Sunday, August 27, 2017

Half-Blistered Tomato Pasta Salad from Food52

Stop what you're doing. Fire up your oven. Boil a pot of water. Grate a ripe tomato. You won't be sorry.  Mostly because there are tomatoes--lots of them--in this new take on that old summer standby of a pasta salad with raw tomatoes.

As you may have noticed, I have been on a salad kick (see here and here. Oh, and here.). It's summer. Produce is at its peak (or getting close to it), and all I want are tomatoes. And more tomatoes. Lucky for me, there are a plethora of tomato salads out there, and this one from  Food52  is a hit because this summer-time staple of pasta salad with tomatoes brings you tomatoes three ways.

Well, actually it technically brings it to you only two ways, but I made some adjustments to the original recipe.  Let me detail all of my modifications below, including that additional hit of tomatoes:

(1) I got inspired by another salad in the Mighty Salads cookbook: Corn-Barley Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette. That particular vinaigrette requires the grating of a ripe tomato in order to get its pulp and juices (without the skin) in a totally fresh and bright way. So I added it here. (Okay, two tomatoes.) You can leave it out if you're talking nonsense. 

(2) Our leaders at Food52 recommend a 1-hour roasting time for the cherry tomatoes. Maybe it's my oven, but it was way too long, and I was left with charred carcasses of tomato skins. I made another round of tomatoes and cut this back to 45 minutes. Crisis averted.

(3) Additionally they recommend adding 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled, to the tomato roasting pan. Great idea. However, again, I found the roasting time far too long for the cloves of garlic. My garlic came out like pieces of crumbly charcoal--never appetizing in a salad or otherwise. Plus, I don't like garlic. So I cut it. If you like garlic, I imagine the shorter cooking time might be effective.

(4) They call for 1 pound of pasta. That is also nonsense. Pasta salad should be more salad than pasta. So I halved it. You can put the other half pound in. But really, then you're just diluting all this tomato-y goodness. You don't need that in your life.

Okay, beyond the adjustments, let's talk a little more seriously about the end product of the work you're about to embark on. Yes, you need to turn on your oven. Yes, it's August. But it's worth it. The sweet, candy flavor of roasted tomatoes next to the bright acidity of the raw tomatoes (and the extra pulp in the dressing) is a revelation in late summer tomato bliss. You get velvety smooth tomato bombs next to crunchy tomato halves. And then, there is the cheese--torn chunks of creamy mozzarella and flakes of salty parmesan. 

Drat, now I am hungry again.


Half-Blistered Tomato Pasta Salad

Adapted from Mighty Salads 

Serves 4

4 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large ripe tomatos
2 Tsp red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar) or to taste
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ pound of casarecce or other tubular pasta
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
¼ cup loosely packed mint leaves, torn
⅛ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks
1½ ounces Parmesan, finely chopped or crumbled

1. To make the vinaigrette: Heat an oven to 375℉. Combine 2 cups of the cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a pinch of sugar (if using) on a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper, and toss until evenly coated. Spread the tomatoes into a single layer. Roast until the tomatoes have blistered and shriveled, about 45 minutes. Feel free to give them a stir about halfway through (just be sure to return them to a single layer).

2.  While the cherry tomatoes are roasting, grate the large tomato halves on the large holes of a box grater over a wide bowl, collecting the juice and pulp. Discard the tomato skins. 

3.  Once the 2 cups of cherry tomatoes have come out of the oven, blend together ¼ cup of the blistered tomatoes, the large tomato pulp and juice, the vinegar, the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and the red pepper flakes. Add more olive oil if needed (a little at  time) and continue to blend until the vinaigrette is smooth. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and set aside.

4. Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions or to your taste. While the pasta cooks, season the raw cherry tomatoes with salt. 

5.  To compose the salad: Drain the pasta and toss with the vinaigrette. Let the pasta cool until just warm, then toss in the remaining blistered tomatoes, the raw tomatoes and their juices, the basil, mint, pine nuts, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more red pepper flakes, olive oil, or pine nuts as needed.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lemony Greek Pasta Salad from Food52

Pasta salads are ideal for packing up for a picnic. Or to be more quotidian, for lunch at work. Either way, it's better to eat food you're looking forward to having--be it after a hike to the perfect picnic spot or after a morning staring at a computer. So why not make this Greek-inspired pasta salad? The fine folks at Food52 encourage you to make without tomatoes, and I encourage you to ignore that directive.

Intended to be a subtle accompaniment to salmon, roast chicken, or the like, this salad nixes the tomatoes and focuses on the cucumber and the dill, traditionally found in all walks of Greek Salad.  I am in the middle of being in love with this summer's cherry tomatoes. And I have never been accused of being subtle. So here we are. With tomatoes. You make your own decisions, I won't judge. But we both know you should put tomatoes in this salad.

The briny feta and olives are the perfect counter balance to the acidic and sweet tomatoes and the cool cucumbers. This salad will win you no points for originality, but I promise you, it will win you a sense of satisfaction while sitting on a picnic blanket or your desk. Or at your next potluck or even, yes, as a an accompaniment to salmon or chicken at your own dinner table. 

The only real problem with this salad is that I had only one glorious serving of it. Neither on a picnic or at work. You see, my mother-in-law mistook the container that I put it in (a washed out yogurt container) for her very own, so she took it with her on her trip back up the California coast. So she got to enjoy the seven other servings (I doubled it, too, because there was a long work week and a half in my future).  She said it was delightful. And from what I could tell from a Sunday afternoon pasta salad eating on my back deck, she was right.  


Lemony Greek Pasta Salad

Adapted from Mighty Salads and recipe here 

Serves 4

½ pound orzo pasta 
Zest of 1 lemon 
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 
1 medium shallot, grated 
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped 
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced 
2 medium cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and sliced 
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Cook the orzo in abundantly salted water according to package instructions or to your taste. Drain and transfer to a large salad bowl. 

2.  Meanwhile, make lemon-dill vinaigrette to dress the salad: combine lemon zest and juice, mustard, and grated shallot in a medium bowl. Whisk everything together with a few pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking, then stir in the chopped dill. Taste and adjust as needed. 

3.  Pour the vinaigrette over the still-warm pasta and toss. Allow to cool to room temperature, then add the olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Fold in the crumbled feta cheese, adjust salt and pepper, and serve.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Corn-Barley Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette from Food52

Can we talk about the moment that cherry tomatoes are having?  Be prepared to see a few more tomato recipes before the summer is through. Because, sweet jesus (or super sweet 100, if you prefer), this has been a banner year for tomatoes in California, particularly for those of the minuscule kind. What about for you? Are your cherry tomatoes to die for?

What is not always to die for in California is the corn. Being a Midwesterner by upbringing, I have certain standards when it comes to corn, and California corn does not always live up to these sweet-but-not-starchy, full-of-creamy-goodness expectations. 

However, if you can buy the corn in the morning, shuck it in the afternoon, and have it grilled by evening, usually you can do alright, no matter what part of the country you find yourself in.

This salad is one in a long line of recent salads I have been making (prepare to see more), in part because I have been bringing lunch to work. And I need to ensure that I resist the siren sound of cheese-flavored snacks (read Cheetos and Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles) that can be found in the admissions office. 

I don't know what it is. I have a humiliating weakness for cheese dust. 

So I have been counteracting it with corn and tomatoes and basil and barley. Or at least this go-round that's what I have been distracting myself with. 

The beans in this salad are pretty nondescript, but I see why they are included. They add a smidge of protein and they bulk up this otherwise starchy salad. 

Other bonuses include (1) doing a quick parboil of the corn with the barley to ensure that the barley has maximum corn infusion; (2) grilling said corn, a step that may feel extraneous, but it makes the salad quite smoky; (3) grating a super ripe tomato to make the dressing cry of summer; (4) topping the salad with basil and chives, thus essentially pushing this salad into the realm of impossibly good. 

But for all the focus on the corn and barley, the title of this salad really is a misnomer. This salad is about the tomatoes. Plain and simple.

So if you can resist eating that entire pint of cherry tomatoes on the way home (and if you cannot, buy two pints), I recommend this summery salad for an August repast. And if you're lucky enough to have leftovers, it's just as good on day two and three as it was on day one.  

Guess you better double the recipe. These tomatoes won't last forever.


Corn-Barley Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette

Adapted from Mighty Salads and recipe here 

Serves 4

½ cup dried pearl barley 
3 ears of corn (shucked) 
Olive oil for grilling
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes 
1 cup cooked cannellini, butter bean, or other white beans 
1 tomato, halved 
1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar 
1 large garlic clove 
¼ cup basil cut into ribbons 
1 bunch of chives, thinly sliced 
¼ - ½ cup olive oil

1. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Bring a large stockpot of generously salted water to a boil. 

2.  Add the barley to the pot and cook it according to the package directions: Usually in about 1½ cups of water, a generous pinch of salt, and 25 minutes. (See here.)  During the last 5 or 6 minutes of cooking, add the corn. Remove the corn with tongs. Drain the barley (if necessary) and set aside. 

3.  Brush the corn with olive oil and grill until charred on all sides, about 8 minutes. 

4.  Cut the kernels from the corncobs. As you cut the kernels, collect all of the corn milk that drips into a bowl, then use the back of the knife to scrape the remaining corn milk from the cleaned cob. 

5.  Grate the large tomato on the large holes of a box grater over a wide bowl, collecting the juice and pulp. Discard the tomato skins. 

6.  Place the garlic on a cutting board, sprinkle with a couple of generous pinches of salt, and finely chop and smash it into a paste with the side of a chef’s knife. Add the garlic paste to the tomato pulp, as well as a pinch of salt, the red pepper flakes, vinegar, and reserved corn milk. Gradually whisk in enough of the olive oil (¼ - ½ cups) until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

7.   In a serving bowl, combine the barley, corn, cherry tomatoes, beans, basil, and chives. Add the vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Gazpacho with Herbed Goat Cheese Toasts wildly adapted from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen

I love a cold soup. Mostly because I love soup, since it is reminiscent of my beloved sauces. I like how a bit of effort pays off in a pot of something delicious that can be extended for a few days, and is usually even better on the last day than the first. I love the hearty warmth of chowder in the winter and the light freshness of a clear broth in summer. And a cold soup in summer is like eating dessert for dinner.

You know, I haven't declared Soup Week in a while. Uh-oh. The husband had best be on high alert. Oh, and if you're interested in Jacques Pepin's version, please see here.

We did not grow up on gazpacho (mostly because it did not come in a box, and my feminist, Midwestern mother was going to spend as little time in the kitchen as necessary, thank you very much). But I don't remember when this divine summer soup came into my life, and I am pleased that it did. 

Mostly because I love tomatoes. So much that, should I ever find myself with the option of one crop on a deserted island, I would choose tomatoes. Sure, there may be more nutritionally complete crops, but I stand by my selection. But I digress.

I am always looking for new recipes, because I like to try out other people's palates, but I find that I almost always end up reverting to my own.

I cracked open David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen  (a lovely cookbook if ever there was one), and I had the best intentions as I began procuring tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers. However, as I was chopping, I tweaked this. And then when it came to add garlic, I tweaked that. As I started listing all of the changes I made to this delightful Gazpacho, you might say that I have no business linking it to the master chef here.  And perhaps I do not. 

But admittedly, his recipe inspired me to make my own quite delicious chilled tomato soup, so I should certainly give him all the props he deserves. Plus, he serves his with cheese. And second to tomatoes, I love cheese.

So here are the changes, in case you want to make David Lebovitz's gazpacho.
  • I added an additional ½ red bell pepper to the tomatoes early on in the blender and pureed it up.
  • I removed all traces of garlic from the soup. But I did use 1 clove on the toasts.
  • I substituted ½ a shallot for 1 red onion.
  • I added ½ tablespoon vinegar (he called for 1½ and I used 2 tablespoons. I like vinegar as much as I don't like garlic).
  • I removed the tablespoon of vodka, not because I am a teetotaler, but because we were out.
  • He peels and seeds the tomatoes. I don't have time for that.
  • I substituted farmers cheese for the goat cheese. Definitely serve with toasts smothered in herb cheese, no matter your cheese choice, on the side.
  • Not a change, but a revelation: Smoked paprika is transcendent in Gazpacho. Don't tweak this.
And below, you will find what I actually made. And not even for Soup Week.


Gazpacho with Herbed Goat Cheese Toasts

Adapted from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen 

Serves 4

1 slice firm, white country-style bread, crusts removed
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in half
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut in half
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
½ shallot, peeled and finely diced
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp piment d'Espelette or smoked paprika or chile powder
freshly ground black pepper
16 baguette slices, about ⅓-inch thick
olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 cups fresh goat cheese, ricotta, or farmers cheese
1 Tbsp chopped herbs (basil, mint, chervil, chives, or dill or a mixture of herbs)

1. To Make the Gazpacho: In a small bowl, soak the bread in cold water for 1 minute, drain, and press some of the water out of the bread. 

2..  Working in batches, pulse the tomatoes and one of the red pepper halves in the bowl of a good processor or blender with the bread, until they're almost liquefied, but still have a few chunky bits barely visible.

3. Finely dice the other half of the red pepper. Mix the pureed tomatoes, bread and pepper in a large bowl with the cucumber, shallot, remaining pepper. Stir int he olive oil, vinegar, salt, and piment d'Espelette. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add additional salt if necessary. Chill thoroughly.

4.  To Make the Toasts: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush the tops lightly with olive oi. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until the toasts are light brown. Remove from the oven and, when cool enough, rub generously with the cut side of the garlic clove.

5.  With a fork, mix the cheese in a small bowl with the herbs, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and some salt until it is smooth. Smear a tablespoon of the cheese mixture onto each toast.

6.  Divide the soup among six chilled bowls and serve the toasts alongside.