Friday, August 14, 2009

Roasted cherry tomatoes

I know I probably sound like a real asshole complaining about so many tomatoes. In a year of tomato blight.

Sorry. California is rocking the tomatoes this year.

I've got cherry tomatoes in my ears, as the 2-year-old likes to say.

I used to say up the wazoo, but I don't that that would play well in preschool.

Here's a slightly fussy, but utterly delicious way to use up surplus Sweet 100s. It's based on a recipe from Amanda Hesser and her Cooking for Mr. Latte.

I know everyone loves to hate on this book--I do too. But seriously, bitch though she may be (or not), her recipes WORK. And I'm easy. That's all I ask of a girl, that her recipes work.

I'm tempted to try this one with whole cherry tomatoes, to save myself the fiddle-y cutting. But it's so good as is, I haven't been brave enough to risk failure.

Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Corn

cherry tomatoes (a lot, or a couple baskets)
olive oil
a handful of bread crumbs
a handful of Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper
2-4 ears of corn
1 pound pasta (Ms. Hesser recommends penne)

Preheat oven to 425. Heat a pot of salted water for boiling corn and pasta.

Halve your cherry tomatoes and set them, cut side up, in a rimmed sheet pan or roasting pan. I drop them in the pan as I go, and stop when I've packed it full. Really jammed in there full.

Dump a lot of olive oil on top of tomatoes. More than you think. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup for 1-1/2 pounds tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Evenly sprinkle breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino Romano on top.

Roast in the oven until tomatoes soften and ones near the edges of the pan turn dark brown, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, husk your corn. Submerge it in your boiling water, turn the heat under the pot off, and let sit about 3 minutes.

Remove corn from water and shave kernels off the cobs into a large serving bowl using a knife. Scrape the denuded cobs again with the back of your knife blade to get the milky goodness that remained behind.

Boil your pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water.

Mix pasta and roasted tomatoes with corn, adding reserved pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce, if needed. (I toss some of the water into my roasting pan and scrape up the browned tomato bits with a spoon. Then I loosen the pasta sauce with that. It's one more step, but I hate to let any caramelized deliciousness go to waste.) Add more salt, if necessary.

Serve with more grated cheese at the table.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Freezing herbs

I always do a basil pesto (without the cheese) to freeze in ice cube trays. I then transfer to freezer bags for winter storage. I add the Parmesan after defrosting. It just doesn't freeze well.

The cubes are the perfect size for dropping in minestrone or flavoring a tomato pasta sauce.

I also freeze small glass jars of pesto with more olive oil floating on top--enough pesto for a pound of pasta. These jars keep better than the cubes, but you have to use the whole bit at once.

I coarsely chop/puree Thai basil in the food processor and freeze in ice cube trays topped off with a bit of water to protect from freezer burn. Then store in freezer bags the same way as pesto. I was planning to do the same with oregano and cilantro this year.

Rosemary and sage, in our climate, are pretty much always on tap.

So I thought I had the preserving herbs thing down--without resorting to drying.

But this blew my mind.

Parsley logs.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Preserving tomatoes

11 hours and 12 quarts later...

Plus some sauce, but not as much as you'd think.

I guess there's a reason plum tomatoes are recommended--we had about 10 times as much juice and seeds as finished product. My compost pile is soaked through with tomato gore.

I know we could have canned the juice too, but it was just. too. much.

We ended up with large jars packed full of tomatoes and not too much juice. It took careful peeling and seeding, a thorough squeezing, and a hot pack. We absolutely did not need to add additional water or juice. After a little pressing, our tomatoes were completely covered in their own juice.

I've made some decisions about how to best deal with the summer surplus of tomatoes.

This is it:

If you have a chest freezer, freezing, hands down. You can put your tomatoes whole on a cookie sheet in the freezer. When they're hard, transfer to plastic bags.

In the winter, when you pull them out to defrost, their skins slip right off and cores are easily cut off. You have to deal with a bit of hassle later down the line, but you skip the days and days of canning in the summer. The texture isn't as wonderful as canned whole tomatoes, but whatevs. Throw those suckers in a soup or chili, and no one will know the difference.

Unfortunately, I don't have a chest freezer.

But those glass jars of tomatoes look lovely on my cupboard shelves. And a day and late night of progressively more delirious tomato-spattered hilarity with a couple good girlfriends is never a bad thing.

I am still freezing the sauces: lazy tomato sauce, enchilada sauce, tomato puree.

If they are packed as above, they stack neatly and keep well.

Don't be tempted, as I always am, to fill the freezer bags too full. If they are thin, you can break off a sliver of sauce and close up the bag again. (Then use up in the next couple weeks—freezer burn sets in fast once you open a bag.) If you overfill, you have to defrost an entire bag to get a bit of enchilada sauce for a wet burrito.

I'm also planning on sundried tomatoes and my mom's sundried tomato paste, which goes a long way in a winter stew.