Summer. Tomatoes. Summer tomatoes. Summer tomatoes summer tomatoes summer tomatoes. The two words belong together, do they not?
With a high of 101° in Charlottesville today (real feel 115° to 120°...um, when did we move to the equator?!?), I am not finding a whole lot to be happy with Summer about at the moment. Except for tomatoes. We are overrun with summer's favorite fruit right now...big ones, little ones, red ones, orange ones. All picture frames and candles have been removed from my dining room sideboard to make way for our bounty from the farm. It is the official tomato storage and ripening spot in our house, a constantly revolving inventory of heirloom varieties. I've made pints of marinara to store away for winter, and have plans to can soups and salsas in the coming weeks. But still, my very favorite way to consume a perfectly ripe tomato is thickly sliced, with sea salt. It just doesn't get much better than that. Unless you sandwich one of those slices between two hunks of bread with some bacon...that's pretty darn good too.
Most of our meals this week involved, you guessed it, tomatoes. In sauce over pasta, in salsa on fish tacos, sliced with fresh mozzarella on pizza, the 'T' in our BLTs. And this lovely, simple, rustic tart. It breaks my 'don't turn on the oven' rule, but at least it isn't the stove top.
First, I have to say again how much I love Jack Bishop's book, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen. I have shared several recipes from there, here, and cannot praise it enough. We have been thrilled with every single dish we've made between its covers, and love how simple and quick they always are. This tart is no exception. The crust dough comes together beautifully and is so easy to work. The filling ingredients are simple. The whole tart is finished with just 15 minutes of prep time, which I love. If the crust weren't so butter-full we'd have this meal multiple days each week.
Be sure to only make this tart when tomatoes are at their peak...a pink and grainy 'mater just wouldn't do...
6 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1-1/3 cups)
3 medium, delicious tomatoes, cored, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick, and blotted dry between paper towels*
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt + freshly ground black pepper
First, make the crust dough (about 1 hour before you're ready to assemble the tart). Place the flour, salt, and rosemary in a food processor and pulse several times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses. Add the water, 1 tbsp at a time, and pulse briefly after each addition. After 4 tbsp of water have been added, process the dough for several seconds to see if it will come together. If not, add the remaining 1 tbsp water. Process just until the dough comes together in a rough ball. Do not overprocess or the dough will not be flakey. Transfer the dough to a lightly-floured work surface and knead briefly to for a smooth ball. Flatten the dough into a 5-inch disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Note: My dough was very sticky with just 4 tbsp of water, so I wound up adding some flour to help it to come together. The final dough should be smooth and supple before refrigerating. Also, if you don't have a food processor, you can still make the dough by using forks or a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour mixture, then add your water.
Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 375°.
Unwrap the chilled dough and roll it into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Lay the dough over a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, fitting the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Run the rolling pin over the top of the tart pan to trim the excess dough. Prick the bottom of the tart shell all over with a fork.
Finally, fill and bake the tart. Scatter the goat cheese evenly across the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange the tomatoes over the cheese in two rings, one around the outside edge of the tart pan and another in the center, overlapping them slightly. Drizzle the tomatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake until the edges of the crust pull away from the sides of the pan and are golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool the tart on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Cut the tart into wedges and serve. Also, it is really good at room temperature so feel free to make this ahead and let it cool for several hours.
* To dry tomatoes, lay 3 layers of paper towels on a flat surface. Place your tomato slices on the paper towels, and then cover with 3 more layers of towels. Gently press your hands over the tomatoes to extract as much liquid as you can without crushing the tomatoes. When you lift the slices from the towels, many of the seeds should stay behind. This will keep your tart crust from becoming soggy.
Happy 4th of July my celebrating friends! I hope you all have fun plans in store for this long weekend, filled with loved ones and sunshine and delicious food.
If you're looking for a festive, summery, oh-so-easy dessert to contribute to a backyard barbecue, I've got just the treat for you. This sherbet is perhaps the best I've had. That may be because the berries were grown in my own backyard and I am a bit biased, but I do think even with store-bought or frozen fruit it would be quite delicious. So tart and refreshing; even the bright fuchsia hue screams summer!
There's been a change in the air these last few weeks...have you felt it? Just the slightest shift in temperature, a chill in the evenings that makes sleeping with windows wide open not only possible, but pleasant. The breeze is changing, carrying with it the scent of a backyard grill, the sound of fallen leaves skipping along pavement, a smattering of goosebumps across a forearm. Afternoon light has a new quality, a dreamy, golden hue that elicits memories of high school football games, apple picking, the feel of a scarf wound loosely about the neck.
Autumn begins officially today, but I’ve seen signs of her impending arrival for most of September. I won’t deny my excitement, for this time of year is truly my favorite, but I will miss the bounties of Summer. There’s been an urgency to our visits to Charlottesville’s City Market each Saturday for three weeks now. A pressure to gather up one last load of roma tomatoes to roast, to pick up a dozen freestone peaches knowing they’ll be absent until next July, to seek out a few more ears of fresh corn before being forced to rely on the kernels stashed away at the back of the freezer.
I bought our first butternut squash just last week. It stood out in our market basket, a dull cloud against the sunset of tomatoes, peaches, and eggplant. Once home we roasted it to sweet perfection before pureeing it with celery, onions and carrots into an earthy potage. The recipe is an Autumn staple, one that will grace our table many times in the next few months. We loved the soup that night as we always do, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for it.
What I wanted instead was a chowder we’d made the week before, one that took advantage of the last of Summer’s produce while introducing the initial tastes of Autumn. Those final few ears of sweet corn, the bell and jalepeño peppers, the first potatoes and carrots of Fall, a cream base with heat that hits from the belly out, all come together to create a soup that perfectly represents this time. The transition from one season to another, from tank tops and flip flops to light jackets and closed-toe flats, embodied in a chowder.
A chowder perfect for those of us on the fence, clinging to Summer while welcoming Fall.
I mentioned, way back at the end of August, that I'd found a new trick to releasing corn kernels from their cob. Well, here it is friend. I introduce to you the bundt pan, a vessel so perfectly designed for handling fresh corn that I feel it should be marketed in that way. Sure, it also makes a pretty cake, but really, lots of pans can do that. The central tube fits the end of an ear of corn quite perfectly, and as you cut the kernels from the cob they fall neatly into the pan. No more corn kernels all over the counter and floor. I am probably the last to discover this handy trick, but wow, was I excited when I did. My dogs, however, miss the sweet kernels falling from above.
Spicy Potato Corn Chowder
adapted from Gourmet, July 2008serves 4 as a first course
3 ears corn, shucked
1 quart water
1 quart chicken broth
1.75 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3.5 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, halved lengthwise, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 jalepeño peppers, minced (no seeds unless you want your soup really spicy)
2 thyme sprigs
2 California bay leaves
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk (1% or 2%)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Cut corn from each cob.
Bring cobs, water, broth, potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large pot. Boil, covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs.
Meanwhile, cook onion, carrot, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is pale golden, about 10 minutes.
Add bell pepper, jalepeño, corn, thyme, bay leaves, and one ladle of liquid from potato/corn pot. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.
Stir in potatoes with water/broth and cream and gently boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in milk. Be sure not to allow soup to boil after this point, as milk will curdle. Heat through, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
Use an immersion blender to pureé some of the vegetables, to thicken soup. Be sure to leave some large chunks of potatoes, peppers, and corn. If you don't have an immersion blender, ladle two scoops of soup into a regular blender and pureé, then add back to soup pot.
Stir in scallions, white pepper, cayenne, and salt to taste, then serve.
As I sat on our deck steps last night listening to the cicadas and sipping a glass of vino verde while Brian threw toys for the dogs, their feet tearing through our bed of mint and releasing the most intoxicating smell into the air, I realized that the outside temperature was incredibly comfortable. A lovely 68 degrees, with the lightest breeze to whisk the hair out of your face and send goosebumps dancing up your arms, made for the perfect deck-sitting evening. I thought to myself “Fall...she’s almost here”, before picking myself up and moving inside because Summer’s mosquitos haven’t yet received the memo.
September. The first month of Autumn...how is it already upon us? The end of Summer is quite visible in the shriveling of our tomato plants, the slumber of our blackberries and the fully ripe figs on the public trees just down the street (of which I have enjoyed many...). I must admit, I’ve been feeling the fingers of Fall moving in to pull me through the last few weeks of Summer for awhile now and have not been unhappy about it. For Fall, with her crisp air, golden light, crunchy leaves under feet and produce fit for warm and hearty meals, is absolutely my favorite season.
That’s not to say that I won’t miss Summer. I’ll miss our garden, and bemoan the fact that I didn’t have enough forethought to plant winter squash, sweet potatoes or another round of beets. I’ll miss the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that literally burst open on the vine because they are so full of juice, and the sweet taste of a peach pulled from a tree with my very own hands. I’ll miss my effervescent white wines and fresh berry tarts topped with vanilla ice cream, and simple green salads for dinner paired with a loaf of french bread. And of course there’s the kayaking, the trips to the reservoir with the dogs and the extended daylight that allows for late evening walks and runs with girlfriends.
We’ve done our best to preserve as much of Summer’s bounty as possible. We had bigger plans for the 2009 harvest, but I’m proud that we saved so much more than last year and feel certain that we’ll do even better in 2010. We’ve made over 200 ounces of jam, in flavors ranging from strawberry rhubarb to peach lime. I’ve frozen 10 quart-bags full of blackberries and the same number full of peach slices. I’ve baked and frozen zucchini muffins and raspberry muffins to grab on the go on future rushed Autumn mornings. And I’ve slow-roasted tomatoes, 8 pounds of them, to enjoy over pasta and on sandwiches this winter when I need a little reminder of warmer days.
Slow-roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavor into single bites that seem to explode in your mouth. They will instantly transform a simple parmesan-laced pasta or crusty loaf of bread spread with St. Andres or another triple cream cheese into the most satisfying meal. That is, if you can keep your husband and other fingers away from the pan as the tomatoes cool...
If possible, I encourage you all to freeze or can as much local produce as you can this summer. I wish I'd pushed the idea earlier on, and promise that next year I'll have more comprehensive guides to canning and freezing. As I've mentioned, Brian and I try to eat as locally and seasonally as possible. Unfortunately, living in Virginia, there comes a time every winter when it is nearly impossible to get any fresh local produce. This year we decided to extend out local eating season as long as possible by preserving as much as we could. We had big plans for canned whole vegetables and fruits, salsas and tomato sauces (of which Brian did make one freezer batch). We weren't as productive as we had hoped, although the season isn't quite over yet. So, get to your local farmer's market this weekend and pick up the last of the tomatoes, peaches, berries, okra etc, and have a little canning or freezing party in your kitchen. Come winter, you'll be so happy you did.
Slow-Roasted Tomatoesrecipe from Molly Wizenburg's A Homemade Life, pg. 192
3-1/2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes, halved (about 20 tomatoes)
1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 200*F.
Wash and dry tomatoes, and cut them in half length-wise. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Toss gently to coat.
Arrange them on a baking sheet cut-side up, and sprinkle each with a pinch of salt and a pinch of coriander for every 4-6 tomatoes.
Bake until the tomatoes crinkle at the edges and shrink to about half their original size, 4 to 6 hours.
Cool to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or the freezer for a few months.
**I also found this slow-roasted tomato recipe that I wanted to try, but we ran out of tomatoes in the garden too soon. I may pick some up at the market this weekend to give it a try.
The winners of the last two Saucy Mama Lime Chipotle Marinade (picked by random.org) are:
#31 Melissa, of Melissa's Journey
Congratulations Ladies! I know you'll love the sauce. Please send me an email at bellaeats[at]gmail[dot]com with your full name and address.
All other winners, of Saucy Mama marinade and jam, your treats are going out this week! I promise!
Other Bella Terra posts this season:
Even though we've only lived here four years, Brian and I have fallen completely in love with Charlottesville. One of the things we enjoy most about this little city is the strong local food movement. We visit the farmer's market each weekend during the season to gather our meat, eggs and produce for the week (whatever we're not growing in our own garden) and have long conversations with our favorite farmers. We get to see photographs of the chickens who lay our eggs pecking the ground in their grassy field, the cows and their new calfs, and the bee hives housing the bees that are pollinating the plants from which our vegetables grow.
It is undoubtably our favorite part of the week, and we make sure to leave ourselves with plenty of time to talk to Richard about the problems we are having with our own tomato plants and to gush to Jean about the magic of her hens’ eggs. We have a direct connection to the people who supply the food on our table, something that I think the majority of the world population doesn’t have and may not understand.
I know that we're very fortunate, and was reminded of it again last week when I made this vegetable frittata. As we sat down to eat I realized that every single ingredient, except for the parmesan cheese and olive oil, was locally grown. The eggs, milk, bell pepper, leeks and zucchini all came from the farmers' market, and the herbs were grown in our own garden. How cool is that?!? I'm not trying to rub it in, I'm really not, I just had to share with you all the amazing feeling that I had knowing that our dinner was not only delicious, but also supporting our local farmers.
With Food, Inc. just out (which I haven't seen yet, gasp!) I've read a lot more chatter in the food blog world about being aware of where our food comes from. Its exciting, and I'm so glad to see bloggers with serious readership and influence supporting the cause. To join in, I wanted to share a couple of sites I've recently read about that may help you discover local food providers in your area. And, for my Charlottesville readers, I've added a new local page to the top bar. I know that I am probably missing a lot of great resources so if you have any to add, please leave a comment!
I challenge you all to make this frittata and try to include at least one local ingredient, even if it is just herbs from pots on your porch. Every little bit counts!
Feel free to switch up the veggies, the recipe is very versatile. And delicious too, I might add.
Farmers' Market Frittata
8 large eggs
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (for a silkier texture) or 1/2 cup whole milk
4-5 good grinds of sea salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chives, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped to 1/4-inch dice
1 zucchini, chopped to 1/4-inch dice
1 leek, white and pale green part only, halved then sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Whisk together eggs, salt, pepper and yogurt or milk until smooth. Add minced herbs and stir well, set aside.
Heat oil in 10 or 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper, zucchini and leek. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until veggies are tender.
Increase heat to medium-high. Pour egg mixture over veggies evenly. Cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes, tilting pan and lifting edges of frittata to allow raw egg to run underneath.
Lower heat to low, cover pan and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, until frittata is mostly set. Shake pan occasionally while cooking. Meanwhile, place a rack at the top of the oven and turn broiler on to high.
Remove frittata from stovetop when it is mostly set. Sprinkle cheese across top and place in oven, under broiler. Broil for 1-2 minutes, watching carefully to not let it get to brown. You just want a few spots of brown across the top, and bubbly cheese.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Remove to cutting board or large plate, cut into wedges and serve.