Let’s face it, this has been a cool, wet summer in Central Alberta.
Crops are late, and we’re not talking about the canola. We’re talking about the Number One reason people keep a backyard garden — for the tomatoes.
People who have been praying all season for just a little more warmth to bring their plants along are now hoping for a prolonged late-summer warm spell, so that those juicy little bombs of flavour can ripen on the vine.
The early varieties should be turning from green to gold to brilliant red by now, so it’s time to prepare for that moment of celebration — when they start coming into the house by the boxload, and you can start cooking.
You say tomato, they say pomodoro.
And when they say it, they mean it. That’s because the Italians are champions of simple, classically delicious ways of using fresh tomatoes. And they should be; they’ve been cultivating them for hundreds of years.
One of the many basic ways they prepare garden-fresh tomatoes is in a pomodoro sauce made with basil and garlic tossed with pasta. This pasta is just that, noodles and tomatoes, a dish that embodies the core philosophy of Italian food — letting just a few perfectly ripe ingredients shine.
I recently returned from a cooking expedition to Italy where I learned how to prepare pomodoro sauce from those who know best — Italian mothers and grandmothers.
One particular day sticks in my mind. I was getting ready to do what I always do — smash garlic cloves by laying the flat side of a knife on top of them and lightly whacking it with the palm of my hand. As I got ready to give the garlic a good slam, the Italian mama cooking with me, named Lucia, screamed “No!” so loud you could hear her in France.
Then she explained that the garlic for the pomodoro sauce had to be sliced.
I didn’t know why until I tasted her pomodoro sauce. It blew me away. The sliced garlic, sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil to almost dark brown but not burned, imparted a taste explosion in my mouth that you just can’t get from the usual ways of preparing and tossing garlic into a dish.
So when you make this recipe, do not chop the garlic. Do not press the garlic. Do not smash or whack the garlic. And by all means, do not use that pre-diced stuff in the jar. If you do any of the above, you have performed an illegal operation.
Do take the time to find fresh tomatoes, ripe ones, from the vine. Now is the perfect time to go out and search for them, either from your own garden, or from those that supply your local farmers market.
Any variety of tomato works in this recipe as long as they are very ripe. I prefer small tomatoes, such as cherry, pear or grape, because they can be tossed right in, skins and all. For larger tomatoes, peel them first, then chop them.
This recipe takes no more than 30 minutes to get on the table. The best sauce, I discovered after years of sauce-making, is the least cooked.
• Don’t stir or toss the pasta with tongs as they tend to break the noodles.
• If the noodles are not cooked enough to your liking, simply add a little more pasta water and cook longer in the pan with the sauce.
• If you can’t find kamut spaghetti, use any shape of kamut pasta. And if you can’t find kamut pasta, brown rice or whole-wheat varieties are fine.
15 ml (1 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes (peperoncino)
16 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces, divided
1 l (4 cups) very ripe grape tomatoes (about 80 grape tomatoes)
250 g (8 oz) dry kamut spaghetti
Ground black pepper, to taste
30 ml (1 oz) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated, divided
In a large pot, bring 6 l (24 cups) of water to a boil. Add 30 ml (2 tbsp) of salt.
In a large non-stick skillet over medium-low, heat 7 ml (1/2 tbsp) of the oil. Add garlic slices and toast, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Watch closely so garlic doesn’t burn.
Increase heat to medium, add red pepper flakes and half of the basil leaves. Cook for 30 seconds, then add tomatoes.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente according to package directions, usually about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, toss grape tomatoes in skillet and cook for about 5 minutes or until they start to blister and the skins pop. Mash tomatoes gently with a potato masher or fork to make a pulp, then turn off heat. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.
Drain pasta, reserving 50 ml (1/4 cup) of the cooking water. Add drained pasta and reserved pasta water to tomato mixture. Increase heat to medium-high. Add half of the cheese. Cook for about 2 minutes or until sauce begins to cling to noodles, using a heat-resistant rubber spatula to toss pasta to coat evenly.
Add remaining basil and olive oil and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide pasta among 4 plates and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Makes 4 servings.
Rocco DiSpirito is author of the Now Eat This! and Now Eat This! Diet cookbooks.
Best Fried Green Tomatoes
Can’t wait for your garden crop to ripen before beginning the harvest? Classic fried green tomatoes give you that first taste of homegrown gold.
You can also fry up red tomatoes with this recipe but make sure they are not over ripe or they will be mushy. Serve these tomatoes outside with a glass of iced tea one summer night and enjoy the sunset with someone you love.
4 large green tomatoes
1/2 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 quart vegetable oil for frying
Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
Whisk eggs and milk together in a medium-size bowl. Scoop flour onto a plate. Mix cornmeal, bread crumbs and salt and pepper on another plate. Dip tomatoes into flour to coat. Then dip the tomatoes into milk and egg mixture. Dredge in breadcrumbs to completely coat.
In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and heat over a medium heat. Place tomatoes into the frying pan in batches of 4 or 5, depending on the size of your skillet. Do not crowd the tomatoes, they should not touch each other. When the tomatoes are browned, flip and fry them on the other side. Drain them on paper towels.
— Diana Swenson-Siegel/allrecipies.com
Grilled Avocado Sandwich
Very little in this world surpasses the flavour of perfectly vine-ripened tomatoes. so savour them in their natural state — raw, and sliced into a sandwich. This avocado, tomato and cheese sandwich is a nutritious and well-balanced lunch or light supper option.
4 slices cheddar cheese
8 slices whole-wheat or whole-grain bread
1 ripe fresh avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced
1 medium tomato, sliced
4 slices red onion
Chili sauce, to taste
4 slices Monterey Jack cheese
Olive oil cooking spray
Place 4 bread slices on a work surface. On each, place a slice of cheddar cheese, a layer of avocado, tomato and onion slices. Add chili sauce to taste. Top with Monterey Jack cheese and finish with remaining bread slices.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spray skillet with olive oil cooking spray. Place sandwiches in skillet and cook until bread is browned. Turn and cook until cheese has melted. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.
Source: California Avocado Commission.
Salmon Tomato Cups
As we greet the local tomato crop, here is a wonderful recipe for luncheons or light suppers. This rendition uses campari tomatoes which are larger than a cherry and yet smaller than a field tomato. If not available, choose smaller field varieties.
6 campari tomatoes
2 cans (each 170 g) skinless boneless salmon, drained and flaked
125 ml (1/2 cup) sour cream or light sour cream
15 ml (1 tbsp) dried oregano
125 ml (1/2 cup) kalamata black olives, pitted and chopped
Cut tomatoes in half width-wise to make 12 tomato halves. (If desired, use a serrated knife to cut off the stem end of each tomato and a tiny bit off the bottom so the tomato halves will stand.) Remove seeds using teaspoon or a small melon baller to form tomato cups. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, blend salmon, sour cream, oregano and olives.
Mound salmon into tomato cups and serve by themselves or over mixed greens, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 170 calories; 16 g protein; 9 g fat; 7 g carbohydrate; 2 g fibre; 410 mg sodium.
Source: Clover Leaf.
Story and photos with files from Canadian Press and Advocate news services.