anything that stretches vegetables with other ingredients like breadcrumbs, cheese, onions, pasta—these are all out of the question. I need recipes that pack the highest density of produce into each increment of volume.

Therefore, readers, I give you this soup.

We made this for our friends Erin and Geoff, who were visiting from San Francisco week before last. In her past life, Erin headed up our local farmers’ markets (I was on the board), and even though they were coming on a Friday, I knew we had to have an absolute feast. Feast we did. This dish was a complete fabrication, and it was the first course of our meal. (Followed by the freshest possible flounder with sauce grenobloise, mashed local potatoes; then a salad of tomatoes, Greek-style; then cheeses; then blueberries with champagne zabaglione.) Given the whole Friday situation, I made the soup (which is to be served cold or at room temperature) on Thursday and it really did benefit from the time in the refrigerator. The flavors married beautifully.

Go to your fishmonger and get whatever is freshest—scallops or shrimp would work well here. Frankly, the soup would be brilliant on its own, or simply with the corn garnish. A little avocado cut up into the corn would not be amiss. The soup itself is absolutely smoky and the intensity of the peppers and tomatoes really shines through. The sweetest corn is the perfect partner, punctuating the dish with flavor and texture. If you’d like to use up some vegetables, you’re on the right trail here, and the recipe easily doubles. In fact, I heartily recommend it.

Charred pepper + tomato soup w seared scallops

Serves 4 as a first course.

  • 3 enormous or 4 large red bell peppers
  • 8 plum tomatoes or 4 regular tomatoes, trimmed and halved
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
  • 12 sea scallops
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • handful of fresh cilantro, minced

1. Turn a gas burner or two on the oven to high. Place one or two peppers on each burner and leave over flame until one side is totally blackened. Using metal tongs, flip peppers to blacken remaining surface. Be patient and turn as necessary until peppers are blackened all the way around. This generally takes about 20 minutes. Place peppers in a large metal or tempered glass bowl and cover with foil; set aside for 30 minutes or so.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler to high and adjust top rack to 3 inches from broiler flame. Arrange halved tomatoes, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. In a medium bowl, combine onion slices and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and then arrange onion slices in a single layer next to tomatoes on baking sheet. Wrap garlic cloves, drizzled with 1 tablespoon oil, in a corner of the foil lining the pan. Slide this baking pan into the broiler and cook (moving pan as necessary to distribute heat of broiler) until tomatoes are blistered and blackening, and onion is browning, roasted and soft. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. Set up a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or a blender. When peppers are cool enough to handle, place them on a work surface and remove as much of the charred outer skin of peppers as possible. Do not rinse with water, as this will diminish the peppers’ flavor. Open the peppers and remove the stem, seeds and membranes. Place the pepper meats (without the charred outer skin) into the food process or blender. Add the roasted tomatoes and onion. Squeeze garlic out of the papery covering into the food processor or blender.

4. Add 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable stock, salt, both paprikas, and Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper to blender or food processor. Cover and pulse carefully to obtain a puree. Then turn to high speed and fully puree the mixture until it is smooth. If it remains too thick, add the remaining vegetable stock and continue to puree. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. (*) Place soup in the refrigerator to allow flavors to blend.

5. Set a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, add the corn and cook for 6 minutes. Remove corn on the cob and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. Use a large and very sharp knife to remove the corn from the cob. Reserve it in a bowl and toss with a few pinches of salt, lime juice, and the cilantro. Set aside.

6. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter. When hot, but not yet smoking, add sea scallops. Cook until a dark golden brown on the first side, then flip to the second side. Allow to continue cooking until second side is very well browned and scallops are opaque.

7. Dish 1 cup of soup into a wide serving bowl. Place 3 seared scallops in the center and top with one-quarter of the corn-cilantro mixture. Repeat with 3 remaining bowls and serve.

* At this point, the soup can be refrigerated for up to two days.

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eggplant + tomato spread (bohémienne)

It’s evidently that time in the summer when few of us can resist the siren song of the piles of glossy black, purple, and white eggplants at the market. Their shiny, taut skins belie the pithy perfection that lies within. The eggplant is one of the true chameleons of the vegetable world. Much more subtle than its extroverted solanaceous cousins, eggplant blends with flavors from rich to smoky to zesty to piquant.

I have been eyeing this recipe from some time. I frequently make baba ganoush when I want an eggplant-based dip, but with tomatoes on hand it was too much to resist this wonderful concoction. It is delicious scooped out of the pan hot (not that I would know, of course) and wonderful cold out of the refrigerator on toasts. Most of this batch was consumed at room temperature on garlic-rubbed crostini, which I would heartily suggest. This would be a marvelous party trick for your next social gathering. It takes advantage of the season’s bounty but is simple to prepare and very friendly with drinks.

The cooking time here is long, and approximate. But you can do other things in the kitchen while making this. (And, as noted above, you may want to make it ahead of time and consume it at room temperature.) Depending on the water content of your eggplant and tomatoes, you could be simmering this down for a long time. Watch the pan, and taste it. You’ll know when it’s ready.

Eggplant + tomato spread (bohémienne)

Adapted from Lulu’s Provençal Table by Richard Olney

  • 1 ripe Italian eggplant (about 1.5 pounds)
  • kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 large onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2 fresh cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 can San Marzano plum tomatoes (28 ounces) or 1.5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded, roughly chopped
  • 3 anchovy fillets (optional if you wish to make this vegetarian)

1. Peel the eggplant and then slice it into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Spread these in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with kosher salt, then flip the slices and sprinkle the second sides. Set aside for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, squeeze each slice between paper towels, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips, and set aside in a large bowl.

2. In a large, wide saute pan or casserole, warm 4 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and saute, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft but not at all brown. (This takes 5 to 10 minutes.) Add the garlic and eggplant and continue to cook, stirring regularly, over medium-low heat until the eggplant is soft. This takes about 15 minutes. You may increase the heat of your burner, perhaps, a little, but you do not want the eggplant to brown at all. If your eggplant absorb all the oil, you may want to add another tablespoon or so to the pan.

3. Add the tomatoes to the pan, reserving the juices. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add tomato juices as needed to bring liquid just below the surface of the vegetables. Set the pan to a simmer and stir every few minutes. Cook in this manner for 60 minutes, breaking up the vegetables with your spoon as they soften.The liquid in the pan should almost completely evaporate. If it completely dries up and the mixture begins to scorch, add tomato juice or water a little bit at a time to continue the cooking for a full hour. If, after 60 minutes of cooking, the mixture is not dry (it should be beginning to stick) continue cooking and stirring until the liquid evaporates and the mixture becomes glossy and rich. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, use a potato masher or a fork to create a chunky puree.

4. Before the mixture is finished cooking, add 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to a small pan. Add the anchovy fillets and warm over medium-low heat until the anchovies break up and melt into the oil when prodded with a fork. Pour this mixture over the cooked bohémienne and stir well. Set the pan aside to cool. Serve at room temperature or cold, on toasted slices of ciabatta or baguette rubbed with a smashed clove of garlic.

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cornmeal-crusted pan-fried tomatoes

The markets here are bursting with red: tomatoes, cherries, plums, beets, nectarines, raspberries, flowers. The tomatoes are from the hothouse and are not the meaty, sweet ones that we’ll have in a few weeks’ time. To bring out the interplay of sweetness and acidity that you expect from fresh summer tomatoes, a quick fry does them wonders. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been eating our fair share of Greek-style salads lately, even though the tomatoes aren’t at their peak. Anything will do after months of tomato-free living.

I don’t recall anyone in my family ever frying green tomatoes. We fried lots of red ones, though. Beefsteak-style tomatoes that have small seed cavities tend to work best here, although you can use any variety of tomato. I recall my grandmother was particularly prone to fry smaller tomatoes, rather than the very largest ones. My guess is that it was probably because the large tomatoes were for slicing, taken straight to the table for eating with a knife and fork and a bit of salt. Eventually smaller ones would make their way to the canner, but during peak season we often had them fried. Granny dredges them straight into flour. Oftentimes I will do the same, especially at breakfast, but for a few more seconds’ work, cornmeal yields a thicker, crispier crust, which provides more contrast to the lushness of the tomato.

I made this batch at breakfast and simply added a bit of grapeseed oil to my bacon drippings. With a double-thick coating of cornmeal on the tomatoes, a couple of fried eggs, a couple of slices of bacon, and some fresh fruit, this makes a fantastic breakfast. At supper with roast chicken or pork chops, and a bowl of cucumbers and onions on the side, ditto. Perhaps not the most virtuous way to consume tomatoes, but let’s not overthink it.

Cornmeal-crusted pan-fried tomatoes

  • 1 large beefsteak type tomato, sliced about 1/4-inch thick, ends included, but stem trimmed away
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal or polenta
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • canola or grapeseed oil for frying, mixed with bacon drippings if you like

1. Crack egg into a pie plate and beat well with a fork. In another pie plate combine cornmeal, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and salt.

2. Pour enough oil into a nonstick skillet to coat the bottom of the pan well. (The oil should be less than 1/4-inche deep.) Warm it over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking.

3. Using a fork, coat first tomato slice in egg. Then coat each side in cornmeal. Coat again in egg and a final time in cornmeal. Place slice in hot oil, carefully, and repeat with remaining tomatoes. Nudge each tomato slice in the pan a bit after about 30 seconds of cooking time; this prevents sticking. Cook tomato slices on first side until dark golden brown. This takes about 5 minutes. Then carefully flip slices to cook the second side until dark golden brown. If tomato isn’t browning well, increase the heat slightly.

4. When tomatoes are dark golden brown, remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Serve immediately, piping hot.

 

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smoky roasted tomato soup

Probably the saddest thing about winter, for me, is the sad state of tomatoes in the grocery store. A few years ago, I started occasionally buying the pallid roma plum tomatoes in the store in the winter, and slow-roasting them for hours in a low oven. These were great on crostini, served with other roasted vegetables, or even made into a sauce. What I learned from this experience is that roasting those awful-looking tomatoes can coax an awful lot of flavor out of them.

When I set out to adapt the technique into soup, I found two recipes that seemed exactly right. This time of year, I only had access to the store-bought plum tomatoes featured in this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, plus I liked the addition of crushed red pepper to give the soup a little more kick. At 101cookbooks, Heidi made the soup during tomato season with nice tomatoes—not my situation. But I loved the variety of vegetables roasted along with the tomatoes, and the addition of smoked paprika to kick up the smoky flavor of the roasted vegetables. Done and done.

Adding bell pepper and onion give the soup unexpected complexity. Next time I make it, I will probably also roast some fennel and add it to the mixture. All the vegetables fit on one baking sheet. Next time I think I’ll double the recipe and use two sheets. We wanted even more of this soup, and I also suspect it would freeze well. The soup, if made with vegetable stock, is vegetarian and vegan, and it has an amazing flavor and creamy richness. I didn’t want the soup to be chunky, so I pureed it until smooth, but you could stop earlier if you wanted a chunkier-style soup. I can’t over-emphasize how quick and easy it is to make this soup if you have the ingredients in advance. Because the flavor is built through roasting, you have none of the usual soup flavor-building process of mirepoix, deglazing, simmering, and so on. You roast the vegetables, puree them, and soup’s on. It’s is a great soup when you want a very healthy and easy supper with just a tossed salad. A few grilled-cheese fingers (a blue cheese would be divine with the smoky paprika) to dunk in the soup wouldn’t be amiss either.

Smoky roasted tomato soup

Inspired by this recipe from smittenkitchen.com and this one from 101cookbooks.

  • 3 lbs plum tomatoes, cored and halved
  • 1/2 yellow onion thickly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, trimmed and quartered
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 to 3 cups of vegetable or light chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Wrap garlic in a small packet of foil and place on baking sheet. Arrange the rest of vegetables on parchment, skin side touching the sheet. Sprinkle salt and drizzle olive oil over vegetables. Place in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 375 F. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes, removing garlic packet after one hour and stirring onions or removing them if necessary to avoid excessive browning.

2. Peel garlic cloves and place in a blender. Add the rest of the roasted vegetables and any juices accumulated on the pan. Add smoked paprika and crushed red pepper, and about 1 cup of stock. Use the blender to puree the mixture until smooth.

3. Pour contents of blender into a large pot. Place over medium heat and add stock until soup reaches desired consistency. Simmer for a few minutes to warm and blend flavors. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve in warm soup bowls.

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late-summer vegetable tian

Right now in Connecticut, we are experiencing this great overlap season where tomatoes are still phenomenally good, and we still have lovely eggplant at the market. We also have potatoes and onions. I don’t know what “tian” means—I suppose it’s just the name of this type of dish, where vegetables are sliced and layered in a pan and set to roast, sometimes under meat and sometimes not. I have seen some recipes involving cheese, but at this time of year I don’t want to mask the rich flavors of the vegetables with anything else.

Nothing could be simpler to make than this dish. If you’re facing a pile of vegetables and don’t want to bother with preparing them all separately, the tian is your answer. The other night I happened to have the four vegetables featured in this recipe, and so this is what I made. Zucchini, squash, and even late-fall root vegetables would all probably be quite good with this treatment. It takes a while for the potatoes, especially, to cook, but this gives the other vegetables time to roast and the tomatoes time to break down a bit.

What I did was make a lamb meatloaf (I did not measure for this but I give directions below if you want to try it) and about 45 minutes into the cooking time, I added the meatloaf straight on top of the tian. You could do this with a roast chicken, a pork roast, or a leg of lamb. But the vegetables are just great all on their own. For leftovers—what little there were—I simply diced everything up and made a hash. It’s nice to find ways to stretch out these last few flavors of summer.

Late-summer vegetable tian

  • 1 lb onions, sliced 1/8″ thick
  • 1 eggplant, about 1 lb, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 1/2 – 2 lb ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 1/2 lb waxy potatoes (boiling type) sliced 1/8″ thick
  • 2 – 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or more of fresh
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Oil your largest, deepest baking dish. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients except for tomato slices . Using your hands, gently toss everything, mixing well with the olive oil. Pour into the dish and move the slices around to form more or less orderly layers of mixtures of vegetables, layering the tomatoes in as you go. Make the final topmost layer of tomato slices.

2. Place tian in the oven. After one hour, check to see if tomatoes are browning and potatoes are nearing doneness. If not, increase temperature to 425 F and return to the oven for 30 minutes more. (My tian took about one and a half hours to cook.) If you are topping it with some type of meat, subtract the approximate cooking time of the meat from 90 minutes and add it at that point. My meatloaf took 45 minutes.)

3. When everything is done and the tomatoes are caramelized a bit, pull the tian from the oven and let it rest 15 minutes before serving.

Lamb meatloaf recipe, gross approximations

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • hunk of bread the size of a tennis ball
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt
  • lots of freshly ground pepper

1. Combine all ingredients EXCEPT lamb in the bowl of a food processor. Process until fairly smooth.

2. Place lamb in a large mixing bowl, add the processed ingredients. Mix with your hands. Cook on top of tian for 35-45 minutes (depending on thickness of meatloaf shape), until the top is nicely browned and the internal temperature is 155 F.

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fresh tomato + ricotta pasta

This dish is really amazing. I have to tell you how I learned to make it. When I was running a student farm at a boarding school in Delaware, I spent the summers (when the students weren’t there) picking bushels of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, everything you can imagine—plus irrigating, fighting weeds, pests, you name it. During the school year the kids worked their tails off out there (mostly), but in the summers, my dad and I spent all of our time outside of our day jobs tending to this 2-acre plot on the school’s grounds.

The faculty home nearest the garden was that of one of the school’s biology teachers and the school’s librarian and their two children. Dad and I would pawn off a lot of vegetables on them, which they always generously and happily accepted. One day Carol-Ann invited me over for lunch at the peak of tomato season. She was a terrific cook, so of course I said yes—and luckily for me, her Italian family had taught her to make this dish. I watched her moving around the kitchen doing all the tasks necessary for the meal in short order, in a concerted fashion with a sure hand. I still remember how it tasted, sitting in her kitchen that hot summer day with her family, including her mom and dad. It was like all of that work in the garden was suddenly and serendipitously worthwhile.

Now that I live in New Haven, where we’re lucky to have a large Italian community, I have access to the most amazing ricotta cheese ever. I sometimes take a tub of it out of the refrigerator and eat it with a spoon. (Though if asked in public I may deny this.) It’s great on the side of a regular salad, with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper, and a sprinkle of salt on it. But in this dish, it is transformed into something ethereal and life-changing. So if you live in New Haven, get your ricotta from Liuzzi. If not, try to find a great cheesemaker. And of course, there’s been tons of buzz on the food Internet lately about making your own. But most importantly, with tomatoes at their late-season peak, don’t miss out on this dish. And share this simple pleasure with someone, just like Carol-Ann shared it with me.

Fresh tomato + ricotta pasta

  • 1 1/2 lbs ultra-ripe plum tomatoes, chopped into small bite-size pieces
  • 2 teaspoons fleur de sel (less of kosher salt and even less of table salt, or to taste)
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 bunch of basil, chopped finely
  • 1 lb linguine, or tube or shell-shaped pasta

1. Place tomatoes and salt in a colander in the sink. Toss and let drain while doing everything else for the dish. Toss them around occasionally with a spatula or spoon to redistribute the salt and let the juices drain.

2. Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Just when it’s finishing, scoop out a cup of the pasta cooking water in case you need it.Drain the pasta.

3. In the pasta pot, which is now dry and empty, put the drained, cooked pasta, tomatoes, and ricotta. Use tongs or a spatula (depending on whether you have noodles or shapes) to combine really well. Use the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce up a bit if it’s too sticky or dry.

4. Serve pasta topped generously with basil, and if you like, pass a hard Italian cheese for grating. You might like a grind or two of black pepper as well.

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tomatoes + butter + onion = sauce

I know, I know. This recipe is definitely proof that the world does not need another food blog, most especially mine. Everyone in the Food World, as it were, has posted this recipe. I guarantee I will not be the last. But I have to post it anyway, because it is so delicious and because it is quite timely. This is the time of year in Connecticut where you walk into farmstands and markets and find ridiculously large baskets of plum tomatoes for ridiculously low prices. They’re so tempting, those buxom, bursting little jezebels of the vegetable world.

With a minimum of trouble, this recipe will allow you to use one of those big baskets of tomatoes and preserve that fresh summer taste for sauce throughout the winter. I wound up at Bishop’s Orchards the other day and bought a basket with about 16 pounds of tomatoes, yielding 20 cups of sauce. Not a bad deal and it was an easy afternoon’s work. Even though we think of sauce as tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, maybe some wine, some basil, and who knows what else, if you have fresh end-of-season, overripe plum tomatoes, none of that ornamentation is necessary. I frequently wax poetic about my Italian cooking sage, and sometime taskmaster, Marcella Hazan. This recipe is further proof that her orthodoxy does have its payoff.

Lucky me, a friend had recently been to Amish country in Pennsylvania, and had generously brought me a pound of their lovely farm butter. Salty and slightly cultured, I knew the butter would be the perfect match in my batch of sauce. I used 10 ounces of it, and I must say that such a quantity of butter never met a more pleasant and purposeful end.  The butter in this sauce rounds out the acidity of the tomatoes perfectly, yet you would never characterize the sauce as buttery. It does cling beautifully to the pasta, though, and this must be at least in part due to the butter. I will not pry too far into the mysteries of this sauce, however. Just try it for yourself and you will feel the same unquestioning devotion.

Tomato sauce with butter + onions

From Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking

To make lots and freeze:

  • 8 pounds plum tomatoes, washed
  • 10 ounces fresh butter (20 tablespoons)
  • 4 medium yellow onions, halved

To make one batch for supper:

  • 2 lbs plum tomatoes, washed
  • 5 tablespoons fresh butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved

Instructions for any quantity:

1. Place a clean dishpan filled with ice and water in the sink. Place a large bowl or measuring cup (12 cups or more for large quantity recipe) next to the sink. Heat a stock pot (or several) with water until it comes to a rolling boil. Add tomatoes to the boiling water and return to boil for just 1 minute. Scoop tomatoes out and place immediately in ice water bath. Pour boiling water down the drain. Remove tomatoes from ice water and slip skins off, place in large bowl or measuring cup until all tomatoes are peeled.

2. In one of the large pots you used for boiling tomatoes, which is now empty, place the peeled tomatoes plus butter and halved onions. (If you need to divide tomatoes between two pots, be sure to measure them out evenly and divide butter and onion evenly among the two pots.) Bring to a boil and then turn back to a bare simmer. Stir occasionally and simmer 45 minutes, or until beads of fat appear on the surface of the sauce. Use the back of the spoon to break up large pieces of tomato.

3. Remove onion halves from sauce. Use a potato masher to obtain a pulpy sauce-like consistency. Taste and adjust for salt. (I used 3 teaspoons of kosher salt for the larger amount, but taste first as the quantity you’ll need depends on your butter!)

4. If using immediately, toss with pasta cooked al dente. If freezing, cool sauce to room temperature and put it in freezer bags. (I used 1-quart bags and put 3 cups sauce in each.)

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