Good winter tomatoes!

First, disclosure:  I have no connection with NatureSweet tomatoes except Cherub-10-5oz-MPv2that I eat them–all winter, and even in the summer; no remuneration or other consideration–they just taste good, they are good for me, and make great snacks while working.  And did I say that they taste good–every variety that I’ve tried. So I’m using the brand name because I’ve not found any other ones comparable.  Grape tomatoes are readily available and better than most winter tomatoes, but none have been as good as this particular brand.  And non-GMO too.  And bumble-bee pollinated!

Until I discovered these, winter meant canned tomatoes or no tomatoes.  The Cherubs (grape tomatoes) were the first ones that I discovered at my local Harris Teeter supermarket at least a year ago and I have been noshing on those since that first taste.   Over the past year, I’ve discovered other 20190105_191244-1NatureSweet tomatoes:  Sunbursts (deep yellow), Constellation (a mix of different kinds)–all with excellent flavor. I’m sure you wondering why I’m posting this now.

I just discovered another kind of NatureSweet tomatoes:  Twilights.  I don’t know if they are new in the store, or I just had not seen them before.  Whenever I can find heirloom tomatoes in the summer I gravitate to the Cherokee Purple, Black Krimm, and the like because I think there is something special about the flavor.  It’s just not the same flavor as red, pink or yellow tomatoes; or Green Zebras, or any others that I can think of.

When I saw these I just had to try them.  (These are just about actual size.)  They have the flavor of the dark heirloom tomatoes–tomato-y, some sweet, some tart–good balance of flavor–very similar to the big heirlooms.  I’m amazed to find something so good in the supermarket especially in the winter.  Happiness!

Twilights-Master

A son gôut!

 

—Ô¿Ô—

Advertisements

angel hair pasta with raw tomato sauce

I’ve always like angel hair pasta with a very light, fresh sauce. Since it’s tomato season, at least for a bit yet, I wanted to share this one–The recipes (and commentary) from this blog (Smitten Kitchen) are always good–and this is SO easy.  I’ve found that angel hair pasta cooks so well in the microwave pasta cooker which means no hot steamy, boiling pot in the  kitchen in this hot weather.

Enjoy!

angel hair pasta with raw tomato sauce from the Smitten Kitchen.

. . . more Ratatouille (Provençal vegetables)

dark purple eggplantRatatouille is a summer dish that gets us over the hump of too many zucchini, and maybe tomatoes. It’s enjoyable warm, cold, or room temperature–but it’s not an especially memorable dish.  Not usually–however, I’ve one recipe for it that is memorable.This is not the ratatouille that you put together in the slow cooker, or quickly; however, if you like ratatouille, you should take the time and effort to make this one. Go ahead and splurge on the saffron.That’s part of what makes this memorable.

The recipe from Simply French: Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joël Robuchon (see bibliography) gave entirely new meaning to ratatouille.

Provençal Vegetables (Ratatouille)

Adapted from Simply French, pp. 229-230. Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 10 medium tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions finely chopped
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 green bell pepper, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Bouquet garni: several parsley stems, celery leaves, sprigs thyme, wrapped in the green part of a leek and fastened with kitchen twine
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • Freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 6 to 7 small zucchini scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into matchsticks (about 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 small eggplants peeled and cut into matchsticks (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • Pinch of saffron threads (optional)

Preparation

  1.  Core, peel, and seed the tomatoes. Save as much juice as possible and strain. If strained juice does not measure 1 cup, add water as needed to bring to 1 cup. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, combine onions, 1/4 cup oil, and pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until soft and translucent.
  3. Add peppers and pinch salt. Cover and continue cooking about 5 minutes more.ÒΛÓ
  4. Add chopped tomatoes, stir and continue cooking for about 5 minutes more.
  5. Stir in the tomato juice, bouquet garni, and garlic.  Taste for seasoning.
  6. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes–don’t over cook–vegetables should not be mushy!
  7. If the tomatoes lack flavor, add tomato paste.
  8. In another skillet, while the tomatoes, onions and seasonings cook, heat 1/2 cup oil over moderate heat. When hot add zucchini and sauté until lightly colored (about 5 minutes). Transfer to colander and drain excess oil. Season with thyme and salt.
  9. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil and sauté the eggplant until lightly colored. Transfer to colander and drain excess oil.
  10. Add zucchini and eggplant to the tomato mixture and taste for seasoning, add saffron if desired, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
  11. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Will keep covered and refrigerated for several days.

ÒüÓ

This is not you everyday, get rid of the zucchini, ratatouille. It’s special occasion, peak tomato season, and it take time and effort, but if you invest the time and effort, I think you’ll agree that it is a fantastic dish. This best made when tomatoes are at their peak–you don’t want to expend this effort and use canned tomatoes or supermarket ones that have no flavor–that would be a waste of effort. Neither the tomato paste nor the saffron can overcome that deficit.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella

Hot weather, summertime, tomatoes, and panzanella is just a natural.  It’s worth looking for heirloom tomatoes to make this salad. There are so many different flavors–it’s not just “tomato”.

This post from Savory Simple brings up an issue that we should all be aware of: we are moving toward homogeneous taste as we give up the heirloom varieties.  Check out Save the Flavors and Seeds of Change.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella.

Ratatouille (slow-cooker)

vegetables for ratatouilleDuring the summer abundance of eggplant, squash, and tomatoes  we’re often in the OMG-what-can-I-do-with-these-zucchini mode. Ratatouille and caponata  provide some good eating even when the hot weather has rather killed the appetite. I thought that being able to do this in the slow-cooker instead of stove-top would be an advantage in sweltering weather that is already taxing the A/C without adding more heat.

It’s easy to find ratatouille recipes–a quick search on the internet will provide a plethora.  The question:  are they  “good” recipes”?  I’m not sure I can tell you what (specifically) tells me “good”, “passable”, or “oh yuk”.  Most likely past experience, and reading a lot of food science, and (from America’s Test Kitchen) “why this recipe works”.

Here is a ratatouille recipe given by a friend, from Food.com, reproduced below. I’ve never made ratatouille in a slow cooker so I thought this was worth trying. In reading the recipe, I had only a couple questions, so I decided to make the recipe as directed–well, almost–as much as I can–I’m just a compulsive tinkerer, and constitutionally unable to follow a recipe strictly, but almost.  ratatouille ingredientsLooking at the recipe, I knew I’d want more garlic. Had I not been using part frozen peppers (from a Kitchen Disaster), I would not use green peppers–I prefer ripe (red, yellow, or orange) like them. I’m changing the herbs to thyme and oregano,  rather than basil (for reasons explained below in Cook’s notes).  My other question about this recipe had to do with that quantity of tomato paste. Why?

When I started the prep, I was still undecided about the tomato paste.  My inclination was to leave it out because this is an “all fresh” dish, and (to me) tomato paste tastes canned and cooked. Since this does not call for the tomato paste to be added until later, my obvious solution is to wait and see how it tastes, especially since these are summer tomatoes. If  I were wanting to supplement the “tomato” part of the flavor I would likely add some sun-dried tomatoes, rather than tomato paste–unless there is a dearth of “umami” (which is one of my reservations about slow-cooker dishes).

Slow Cooker Ratatouille (Food.com)

The modifications that I made on this recipe on the first round are shown in parentheses after the ingredient. These were just to meet my seasoning preferences, not for any other reason.  Don’t hold this on “warm”–it just doesn’t do well.

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes–about 3 medium
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 large red bell peppers or 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil (substitute 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon Turkish oregano)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (4 garlic cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (held until end as I think it gets bitter with long cooking)
  • 1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (5 1/2 ounce) cans pitted ripe olives, drained and chopped coarsely (oil cured black olives)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (substitute chopped fresh oregano)

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt; let stand in a colander 1/2- 1 hour to drain.
  2. Press out excess moisture.
  3. Rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Place the eggplant in crock pot.
  5. Add onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, olive oil, basil, garlic, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Cover and cook on high setting about 3 hours or until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape.
  8. Stir in the tomato paste, olives, and the fresh basil.
  9. Serve hot, room temperature or chilled.

Notes:  Being of scientific orientation, I decided to do an experiment–half the recipe is cooked as above; and the other half cooked separately, with modifications after I had tasted the results of the original method. First, I had to cook for an additional hour–I thought my rice cooker/slow cooker ran rather hot, but not according to this.  After tasting I did add the tomato paste as the tomato flavor was not at all pronounced, but I think the tomato paste (unless browned before adding) doesn’t add the depth I want. I needed more salt (which kind of surprised me because I don’t usually need to add much. Oregano and thyme needed to be bumped up as did the garlic. Those minor things were done to the first batch. So far the onions  have stayed crispy and I think I’d prefer them a bit softer so maybe microwave them before putting into the slow cooker (that had to wait because they were already mixed with the other vegetables). This came out with more juice than I’d expected.

Now for the second batch. I’m adding more olives, more garlic (sliced rather than pressed), some red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon) for a little zing (but not a lot of heat), and sun-dried tomatoes (instead of tomato paste), a bay leaf, and increasing the oregano and thyme. Instead of increasing salt, I’m going to add just a touch of nam pla (fish sauce)–or an anchovy fillet mashed would work. This is not intended to make it at all fishy just more flavorful. This needs to be stirred after an hour so that the bottom veggies don’t mush and the top be a bit undercooked. Check for doneness–don’t just trust the time. I prefer my veggies cooked but with a little “tooth” to them, so in my slow cooker this finishes in about 2 hours. I like this one as there’s no added liquid, except the dash of nam pla and what the veggies give off. Minced fresh oregano added the last 15 minutes of cooking leaves it very fresh tasting.

Bottom line: this is quick and works if you want a very light ratatouille, not complex ratatouille.  I don’t want my ratatouille over whelmed with herbs and garlic, but I’d like to make it a bit more complex, or layered flavor–maybe it needs a little more umami It has the advantage of being very quick to assemble.

Ò¿Ó

As you likely know if you’ve read other posts, I’m somewhat partial to recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.  When the published Slow Cooker Revolution I had to check it out.  I was hoping that those recipes would improve my attitude to (and increase use of ) my slow cooker. There’s no denying it’s convenience, but generally I’ve simply not been happy with the results when compared with oven or stove-top methods.

A comparison of America’s Test Kitchen recipe with the one above is interesting. One of my “complaints” is that their recipes sometimes  seem more complicated–though they do increase flavor.  The recipe below is from the Slow Cooker Revolution (Kindle edition). This is the recipe that inspired me to try the one above.  The cooking instructions are quite extensive so I’m only going to summarize them for purposes of comparison. I’m trying to find a compromise of best flavor and easy preparation.

Slow-cooker ratatouille (America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggplants (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 zucchini (1-1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preparation

  1. Brown eggplant, half at a time, in olive oil (5 to 7 minutes), and transfer each batch to slow cooker.
  2. Brown zucchini, half at a time, in olive oil, transferring each batch to slow cooker.
  3. Cook onions, bell peppers, garlic, and thyme until softened and lightly browned (8 to 10 minutes), stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in reserved tomato juice, scrape up browned  bits, and smooth out lumps, and transfer to slow cooker.
  4. Stir tomatoes into slow cooker, close and cook until vegetables are tender (4 to 6 hours).
  5. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Notes:  The time it takes to brown the vegetables really is not that long, so it’s worth the extra flavor. It’s a drastic difference, even when you add some umami-hyping ingredients to the Food.com recipe.

The differences here are, notably, the use of flour to thicken, the lack of tomato paste, and the preparation of the eggplant. One of my reasons for trying the recipe from Food.com is the handling of the eggplant, with the idea that salting to remove fluid might eliminate the need for flour–I doubt that you’d know there was flour in this recipe simply by tasting.

After tasting the first batch of the recipe from Food.com with the adjustments noted in Notes, it’s a keeper for simplicity. The America’s Test Kitchen is a bit richer since you’ve browned the veggies. Either is good–depends on the time and effort you want (or have) to invest.

. . . a son goût

Ö¿Ö

cooked ratatouille

?

Lentil & couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, mint and goat cheese

As you can tell, I like lentils!  And tomatoes.

It’s getting to the kind of weather where I begin to think about “salads” for hot-weather meals.   I know it’s a bit early for this since tomatoes not  ready to pick yet.  While I was writing about lentils, shortly after planting some tomato seeds (Black Krim, Japanese Black Trifle, Black Pearl, Brandywine, Indigo…..) I couldn’t help but think of this salad with some anticipation as I planted the Black Pearl cherry tomato seeds.

Lentil & Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint and Goat Cheese

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Gourmet 1995, retrieved from Gourmet on Epicurious with a few changes from me.  (This is a great place to browse for salad inspirations.  You don’t need to follow the recipes–just look at the ingredients and make a salad.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or brown lentils (or any small lentil that will hold its shape well)
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar  (The original recipe calls for white wine vinegar–but I prefer sherry; use what you have at hand.)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (spearmint, rather than peppermint)
  • 1 bunch arugula, stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry, and chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Preparation

  • Cook the lentils in a small pan, covered by about 2 inches of water until tender but not getting mushy.  The lentilles du Puy cook more slowly than other varieties, so if you substitute, watch them carefully to keep from over-cooking them.  My preference is for the french, Spanish brown, or black lentils instead of the brown.
  • When tender, drain well and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Prepare the couscous:  bring water to a boil and couscous and salt (use the package directions).  Remove from heat and let stand until the water is absorbed.  Fluff and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil and cool.
  • Dressing:  Whisk together the garlic paste, remaining vinegar (to taste), and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils and dressing to the couscous and mix well. Chill well–about 2 or 3 hours.
  • Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the mint leaves.

One problem I’ve found is that the cherry tomatoes can give off a lot of liquid and make this salad too juicy.  I like to toss the halved cherry tomatoes with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and let them stand in a colander for about 15 or 20 minutes before I add them  to avoid the excess juice.  This doesn’t make them “salty”–but do taste before you add the last salt to taste.  This will hold well in the fridge for about 24 hours if you’ve  gotten some of the excess liquid from the cherry tomatoes.

My favorite garnish for this is crispy slices of European style cucumbers and crispy, crunchy radishes on the side as well.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes

When you’re just getting thoroughly tired of winter–about late November or  very early January–the seed catalogs start to appear in the mail box.  You spend hours happily looking through them and anticipating planting seed.  There are all those gorgeous pictures and the descriptions.  For me this is especially a problem with tomatoes.  So, every year I end up wanting something new–in addition to those heirlooms that I always want (Black Krim, Cherokee Purple). Last year my new addition was a Japanese Black Trifle.  It’s now become one of the regulars, and is close to replacing the Black Krim because it tastes wonderful and produces more tomatoes.

This past winter the tomato that aroused my curiosity most was an Indigo Rose, described in Johnny’s Select Seeds as a cocktail sized tomato, dark purple because of the anthocyanins (anti-oxidants) which develop in areas of the skin exposed to direct sunlight. To further titillate, it was described as ” good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Moderately vigorous. Compact indeterminate. Organically grown.”  Now, who could possibly resist that in the midst of grey skies and cold rain?  Yes, I ordered some seeds.

Sprays of unripe Indigo Rose Tomatoes on the vine

unripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

Now we are harvesting them from the garden and fields–the acid test, so to speak.  I’ll concede that they are moderately vigorous, compact indeterminate, and very striking when you see them in the garden even when unripe the purple anthocyanin pigment is really obvious.

As they ripen to red (thus, the “Rose”, I guess) they really are lovely–impressive to be perfectly honest about it.

The very first ones that I tasted left me somewhat ambivalent about the taste–maybe I  tried them before that were appropriately ripe, or maybe I just like a different style of tomatoes–anyhow, there were different opinions.

Ripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

ripe Indigo Rose on the vine

Now that I’ve tasted some that I’m sure are really ripe, and tried them in several different ways, other than just eaten out of hand, I’m more interested in exploring different things to do with them.

I have to say that they are not going to make it on to my bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich–not nearly tart enough to stand up to the really good dry cured kind of bacon that I like to put on my BLTs.  (I would put a Black Krim, or a Japanese Black Trifele, or a Brandy Boy on my BLT, though.) But–there are lots of tomatoes that I really like for different uses that don’t make it onto the BLT either–so no strike against the Indigo Rose for that reason.

My impression eating them out of hand is that they are a very low acid tomato.  Usually I prefer higher acid tomatoes–a balance of tomato-tart and tomato-sweet.  So this is not going to be my choice of tomato for my sloppy, eat-over-the-sink-with-mayo tomato sandwich (which needs to be on white bread, too, by the way!) either.

But–one of my other summer favorites is insalata Caprese.  One of the fun things to do when making this salad is to have different kinds of tomatoes–lots of visual appeal–like Green or Red Zebras, some pink, some purple–whatever!  I tried these with the fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil, and just a tiny drizzle of a good balsamic vinegar.  The sweet-tartness of the balsamic really showed the sweet tomato flavor of the Indigo Rose tomatoes.  I did not (I know Indigo rose tomatoes in basket after pickingit’s heresy, but I did not) put basil on this salad–I used Syrian oregano, and it was a lovely salad.

For more taste and visual contrast I might combine these with an orange or yellow (also lower acid) tomato, but not with high acid tomatoes–I think that would just make the Indigo Rose ones taste bland–but that’s the next experiment!  A reason to go tomato shopping at the Wake Forest Farmers’ market tomorrow.

Another way that I’d like to try them is slowly oven-roasted to concentrate the flavors–I think that will really bring out the sweet, plummy flavor–again another experiment.  They are a good size to use in green salads, but I’d want a pretty mellow vinaigrette with them–maybe just extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.