Thursday, August 10, 2006

Seasonal Ménage à Trois: Tomatoes

When I was a kid, I didn’t like tomatoes at all. Not in a salad, not in a soup, and especially not stewed and served over mashed potatoes, as my mom liked to do. I could not even abide little tomato chunks in my spaghetti with meat sauce. In my defense, I was not a picky eater as a child. I never refused to eat vegetables or had crazy phases like insisting on only white foods. I just did not like tomatoes.

I think it must have been a texture problem. I thought canned tomatoes were slimy, and fresh ones were mealy. Of course, it was the 1980s, when we were not so hyper-aware of the benefits of eating produce in season and the freshness of a fruit that has not spent a week being trucked in from the other side of the country. I didn’t know a thing about heirloom varieties, and I had never heard of a green tomato until that movie was released. Maybe I had the delicate taste buds of a connoisseur telling me that those 80s supermarket tomatoes just weren’t up to snuff.

After my first visit to Europe when I was 15, the whole world of food (and in fact, the whole world) seemed to open up to me, and suddenly there was hardly any food I would not eat. I had my first Pizza Margherita in Florence, my first gelato in Rome and toasted, melting ham and cheese sandwiches on baguette in France. Greece and Turkey were a revelation all their own. I think it was after that experience that I started really getting interested in food and cooking. I’ve loved eating since birth, but this was different. Tomatoes found a place in my heart, and that is where they remain.

The Two Tomato Salad with Barley, the inspiration for this post.

I chose tomatoes as my seasonal ménage à trois ingredient because, well, I really couldn’t help it. I was cruising through the produce section one night after work trying to put together a meal, and the only truly inspiring item I saw were some big, farm-fresh green tomatoes. Immediately, the dish came together in my mind, and it turned out to taste even better than I hoped for. The Two-Tomato Salad with Barley can be done quickly on a weeknight and served with or without the chicken as your preference or energy level dictates. After eating those crisp, slightly bitter grilled green tomatoes topped with sweet, sautéed cherry tomatoes, I knew I had found the ingredient for my trio of seasonal dishes. If you missed the previous ménage à trois of fresh figs, take a look here.

Skewed view of the Slow-Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart.

I have been very excited about tarts lately, and wanted to make one with puff pastry and my favorite super-slow roasted roma tomatoes. Mike’s second cousin, Rob, told me this technique a couple of Thanksgivings ago. The colorful platter of deeply caramelized, roasted tomatoes, with all of their sweetness utterly concentrated within, along with a veritable cornucopia of other roasted veggies proved that his method was a winner. I roasted my tomatoes the night before, and put together the tart in less than half an hour for a unique Sunday brunch dish. These tomatoes make a wonderful ingredient in all kinds of things like dips, crostini, sandwiches, pizza and antipasto platters. Roasting them is a zero-maintenance job, so do as many as you can at a time.

In order to avoid making this a never-ending post, I am offering the first two recipes in the ménage à trois and saving the final bit of tomato goodness for my next post. So get out to your garden, farm stand or supermarket and pick out as many varieties as you can manage. Check back for my final recipe—it involves exotic ingredients. And let me know your favorite way to eat summer tomatoes.

Two-Tomato Salad with Barley
Serves 3 to 4

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, poached or grilled and roughly chopped into ½ inch pieces
2 c. water
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c. quick cooking barley
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups yellow squash, cut into half inch pieces
3 green tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
6 to 8 green onions, white and light green parts, sliced
1/3 c. feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil, sliced
Red wine vinaigrette, recipe follows

In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add salt to taste and add the barley. Stir and bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the water is absorbed. Meanwhile, heat 1 tblsp. of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash, season with salt and pepper and cook stirring frequently, until tender and lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Remove the squash to a bowl, coat your skillet with nonstick cooking spray and add another tblsp. of oil. Working in batches, add the sliced green tomatoes in a single layer and allow them to cook without moving them for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom side is lightly browned. Turn and cook for an additional 2 minutes or so, until the opposite side is browned. Remove to a plate and continue cooking the rest of your green tomatoes in the same way. When the tomatoes are done sprinkle them with a little coarse salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium and give your skillet another hit of nonstick spray or a bit more oil. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the green onions and cook for one minute more. Add to the bowl with the squash.

To assemble the dish, mound some barley on each plate. Arrange 3 or 4 green tomato slices to one side of the barley. Top with the chopped chicken, squash and cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle feta cheese and plenty of sliced basil over all. Drizzle about 1 tblsp. of the vinaigrette over each plate and serve.

Red Wine Vinaigrette
2 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 generous tblsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon or horseradish-flavored mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously for 10 seconds just before serving. You can also use a small whisk or fork to combine.

Browning the green tomatoes in a nonstick skillet. They still retain their crisp texture when cooked.

Slow-Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart
Serves 6-8

15 roma or vine-ripened tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

5 oz goat cheese
½ c ricotta cheese
1 egg
½ tsp. salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 tblsp. water or milk, as needed

1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 250. Place the tomato halves on a foil lined baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 3 hours. Tomatoes should shrink and shrivel considerably in this time, but roast them longer if you want to dry out their juices even more. Tomatoes can be roasted up to 2 days before preparing the tart. Keep them tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425, or follow the directions on your package of puff pastry. Using a food processor, blender, or mixer, combine the goat cheese, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper until smooth. Add 1 or 2 tblsp. of water or milk if necessary to achieve a thick, but spreadable consistency. Set aside.

Defrost the puff pastry according to package directions. Carefully unfold the dough onto a floured surface, sprinkling a little flour on the bottom of each square of dough as you unfold it. Lightly flour the top of the unfolded dough, as well as your rolling pin. Roll the dough so that it is about 1/8 inch thick. I used Dufour’s brand of puff pastry, and it was already the appropriate thickness. Find a pot lid, dinner plate or other stencil that is approximately ten inches in diameter and use it to cut out a circle of puff pastry. Discard the scraps or save them for another use (individual tartlets, anyone?). Transfer the round of dough to a greased baking sheet by draping it over your rolling pin and laying it out on the baking sheet. If the circle gets a little distorted, that is okay, just mold it back into shape as well as you can.

Spread the goat cheese mixture over the tart with the back of a spoon, leaving a half inch border. Arrange the roasted tomatoes in concentric circles, starting from the outside and working your way to the center. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are puffed and lightly browned and the cheese in the center is set. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Serve immediately.

Use a 10 inch pot lid as a stencil, and cut out a circle.

A Beautiful Brunch!

1 comment:

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