Friday, August 26, 2011

Confessions of a Tomatophile

The truth of the matter is -- and I tell you this, internets, in the strictest confidence -- I used to feel decidedly ambivalent about tomatoes. In the sense that, when I saw a tomato, I would often astutely remark: "EWWW, tomatoes." I was young at the time, and prone to sweeping culinary generalizations. Loud and sweeping. I was very young, after all. This was several months ago, at least.

No, seriously, I really didn't like tomatoes as a child, and after two to three minutes of soul-searching, I have decided it wasn't my fault. Because they were square, mass-produced, supermarket tomatoes bred to be shipped rather than eaten, without a trace of that amazingly addictive ripe-tomato aroma, and without a trace of the corresponding taste. Tomatoes to me were kind of sour, often mealy, reddish things that were apparently Good For You. I did not meet a real, fragrant, vine-ripened, glowing tomato until much later. And once I did, I announced (loudly, and with perhaps a modest hint of my old tendency toward sweeping generalization): "TOMATOES ARE THE MOST AMAZING WONDERFUL THING EVER IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM POSSIBLY GALAXY OR UNIVERSE HEY PUT THAT DOWN YES I AM PLANNING TO EAT ALL OF THESE GO GET YOUR OWN SALAD INGREDIENT."

This year, we are actually growing our very own tomatoes for the first time, which may or may not mean that I have been spending large portions of the summer seated cross-legged on the concrete next to them peering at them anxiously and muttering things like "Come on bee, go pollinate the flower. No, over here. Over here, stupid bee! Bee! Where are you going??" and "This stupid tomato plant doesn't even have any tomatoes. I think it's a dud. Maybe we should just pull it out" and "A TOMATO A TOMATO THERE'S A TOMATO" and "C'mon, stupid tomato, get red! Why won't this tomato get red?" and "LOOK AT ALL THE RED TOMATOES!!!!!!!!!!"

When you find yourself with fresh, fragrant, perfectly ripe tomatoes from your garden or farmers' market or CSA box, you can do many things, but here is the simplest and possibly still our very favorite.

Perfectly ripe, fragrant tomatoes
Good-quality olive oil
Kosher salt
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into wedges or slices. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for at least five minutes, and preferably 10-20 before serving (the salt draws out the flavor of the tomatoes). You can also sprinkle them with balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper, and/or fresh basil leaves (whole or chiffonade).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Science. Also Chickpeas.

This just in: Put down the low-fat chips, and step away from the uber-processed diet food. According to recent animal research published in Behavioral Neuroscience (and nicely summarized here), laboratory rats that were fed potato chips made with a fat substitute later gained more weight, compared to otherwise identical animals that ate the regular, high-fat potato chips. The researchers point out that our bodies use taste as a cue to expect calories. When those calories don't arrive (because the food has been made with fat or sugar substitutes), it can short-circuit our bodies' natural ability to regulate caloric intake, resulting in overeating later on.

Just the latest in an ever-growing body of research supporting the basic thesis that we're built for eating whole foods.

Speaking of which, we found fresh chickpeas in our CSA box a couple of weeks ago. You may recall my surprise last year upon discovering that home-cooked chickpeas were so much tastier than their canny cousins. Well, this was kind of like that. In the sense that, if you ever find fresh chickpeas, you should immediately do the following:

1. Get them.

2. Shell them. (This is easy. Nothing like fava beans.)

3. Cook them. (Because they're fresh, rather than dried, they cook quickly, in just a few minutes. We cooked ours with spinach, a little garlic, cumin, paprika, rosemary, and thyme, adapting one of our favorite Spanish recipes from a Penelope Casas cookbook).

4. Eat them.

5. If necessary, use your fork to defend your plate from any greedy dining companions.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shaved Summer Squash Salad

This is an easy, elegant, and flexible recipe that has us addicted even after weeks of cooking summer squash. The amounts and proportions are flexible, too -- you can do this with a single zucchini for a light, cool garnish to complement a heavier main course, or use the equivalent of 1-2 medium-sized zucchini per person for a side salad. The Parmesan can be adjusted to taste -- I like making shavings that are about an inch long and scattering enough of them so that there's about one in every other bite.

Summer squash
Good-quality Parmesan cheese
Small handful flat leaf parsley or fresh tarragon, chopped
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
Optional: A couple handfuls of baby arugula, a slice of prosciutto, halved cherry tomatoes for garnish

Wash and dry the summer squash, trim the ends, and then slice very thinly (one easy way to do this is to use a carrot peeler to shave off thin slices from one trimmed end of the squash to the other). Next, shave a few pieces of Parmesan per salad (you can use the peeler again here).

Whisk about three parts olive oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice together in a bowl to form an emulsion. Add salt, black pepper, and the fresh herb to taste.

Drizzle enough vinaigrette over the squash slices to lightly coat, and toss gently (add the arugula here if you're using it). Adjust ingredients to taste. Arrange on plates, sprinkle with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sauteed Green Beans with Balsamic Reduction

I may have cast some texture-related aspersions in the general direction of green beans awhile back, and feel compelled to clarify.


I have always loved green beans (since at least three or four days ago). Their texture is not squeaky (when made as follows) and they are completely addictive (when tossed with a balsamic reduction) and I love them (when they are not squeaky and when they are tossed with a balsamic reduction).

There. Now I can heap a good six servings of these on my plate without feeling quite so hypocritical.

Olive oil
1 clove garlic, slivered
2 big handfuls green beans*
Chicken broth
Balsamic vinegar
8-10 basil leaves, chiffonade
Freshly ground black pepper


Heat a glug of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or so until it softens a bit, then add the green beans and a pinch of salt and toss to combine. Let the beans sit in the pan for a minute or two, then toss and let them sit again until they start to brown a little on at least one side.

Add a slosh of broth (start with a couple tablespoons or so -- just enough to create some steam) and cover the pan immediately. Let the beans steam for a couple of minute, then check them for tenderness and repeat if necessary.

When the beans are al dente, uncover the pan and boil off any remaining broth. Add about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the side of the pan and allow it to simmer for a few seconds until it starts to thicken, then turn off the heat and toss the beans to coat. About half the volume of the vinegar will steam off, leaving just the sweet reduction.

Add the basil and a little black pepper, toss to coat evenly, and serve.

Serves 2 as an easy side dish, and works well for broccoli, too (with or without the basil). You can also substitute white wine for the broth, which will give the dish just a hint of tartness instead of being sweet.

*Unless your hands are unreasonably large, in which case you should ask someone with reasonably-sized hands to measure for you. This is primarily directed at a certain oversized husband who tends to unintentionally double all my hand-based measurement approximations when left to his own devices.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Grilled Peach Salad with Rosemary Vinaigrette

We took a cooking class at our co-op recently and finally learned how to grill peaches. This is important, because as far as we can tell, there was Life Before Grilled Peaches and then there is now. (Now is decidedly better, as time periods go. We have thought carefully about this, while a breeze scented with caramelized peaches wafts from the grill, and while gazing at grilled peaches, and while eating them. Mouths full, hyperventilating slightly from the big gulps of peach-scented air, we say to each other "Mrahmaba gralled pashas." And it's true. Gralled pashas are certainly mrahmaba. Just make some. You'll see.)

Here is what you do: Find some peaches that are ripe but fairly firm -- they should be fragrant, yielding a bit to pressure from your thumb, but not yet very soft. Cut each one in half along the seam (which I'm sure is not what it's actually called on a fruit, but you know what I mean). Remove the pit.

Preheat your grill to 500 degrees.* Set each peach half cut-side down in a plate of sugar, then lay face up on a plate or cutting board (or sprinkle the cut side with a little sugar, if you prefer to use a bit less). This helps the peaches caramelize later on the grill.

When the grill is hot, brush with olive oil, and place each peach half cut-side down, oriented so that the grill marks will go crosswise (perpendicular to where the seam was). Grill for 5-7 minutes until there are golden grill marks along the underside. To prevent the peaches from sticking, you can move them back and forth just a bit every couple minutes (so that they slide along the grooves of the grill marks, rather than making new marks).

Remove the peaches from the grill and let cool for a few minutes, then slice into wedges (parallel to where the seam was). You can grill these an hour or two ahead of when you want to use them, but don't slice till just before you serve (the slices get a little brown if they sit for too long).

Use to top a salad. This recipe is especially good for when you have guests and want to serve something that looks fancy but is actually pretty easy to throw together. It is also good for when you don't have guests and want to eat lots of grilled peaches.

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 lb mixed baby greens (or sub baby arugula if you want a bit more of a kick to it), washed and dried well in a salad spinner
1 oz mild goat cheese (e.g., North Valley Farms Chevre)
2 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted (scatter in a pan over medium heat on the stovetop and toast for a few minutes, shaking from time to time, until golden brown and fragrant.)
2 peaches, grilled and sliced as above

Whisk the oil and vinegar together to form an emulsion, then stir in the rest of the vinaigrette ingredients. Drizzle about three-quarters of the dressing over the baby greens and toss well to coat the leaves.

Serve in a big bowl or on individual salad plates. Crumble the goat cheese over the top, sprinkle with almonds, and top with the grilled peaches. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the peaches, and serve.

Serves 4.

*You can also do this in a grill pan, which is what our cooking instructor did, and she had it on medium heat.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Blog

Happy belated birthday to our blog, one year old in July! In celebration, here's a collection of some of the recipes from the last year that have become our favorites.

Quick and easy:
Simple chickpea spread (or this one, which is even easier)

Perfect for a two-course dinner party (elegant but not overwhelming, and most of the prep can be done ahead of time):
Grilled peach salad (recipe coming soon to a blog near you)

Most addictive:

Favorite side veggies:
Roasted Red Russian kale, with or without balsamic reduction
Roasted delicata squash with leeks and sage (good for a potluck, too, since it's easy to make in a big batch and slice into halves or thirds)

How about you -- any favorites so far? Or nominations for ingredients we should try to tackle next?

Here's to Year #2!