Monday, August 23, 2010

Tomatoes - Part Deux

Our tomato windfall continues here, and I finally had a half decent looking pepper come out of our garden - a jalapeno. So it was time to put two and two - or in actuality, 15 and 1 - together, and make some salsa. In my head, I hear Jerry Seinfeld's voice saying, "Excuse me, do you have any salsa?" "We need more salsa." "Where is the salsa? No salsa?"

Well, we now have salsa. It's real, and it is spectacular.

Unfortunately, my rules for salsa making are much like my rules for sauce making: as little contact with the tomatoes as possible. That eliminates pretty much all of the fresh salsa recipes out there, which is ok, because a bowl full of tomato chunks might hit the spot for some, but not me. I'm more the person who dips their chip in, soaking up the accumulating juices and avoiding any large chunks of anything- and leaving you with some dried up tomato and onion bits in the bowl. Oh yeah, that's just how I roll, baby.

I came across a recipe on All Recipes that sounded absolutely perfect to me. Like the sauce recipe I posted previously, everything gets thrown in the oven. The idea of a roasted tomato salsa sounded really good and a little different, so I was ready to give it a try.

It starts out easy enough - toss 12 whole tomatoes (I used 15 to make up for a few smaller ones from the garden), a jalapeno pepper, a quartered onion and 2 garlic cloves, still in the skin, into a baking dish. Drizzle with some olive oil. This goes under the broiler for about 10 minutes - I wanted to make sure everything was good and roasted - so I did a flip about halfway through and bumped it up to 15. It worked for me but probably unnecessary.

They come out looking... well, roasted. The smell is delightful, though. From there I took the tomatoes, cut off the top and pressed on them with the back of a chef's knife to remove some of the extra water and seeds. Leave the skins on though - it gives the salsa a bit of a smokey flavor. The tomatoes went into the food processor, along with the onions. Then I split the jalapeno in half, removed the stem, got rid of about half of the ribs and seeds and dropped it in the food processor. Same with the garlic (smash them with the back of your knife and they slide right out of the skin). A few pulses... then a few more pulses (you do recall the general distaste for large chunks, right?). Into this mix goes a nice amount of cumin, lime juice and cilantro. Stir and pop it into the fridge - unless lukewarm salsa is your thing.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

(adapted from

12-15 Roma (plum) tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 small onion, quartered (I used a Pennsylvania sweet onion, but I think any type would work)
1 jalapeno pepper
Olive oil to drizzle
1 teaspoon cumin (I went over this - I love me some cumin. Just adjust to your taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat the broiler. In a medium baking dish, place tomatoes, garlic, onion and jalapeno. Drizzle with olive oil.
Broil for 10 minutes, checking often, or until outsides of vegetables are charred.
Remove from heat. Remove and discard tomato cores, jalapeno stem (and some or all of the ribs and seeds, depending on your heat tolerance) and garlic skins.
Process the charred vegetables in the food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl, and mix in cumin, salt, lime juice and cilantro.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The stealth wrap

My mom celebrated her 50...ish birthday this week, so it was time to break out the stealth knitting project. You know that project that you never talk about, that no one knows you're working on on, then bam! Voila! I've knitted you a wrap.

I like those kind of projects - this one was completely under the radar. I bought the yarn months and months ago at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival, from my one of my absolute favorite vendors there - Brooks Farm Yarn. The colors are gorgeous and the yarn is a dream to work with (whenever I can get past petting it, that is).

This particular yarn is their Duet, which is a blend of wool and kid mohair. I was sucked in by the wrap they had on display, a simple garter stitch knit on the bias done on larger needles to get that open, loosey goosey look. It turned out to be as boring as all getout to do with its row after row... after row of knit stitch, so I'd work on a row or two here and there between other projects. Then came crunch time - so a few evenings spent with the garter stitch, and I got it, heh heh, wrapped up. (Oh yeah. I'm bustin' out the puns.)

This yarn is incredibly soft - and very VERY warm. Not so good for August weather, but should be perfect for the fall.

Check out the pattern for this lovely - because I know you're just itching to try it out now that you've heard how boring it is to do - can be found here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pass the tommy-toes

Full disclosure: I hate tomatoes. Hate. I am using the word "hate" here, about tomatoes (thanks Jack Nicholson). So of course the one thing in my little backyard garden that has actually produced anything would be.. yes, you guessed it.

Ok, ok... I will admit that I have gotten a fair amount of herbs - basil, rosemary oregano and parsley. And earlier this summer, I will concede that we had a few decent salads from some lettuce I planted. But the peppers and strawberries were nonexistent. The cucumbers measly. The tomatoes, however... well according to our tomato lovers in the family, the tomatoes have been delicious.

There I was, looking at what turned out to be 6 pounds of Roma tomatoes - from ONE plant -- with a sprinkling of cherry tomatoes from my other lone plant. All from my otherwise pathetic garden. So I did what any self-respecting, tomato hating, yet equal opportunity giving cook would do - made tomato sauce.

But there are rules here. Yes, rules about tomato sauce making (this is where my crazy comes out). 1. I wanted as little to do with the tomatoes as possible. That means no seeding, no peeling. The less actual contact with the tomatoes, the better. 2. The sauce had to be smooth. No pieces or chunks of tomato. I'm kind of like a 9 year old in that regard. 3. I was not about to spend hours tending to a hot simmering pot of tomato sauce. It's AUGUST, for crying out loud.

It turns out those requirements don't leave you with a lot of options. It was hard enough tracking down a recipe that didn't call for canned tomatoes. Then I found it-the perfect recipe. Really. Read on.

It starts with quartering the tomatoes. No need to blanch and peel them. No seeding, no dicing. I'm already in. Add to that a couple of onions, roughly chopped, a whole lot of garlic, along with some herbs (I used basil and oregano). Toss it in a 13x9 pan with some olive oil. That's the prep involved. This was my kind of recipe.

But it gets better: the vegetables are roasted. No breaking up tomatoes with your spoon, no simmering. Delightful. And the kicker? Once it's done, it all goes through a food mill. No big chunks of anything. Heaven. And I hadn't even tried it yet.

And then I did - yum. Am I allowed to use that word about something that started as a tomato? But this was good - the roasting gave the sauce a really rich flavor. For dinner that night, I sauteed some cremini mushrooms, tossed in some of the sauce and served it over pasta. So easy, and everyone loved it.

Is it possible that I'm thinking of planting two Roma tomato plants next year?

Roasted Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Bluekat76's recipe at Dave's Garden)

4 pounds tomatoes, stemmed and quartered
2 yellow or other onions (I used a couple of sweet onions I picked up from Soergel's)
16 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
Fresh basil and oregano (about 3 tablespoons chopped)
A healthy shake of dried red pepper flakes

Combine ingredients in a 9x13 inch pan. Roast at 450°F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until juices get thick. Tomatoes will get a bit blackened and will smell wonderful.

Let cool, and run through a food mill to remove skins & seeds. Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When good diets go bad

There are some ingredients that just mess with my sense of right and wrong.

Perhaps I should explain. A piece of chocolate has never sent me on a robbery spree or landed me in jail on assault charges -although I will not hesitate to throw a few elbows for a corner piece of cake.

I'm saying that I know it's wrong to make a sauce using a stick of butter. I know it's wrong to add a mass of pancetta to that melted stick of butter. But this is gnocchi we're talking about. Delicious, puffy gobs of potato-ey goodness. And this wasn't just any gnocchi. This was sweet potato gnocchi. Rules must be bent.

I suppose I could have done a light marinara sauce. But I wanted to play with that natural sweetness from the sweet potato. A brown butter sauce was a good start. And to the sweet, why not add some salty? The pancetta was calling my name. More likely an artery's name, but what do you know? We're named the same thing. So pancetta it was. A bit of nutmeg, a couple of healthy pinches of cinnamon, fresh rosemary and little grating of Parmesan rounded it out. Yum.

We had a salad with it, so I think that makes it a little better, right? But come on, a little indulgence once in a while is never a bad thing.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Pancetta
(makes four servings)

1 lb. of sweet potato gnocchi (I picked mine up from the Dormont Farmers Market.)
3/4 stick unsalted butter
4 oz. diced pancetta
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 healthy pinches ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
course salt and fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add pancetta and cook until brown and slightly crispy. Add the rosemary and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook gnocchi according to package directions. Drain well and add to butter sauce. Toss with the sauce until coated.. Divide among plates and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Eat now, regret later.