Field to Feast: Homemade Tomato Paste

Happy Friday, everyone! Has this week felt terribly long to you? Maybe you just want to put your feet up this weekend, relax and enjoy some sun, and who could blame you if you do? But if you’re looking for a project, something that sounds impressive yet requires minimal effort — the best kind of project for lazy summer weekends — here’s a great one: homemade tomato paste. You may be wondering exactly why you should bother when little cans of the stuff are already so very, very cheap and so very, very convenient, but you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that homemade is so much better than canned that it’s like a completely different animal. Or fruit. (You know what I mean. Don’t make me turn this car around.) It has a bright, zingy, concentrated (duh) tomato flavor without any of that tinny aftertaste we’ve all grown accustomed to after years of eating the canned variety. It’s a treat anytime you use it, but in midwinter when hot sun and bountiful produce couldn’t be farther away, it’s damn near a revelation.

But before you start, fortify yourself with a light salad because the kitchen will get hot while the paste is cooking and you won’t want to spend much time in there. And while you’re up to your elbows in tomatoes anyway, why not make them into your meal? I reworked the Roman Summer Salad with more of an emphasis on fresh tomatoes while they’re as perfect as possible. I started with a base layer of assorted, sliced tomatoes from Bialas Farms and drizzled them with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Sliced Tomatoes | Minimally Invasive

Then I mashed together some anchovies and garlic in a mortar and pestle to make a paste. I scattered the paste across the tomatoes along with chopped capers, black olives, basil, parsley and goat’s milk ricotta, and devoured half the salad in one sitting.

Roman Salad Reprise | Minimally Invasive

But let’s get moving; you’re here for tomato paste! It’s a time-consuming process, but really very easy. You cook the tomatoes briefly, use a food mill to get rid of skins and seeds, then leave a sheet pan filled with the tomato purée in the oven until the water has evaporated and you’re left with a pan of brick-red loveliness. Just freeze the cooled paste in a thin layer in a Ziploc bag until you need a hit of summer.

I used bacon fat on the sheet pans instead of olive oil to give my tomato paste a smokey flavor, but it really isn’t necessary, just indulgent.

Tomato Paste | Minimally Invasive

I hope to get at least a couple more batches of paste put up for the winter. Rationing my one bag from last summer got me through April, but I’d like to put away enough this year to keep me going until next year’s tomatoes are in market.

Get the recipe for homemade tomato paste at Saveur. And have a great weekend!

Field to Feast: Tomatoes & Zucchini

After a full week of eating tomatoes everyday, I needed a little break to let my poor mouth heal. Sorry about that. The few tomatoes I hadn’t used by the end of the week weren’t going to last much longer, so I turned them into tomato water. Which of course you’ve heard of because everyone’s making it, but with good reason: It’s addictive. Imagine the purest tomato essence in liquid form, perfectly delicious on its own, but also strong enough to stand up to, say, vodka. If I were able to get fresh horseradish anytime other than Passover, you’d better believe I’d be drinking Bloodies with infused vodka right now.

Generally, recipes suggest straining blended tomatoes through a cheesecloth or t-shirt-lined colander (without pressing on solids so the liquid stays clear), but I really hate dealing with the soaked cloth, so I tried something different. Behold, the Chemex strainer!

Chemex Tomato Water | Minimally Invasive

My husband, as previously discussed, is a huge coffee snob. Brewing coffee is the only thing he does in the kitchen, but he does it exceptionally well with the help of his Chemex. Sometime last year, he decided to try out the pourover filter to get more of the coffee oils in us and to keep all of that filter paper out of the landfill. It worked so well that I figured it couldn’t hurt to try with tomatoes. You can see in the picture that it did let a small amount of pulp through, but the clear tomato water was easily poured out, leaving the pulp behind in the Chemex. The size of the filter doesn’t allow you to make the tomato water in one go, but I’d certainly recommend this method if you don’t mind doing it in multiple batches.

The gazpacho was inspired by the knockout meal we had at Bent Restaurant during May’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which we’ve attended since 2009, save for one year. It’s the only comics festival I truly love, partly because of the airy feeling of the natural light-infused reference library, but mostly because I’m interested in a greater proportion of the artists there than at other festivals. (I discovered Nina Bunjevac‘s exquisite Heartless this year, nearly vomited with laughter over Lisa Hanawalt‘s My Dirty Dumb Eyes, met Michael Kupperman, whose work I’ve loved for years, and briefly hung out with Jaime Hernandez, who needs no introduction from the likes of me. And that’s just off the top of my head. So I encourage you to look into the 2014 show, and if you want to read a much smarter take on this year’s TCAF than I’m capable of writing, check out Tom Spurgeon’s thoughts on the subject.)

But back to food. Our past few trips to Toronto have involved dining at one or another of Susur Lee’s restaurants, but Bent might be my favorite yet. Everything served was fresh and exciting, with flavor combinations I hadn’t really experienced before. It’s impossible to apply the label “best” to a single item in the bento box Gil and I shared, but the one my thoughts return to most often is the oyster shooter, which I suspected was tomato water-based. Because I needed to know how Chef Lee works his magic, I ordered his two-volume memoir/cookbook and immediately looked up the dish. And yes, tomato water was the base! Yay for my working tongue! Newly inspired, I worked up a little gazpacho for lunch today.

Tomato Water Gazpacho inspired by/adapted from Chef Susur Lee

Mustard oil is only sold for external use in the US; evidently it makes a great massage oil. I found my bottle at Kalustyan’s, but any well-stocked Indian or Bangladeshi grocery should have the oil; it just won’t be shelved with the rest of the foodstuff. This is a good basic soup, but feel free to play with ingredients. I’m not a big fan of onion in my gazpacho, but thinly sliced green onion or diced shallot would play well here, as would celery, other colors of bell pepper, or even more tomatoes. Because you never can have too much of a good thing.

1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cucumber, finely diced
1-2 hot chile peppers, finely diced
1 yellow summer squash, finely diced
1 zucchini, finely diced
1 1/2 cups tomato water
2 tablespoons mustard oil
Salt, to taste
Sherry vinegar, to taste

For four appetizer servings, put one to two tablespoons of each of the diced vegetables (perhaps less of the hot pepper if you don’t want it too spicy) into four small bowls. Whisk together tomato water and mustard oil and pour over vegetables. Add salt and sherry vinegar to individual servings to taste.

 

From the Pinterest Files: Roman Summer Salad

I can’t promise that From the Pinterest Files will become a weekly feature, but I do plan to cook from my Pinterest board more often, so who knows? Whenever I do, though, I promise to let you know what I think, good or bad.

This Roman Summer Salad by Giada De Laurentiis is perfect for me, and you too, if big, bold flavors are your thing. It’s basically a salad version of pasta puttanesca, with tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic swimming around with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. To make it a touch more salad-y, I added chopped spinach and red komatsuna, both from Bialas Farms. Granted, it’s nowhere near tomato season here yet, but this recipe really made its presence known, and I just couldn’t wait a month to give it a try. And now that you know about it, you’ll be ready when tomato season comes your way, if it hasn’t already!

Roman Salad | Minimally Invasive

 

Snacktime Redux

Grilled Avocados with Herbs | Amy Roth Photo

In my ongoing to quest to get MOAR AVOCADO in my diet, I took advantage of an already-hot grill to make these luscious beauties that were inspired by a post on Love Life.

Grilled Avocados with Tomatoes and Herbs | Amy Roth Photo

To make them for yourself, just lightly oil the cut side of avocado and lemon halves then grill until the avocados have grill marks and are heated through, and the lemons are lightly charred and caramelized. Chop up whatever herbs you have on hand (parsley, thyme, lemon thyme, chives and basil in my case) then mix with a good olive oil and salt, toast some nuts (pine nuts here), and slice some cherry tomatoes. Top the avocado halves with the herbs, nuts and tomatoes, then give the caramelized lemons a good squeeze over the whole mess.

Grilled Avocados | Amy Roth Photo

Good luck limiting yourself to just one (half).

It looks like Food52 had avocado on the brain, too. Check out all of the scrumptious entries to their avocado contest here.

Flan flan flan flan…

When Gil and I visited Milan last year, we had quite a few memorable meals, as you can imagine, and most of them were within walking distance of our hotel. The pizza at a nearby trattoria (run by Chinese immigrants in the dead-after-dark financial district) was leagues better than anything we’ve ever tried in the States, and the revelatory salumi at Osteria del Treno still makes it challenging for us to completely enjoy local cured meats (though I do have my eye on a couple of mail order purveyors). But my favorite dish of the trip, the one I recall with a sigh, had to be the parmesan flan at Joia.

The soft, cakey exterior of the flan spilled its secret as I cut my first bite and discovered a pool of parmesan flooding out to greet me. Much like the moment of piercing a poached egg yolk and realizing there are only a few fleeting seconds to truly enjoy the sensation at its finest, it filled me with delight and longing. But the ephemeral joys of these dishes are part of the reason we love them so, aren’t they?

Cooking Light published a recipe for parmesan flan in their most recent issue and I considered making it, but didn’t think it’d come even close to what I remembered, so I hit the interweb looking for a better more sinful recipe. I found it at Weir Cooking in the City. I did like CL’s idea of using fresh tomatoes as a topping, though, so I prepared a few heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market in my favorite summery way — doused with fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar and shot through with minced garlic and slivered basil, with salt & pepper to taste. It’s simple and delicious as a bruschetta topping, on crackers, as a topping for fish or pasta, or even eaten on its own in great spoonfuls. Yum.

I forgot that convection ovens cook a little faster than regular ovens do, so the flans were a little crusty on top, but still completely delicious. I’ll keep looking for a recipe that duplicates that glorious parmesan flood, but until then, this flan is staying in the rotation.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Flan flan flan flan…”

Porky pasta

Last night’s meal came courtesy of odds & ends from our kitchen and my deep and abiding love of tomatoes. With the abundance of lycopene in my system at any given time, it’s a real shame I don’t have a prostate, for if I did, it would surely be the most beauteous specimen in all the land. Neither showy nor unapproachable, but a humble and gracious gland, welcoming pilgrims from distant lands spurred to their journey by the appearance of the long-foretold wonder.

Or it would at least win many blue ribbons at county fairs.

But no, I’m just a girl, so my husband has to reap the benefits of my obsession, though our driveway isn’t exactly flooded with pilgrims or civic-minded ribbon-awarders, now that I think about it.

The odds & ends worked their way into a meal by virtue of me having no clue what to cook for dinner and remembering a couple strips of bacon, a few slices of sopressata and some onion hanging out in the fridge, the remnants of whole canned tomatoes I stuck in the freezer a few weeks ago, and a little bowtie pasta that looked pretty lonely in the pantry. Some garlic cloves demanded admittance to the party (as they always seem to do, the pushy little buggers) and hot pepper paste arrived masked as tomato paste and barged in before I realized what happened.

No, really — why is the packaging so similar between tubes of tomato and hot pepper paste? I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I’d put about a tablespoon of it into the pan and noticed it wasn’t the right color, consistency, or smell, so I looked at the tube to make sure it hadn’t expired and realized my mistake. Well, my screw-up turned out to be a stroke of luck. The paste added a real zing to the sauce I wouldn’t have gotten from pepper flakes alone, so now I have another ingredient in my arsenal I wouldn’t have if I’d been paying attention.

This wasn’t the typically meat-free meal I like to make on weeknights, but if I eat vegequarian 90% of the time, I don’t mind treating myself every now and then; it’s the only way to stay sane. And let’s face it, pork is the penultimate treat.

The ultimate? Tomatoes, of course.

My own cure

mahimahi.jpg

I’ve been following Apartment Therapy’s Kitchn Cure for the past few weeks, thinking what a great idea it would be to do one of their assignments in our house someday. Of course something always seems to come up — travel, dog adoption, and chronic laziness being the three obstacles lately — but I did find inspiration in this week’s assignment to clean out the fridge and pantry, tossing processed foods and things that contain high fructose corn syrup. I’ve been on the anti-HFCS bandwagon from a taste perspective for years, so we don’t have much of that stuff around here, but I did toss an old bottle of ketchup which I’ve replaced with the organic stuff from Trader Joe’s. (Haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll let you know how it compares to the Heinz gold standard.)

While I was in there, I took note of anything that was nearing its expiration date and should be used ASAP, which is a roundabout way of saying that this meal was brought to you by cleaning out the fridge. Appetizing, yes? What lurked in the inky depths were leftover chopped tomatoes in juice, a fennel bulb waaay back in the crisper drawer, and half a jar of roasted peppers. Hmmm, tomatoes and fennel, tomatoes and fennel. When it comes to those two ingredients, there’s only one place to go for inspiration, so I headed over to Last Night’s Dinner and cobbled together a meal that did me proud.

It was really simple to put together, too, and could easily qualify as a weeknight meal. In a stainless steel pan, I heated some olive oil and sautéeed half of a thinly sliced red onion, a thinly sliced fennel bulb, and three small chopped cloves of garlic. Once they’d softened, I deglazed the pan with about 1/4 cup of Herbsaint to deepen that lovely fennel flavor even more; feel free to substitute another anise-flavored liquer or simply dry white wine if you don’t have it. Once most of the liquid had cooked off, I added about 3/4 of a large can of chopped tomatoes in juice, 1/2 jar of chopped roasted peppers, 1/4 cup golden raisins, salt, and pepper, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Into the food processor it went (being quite unattractive in its natural state) along with some lemon juice for a quick whirl; it emerged much better-looking than it had been only minutes before.

When we were at Trader Joe’s last weekend, I branched out from the organic ketchup and picked up a bit of fish and a brown rice medley, which completed this meal. I seasoned the mahi mahi filets well with salt & pepper, then dusted them lightly with flour and pan fried them in a little olive and canola oil until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. The light crust added a nice dimension to the fish and even held up to the liberal dousing of lemon juice I always give white fish before serving.