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PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

Jeez.  The last time I posted here was December? How’d that happen?

Well, I know how it happened. I’ve mostly been in a fetal position since the election, emerging only now and then to refill my bottle with bourbon. I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. I just hope we don’t all get blown up.

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It seemed like a tomato soup kind of day, what with the rain, the Orange Dumpster Fire in the White House, the strike some of my friends are participating in, the Orange Nutjob in the White House, the cold, The Tropicana Fascist in the White House… you get my drift.

I made some tomato soup in the style of Provence. It tastes pretty good and it’s easy. It’s good for a cold wet day when you’ve lost hope but still remain optimistic that maybe we will survive. Also, a few stiff drinks don’t hurt.

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped celery stalk
  • 2 fresh tomatoes. chopped
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves
  • olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 large (28-ounces or so) can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 can (16-ounces or so) stewed tomatoes
  • 1 orange, zest plus all the juice
  • 1 tablespoon dry basil (fresh is better if you have it, but it’s winter right now)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • Anise liqueur and/or orange liqueur (optional)

Saute the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until they start to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fennel seed and let it cook for a few minutes. Then throw in everything else and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour or thereabouts.

Now either use a stick blender to puree the soup (don’t be too concerned about getting every veggie) or puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Pour soup back into the pot and let simmer another 10 minutes, and taste.

You may want to add more fennel, more orange juice/zest, some wine (I used white vermouth for its herbal taste), some booze (Pernod/anisette or an orange liqueur), more broth, EVOO, whatever.

If so inclined, you could also add some cooked rice and finely chopped spinach or other greens.

When it seems just right, turn the stove off and let sit for an hour or more, then reheat when ready to serve.

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BRUSCHETTA: PERFECT SUMMER FOOD

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I’m so over summer, but like honey badger, summer don’t care. It’s going to be here for the next million years, or at least that’s what it feels like.  It’s a long string of days in which it’s just too hot to do a lot of cooking.

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On those kinds of days, I often make bruschetta. It’s virtually no-cook (except for making toast) and is an extremely good way to enjoy the best summer tomatoes. There’s no set recipe: use as much of each ingredient as you like or you have on hand. This approaches Nirvana if made with heirloom tomatoes.

  • Real summer tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Core and chop tomatoes. Mince garlic. Chop or sliver basil. Combine in a bowl. Pour in some olive oil and add salt & pepper to taste.

Toast the best bread you can lay your hands on (i.e. not  squishy supermarket bread like Rainbo).  If you feel ambitious, cut a garlic clove in half and rub the cut side onto the toast until the garlic disappears. Spoon the tomato mixture onto the toast. Eat.

Possible add-ins:

  • Minced hot peppers, cayenne, or hot sauce.
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  • Fresh oregano along with, or in place of, the basil.
  • Minced sweet onion.
  • Chopped roasted red bell pepper.
  • Chopped good-quality olives (like Kalamata).

Other things to try:

  • Top bruschetta with cheese, then run under the broiler.
  • Spread tapenade on toast, then top with tomato mixture.
  • Spread pesto on toast, then top with tomato mixture.
  • Skip the toast. Mix this into hot cooked pasta.
  • Pour over green salad and toss.
  • Puree leftovers and serve as cold soup.
  • Use to top baked or grilled fish.
  • Use to top grilled eggplant.
  • Puree and strain. Pour over ice along with a healthy shot of vodka.

BAKED GARLIC TOMATOES

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This isn’t my own recipe, not exactly. Back in the 1980s, I think it was, Sunset Magazine had an article in which they interviewed home French cooks – that is, ordinary French people who cooked at home. Sunset visited their kitchens and got some of their recipes. This was one of the recipes, which I took and ran with, adding a shitload more garlic and parsley. May I immodestly say that everyone who has tasted this has loved it.

You need tomatoes, obviously. It would be ideal to have summer vine-ripened tomatoes out of your own garden, but I have found that Roma tomatoes are an excellent substitute the rest of the year. I figure on minimum two whole tomatoes per person – the leftovers are divine, if there are any.

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Cut the tomatoes in half. With your finger, poke into the seed pockets and remove as many seeds and gel as you can. (This is especially important if you do happen to have juicy ripe Beefsteaks or other non-paste tomato.) Put the tomatoes into a baking dish, cut side up.

Now you need bread crumbs, garlic, and parsley.

You can make bread crumbs by whirling slices of plain bread (white, wheat, sourdough, etc.)  in a blender, or you can use panko (which is what I did here).  Please do not use “seasoned breadcrumbs,” “Italian breadcrumbs,” or similar products; they have an artificial taste.  Figure one tablespoon bread crumbs per tomato.

Mince one garlic clove per tomato (or substitute shallots, or use part garlic and part shallots).

Chop one tablespoon Italian flat-leaf parsley per tomato. (The curly parsley has no taste and is only good as a decoration.)

Combine all in a frying pan and add 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and butter.

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Saute the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the bread crumbs are lightly browned. Do not let it burn! If the garlic burns, you will have to throw it all out and start over.

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Evenly distribute the crumb mixture among the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle more olive oil over.

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Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes. This is pretty flexible; it can bake at a higher or lower temperature if the oven needs to be used for something else at the same time. Just don’t burn the crumb topping.

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Serve hot or at room temperature.

Obviously there are lots of possible variations: substitute other herbs for the parsley; vary the bread you make the crumbs from; add capers, chopped olives, cooked bacon, minced hot peppers, cheese – whatever you think would be good. You could also try this with other vegetables like zucchini boats or eggplant slices. In the summer, use yellow or orange tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes prepared this way are simply out of this world.

This goes well with grilled steak or tri-tip,  with creamy dishes like macaroni & cheese,  alongside strongly flavored/ oily fish such as salmon, eel, bluefish, smoked oysters, etc., or as part of a vegan/vegetarian meal.

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