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Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

You guys!  It RAINED today!  Ok, fine, it was just a drizzle, but I am thrilled–thrilled–I tell you!  And when it rains, you know what that means.

Soup!  Hearty, comforting, fortifying soup that warms the toes and makes you feel all cozy on the inside.  And, from my last post, you know I’m on a mission to eat more vegetables on a daily basis.   An easy way to do that is to make a soup loaded with vegetables and plenty of flavor from chicken stock and a fat dollop of pesto.

The great thing about minestrone is there really isn’t a set recipe–use some seasonal vegetables, add some beans (Canellini is the usual, but red kidney beans or fava beans would work well), tomatoes, a little pasta or rice, and some homemade chicken or vegetable stock and you’ll have yourself a fine soup.   And, once all your vegetables are chopped, this comes together really quickly–especially if you’re cheating like me and using canned beans (gasp!).  This recipe makes about 4 quarts–about 8 dinner-sized servings of soup, but it freezes very nicely for lunches.

BBB Garden Minestrone Soup

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 2 leeks, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced carrots
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large red bell pepper, 1/2″ dice
  • 5 small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes, 1/2″ dice (appx. 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moons
  • 1-14 ounce can Canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup whole wheat pasta–any small pasta will do, such as shells or fusilli
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional:  Pesto or grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat a large soup pot on medium heat and add oil.  Add onions, leeks, celery, carrots, thyme and bay leaf.  Sweat vegetables for 4-6 minutes, until onions are translucent and glossy.
  2. Add bell pepper, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock.  Raise heat to medium-high and bring soup to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add zucchini, beans and pasta and simmer for another 10-12 minutes, until pasta is tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with pesto or Parmesan cheese.

(I told you it was easy!)

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It’s time to admit that Summer is on its last legs;  Kiddo starts Kindergarten in a matter of days, the Valley is giving its last oven blasts of heat, and the farmer’s market is packed full of the last of the summer produce.  The peaches, my dear readers, THE PEACHES on display are amazing, and I couldn’t help but pick up a few.  They are so juicy and bright with that perfect balance of acid and sweet.  I had bought some peaches about 2 weeks ago from the supermarket (I know, I KNOW) and they were so… sad.  Mealy and flavorless, and I hated to waste them, so they ended up in our morning smoothies where I could barely taste them.

I’ve seen versions of this salad hitting the rounds in magazines and food blogs, and I knew I had to make this for today’s lunch.  A bed of mesculun, a few heirloom tomatoes, red onion sliced paper-thin, juicy wedges of ripe peach, and a nice drizzle of homemade balsamic vinaigrette make this a fantastic, easy summertime lunch.  If you were feeling sassy, this would be nice with a sprinkling of feta or chevre, or if serving this for dinner, a piece of grilled fish would be a great match.  We had this with a glass of Casa Nuestra 2009 Riesling which was just right–any crisp and fruity white would be an excellent accompaniment.

Heirloom Tomato & Peach Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

  • 6 cups Mesculun or any mixed salad greens or arugula
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes (depending on size), sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large peach, sliced into 12 wedges
  • Balsamic Dressing as needed

On a platter, layer salad greens, tomato slices, onion and peach.  Drizzle with balsamic dressing and serve.

(How hard was that?  Now go make it!)

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There are three things that one can be sure to be seen when it’s Springtime here in my neck of the woods:  a vase full of daffodils (they’re like a fistful of sunshine), strawberries waiting to be made into jam, and ME, at TomatoMania, agonizing over the 200+ varieties of tomatoes. 

 See, I’ll tell you something–I’m a cold weather person.  Bright sun and the heat make me wilt like a tulip.  Come February, though, a small gnawing at the edge of my appetite appears, low and slow; I barely notice it at first, but come March and the burst of sun and warmth that approaches, I know that it is my very being craving a fresh tomato.  Sure, there’s those overpriced styrofoam balls at the supermarket, and if you want to call them tomatoes, but, really, you know what I’m talking about:  a still warm from the sun, perfectly ripe tomato that can only come straight from a plant in the backyard. 

This, of course, is why TomatoMania is just so goshdarn popular, because I know I’m not the only one who feels the same way.  If you love tomatoes, or love to garden, and you’re in the L.A. area, this is definitely worth a stop, if you haven’t been before.  Just walking through all those darling little baby tomato plants will just put a spring in your step.

My favorite part of the whole experience is seeing all the different varieties available, especially the ones with the fun  names.  Berkeley Tie-Dye Heart?  Missouri Pink Love Apple?  Consider me tickled.

The worst part of going?  Due to space constraints, I have room for only four plants.  Four!  Do you know how excruciating it is for me to pick only four?  In a perfect world, I’d have at least twenty, and then I would be up to my knees in tomatoes and sick of them by October, which is how it should be. 

This year’s picks:

From left to right, Momotaro (it caught my eye due to it being labeled heat-resistant–an advantage here in the San Fernando Valley), Sun Gold (an orange cherry, and a favorite), Enchanted (a small/medium dark pink), and Black Cherry (the name says it all, a dark purple cherry);  plus, two basil plants.  Because, you know, if you’re going to have fresh tomatoes around, it’s best to have some fresh basil, too.  Now, if I had the space for a cow for the fresh milk to make mozzarella, we would be In. Business. 

There’s just no way in this world I could say anything bad about TomatoMania and the people who run it.  They bring out a remarkable amount of seedlings to suit just about every tomato-based whim, and they love what they do.  This weekend, they will be at Tapia Brothers Farm Stand in Encino, on 5251 Hayvenhurst, right next to the 101 Freeway (closest cross-street Burbank), and will be there all weekend.  Don’t fret if you can’t make it this weekend, as they’ll be back in Arcadia for the L.A. Garden Show April 30-May 2nd, and for our Ventura County neighbors, they’ll be in Ojai April 23rd-25th.  They also have some stops in Northern California, Maryland, and Connecticut, so stop at their website for their schedule.  Happy Tomato Growing!

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Today was the hopefully the last of the year’s triple-digit weather, and we spent a good part of our day running errands in the heat.  There are grand plans in the works for next weekend, as it will be My Birthday Observed, where Choo and I will have two of our favorite people over, and there will be cooking, eating, and drinking;  I decided to shop for some new table linens and to replace some chipped plates.  Hauling bags around in the heat made us weary and hungry, and by the time we got home, we needed a fast lunch, and we had everything we needed from our Saturday morning trip from the Calabasas Farmer’s Market for this:

caprese

Sure, an Insalata Caprese can be an elegant thing, but it doesn’t have to be–in fact, I like it simple and stripped down to the basic elements:  good fresh tomatoes (homegrown or farmer’s market), mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.

It’s one of the things that I love about summer, and when June rolls around, I’m waiting for the first great tomatoes to show up at the farmer’s market.  This will more than likely be our last Caprese of the season–any tomatoes in our possession are being turned into sauce and canned/frozen.  I’m not sad, since all the wonderful fall produce is starting to show up (hello, Acorn Squash, I’m looking forward to roasting and stuffing you), and I know come next year, I’ll be ready for a summer full of tomatoes and basil.

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Here, in the San Fernando Valley, summer is still roaring hard and strong, as it usually does in September.  I know, though, that in other parts of the country, the weather is just starting to welcome autumn–sunset is coming earlier, the morning air is crisp, and you swore you saw a few leaves turning color as you drove in to work.  Still, for many of us, we’re wrapping up the end of our gardening season, and many of us are suffering from a surfeit of ripe tomatoes without a purpose, and certainly more than you can reasonably eat before they go bad and start robbing convenience stores and saying curse words in front of little old ladies.

I’d like to mention right now how much I love the word surfeit.  Maybe it’s always because I’ve seen it mainly used in the sense of some member of royalty dying of a surfeit of food, such as “King Henry I died of a surfeit of lampreys,” and “Catherine Douglas, Duchess of Queensbury, died of a surfeit of cherries.”  I am convinced that my obituary will say that I died of “a surfeit of Sweet Potato Fries and Peach Cobbler.”  In fact, even if that’s not my cause of death, I’d like it to say that.

Back to our tomatoes.  I’m not much of a gardener.  I’ve got a few containers with tomatoes, and a few pots of herbs; some of these are struggling, and some of them are doing rather well.  One tomato in particular, my Roma tomato plant, was going along like gangbusters until the other day it decided to try and end it all and fell over.  Apparently, even with my efforts of trying to control its growth, it still became so huge that its weight caused it to topple.  I lost about half of the green little babies that would have brought me my anticipated glut of tomatoes, after all was said and done.  Oh, I’ll still be able to have something of a harvest, but my fantasies of pots upon pots of simmering sauce has been reduced to what will be one or two batches.

To comfort myself in my loss, I bought 11 pounds of Romas from the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, with the thought of starting on my “putting up” some tomatoey things.  The first half of the tomatoes I dedicated to a batch of confit.

tomatoconfit2

First things first:  wash your tomatoes, slice in half, and remove all the pulp and seeds, and place into a large bowl.

Preheat your oven to 225°.  Cover a sheet pan or two with foil.

There’s no set ratios for confit, really.  Drizzle them with olive oil.  You’ll need enough to coat the tomatoes.  Add peeled, whole garlic cloves.  I put in a whole head’s worth–about a dozen–for 5 1/2 pounds (you can put more or less, as you wish).  Add salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.  Toss everything around in the bowl until tomatoes are well coated with the oil and all the seasonings are well distributed.

tomatoconfit1

Lay them out on your sheet pan like good little soldiers, and toss them into the oven.  Let them sit in the oven for about 4 hours.  You want something right in between fresh and sundried.

tomatoconfit3

These guys are versatile–use them instead of fresh tomatoes for salads, sandwiches, and burgers.  Heap them on top of pasta.  Throw a few in the food processor to puree, and use in place of tomato paste.  To store them, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks; cover them in oil, and they’re good for 4-6 weeks.

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