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August 2008

June 2008

Attack of the Tomatoes
. . . and a Killer Tomato Recipe

Tomato_attack

First it was spinach, now tomatoes. What's a salad-lover to do?  Buy local! 

While there is some confusion about which tomatoes are affected by salmonella, the fewer miles they've traveled and the less processing they've undergone the safer they are.  So those of us who have been growing our own and enjoying farmers market tomatoes can carry on.  Those of us who are buying from chain grocery stores and restaurants need to beware - be aware.  Local food advocates/activists have long suggested we ask at restaurants when we order where the vegetables came from.  Even if we're pretty sure no one will have any idea, it's a good way to raise awareness of the issue and to even start a conversation about why it matters.  Now more people will probably already know why it matters.

On the homefront, we had a bumper crop of salmonella-free cherry tomatoes as did the farmers in our area. We've been making one of our favorite summer dishes - Pasta Fresca - pretty regularly.  It's easy, quick, uncooked for the most part (so almost kitchen heat-free) and uses that wonderful combination of summer garden bounty - basil and tomatoes. 

PASTA FRESCA - from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

  • 4 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
  • 6-8 large fresh basil leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 pound butterfly (bow-tie) or fusilli pasta
  • ½ pound mozzarella cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • Grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (optional)

Bring a large covered pot of water to a rapid boil.

Set aside 1 cup of the chopped tomatoes and 2 of the basil leaves. In a blender or food processor, puree the remaining tomatoes and basil with the garlic and olive oil until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, stir in the pasta, re-cover the pot, and return to a boil. Uncover and cook the pasta until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Cut the reserved basil leaves into thin strips (with scissors).

 

Drain the cooked pasta and toss it immediately with the mozzarella cubes. Add the sauce and mix well.  Top with the reserved tomatoes and basil, and grated cheese if desired. Serve immediately.


Perfect Summer Supper

Bliss

I think so anyway. I admit it’s hard to tell how much of my enamory (doesn’t spell-check, but it’s just the right word) with this meal is from good memories of similar meals from my childhood, and how much is from knowing it’s mainly local or that it’s nutritionally lovely.

My grandmother would have added a ham bone to the fresh black-eyed peas, and sometimes they would have been field peas instead – either way shelled by hand on the porch rocker. I can hear the plunk of the peas against the metal bowl. The corn muffins would have excluded rosemary and included a few extra eggs; I remember hers being very moist and spongy, and that she didn’t work from recipes.  The home-grown tomatoes, like mine, would have been simply salt-and-peppered, the corn local and buttered.  And, there was always meat served up with the veggies at my grandmothers: a slice of ham, a pork chop, or fried chicken.  

Even with these variations, it smells and tastes like hot, summer childhood vacation in Lake City to me. Just right.


Early Summer Salad

Early_summer_salad_2

What a great time of year this is for local produce!  We've got the last of the cool weather crops coming in, like salad greens and carrots, PLUS warm weather things like squash and cukes.  Then there are  precious early summer blueberries... and you can still buy shelled pecans!  I added the tender ends of the ever-present smilax vine growing outside the kitchen door.  I have to say I have a whole different attitude toward that thing now that I consider it a vegetable instead of a noxious, child-snaring, clothes-ripping WEED. It still grows like a weed, but now it's stubborness and waving tendrils seem kind of touching, like a little kid trying to get your attention, shouting "Choose me! I'm good!"  It's all in the attitude.  And, honestly, it tastes like asparagus, which does not grow here.

Smilax_knocking_at_the_back_door

I dressed my salad with my old standby - equal parts rice vinegar and olive oil, shaken together with a little salt - this time in a nearly-empty strawberry jam jar.  Just the right fruity flavor. Perfect.