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Heirloom Tomato Pasta

September 27, 2012

It’s that time of year when we’re just starting to transition to fall, and yet the indian summer in San Francisco is still hanging on: the evening air is crisp and cool, and the days are getting shorter, but we’re enjoying impossibly beautiful, warm and sunny days (it’s even supposed to get into the 80s this weekend!) that fool us into thinking that it’s still summer.

The fact that gorgeous heirloom tomatoes are still in abundance doesn’t help to convince me that summer is over and fall has arrived. Sure, I’m excited to transition to cooking all the incredibly delicious fall vegetables (hello, butternut squash). But I cannot resist taking advantage of these late-summer beauties while they’re still here.

I especially cannot resist picking up some heirloom tomatoes at the store because of this simple pasta, one of the dishes that has become a summer staple at this house: it’s fresh, delicious, seasonal, and incredibly easy to make on a weeknight after work (or after taking care of a crazy little baby). I found the recipe last summer in an issue of Food & Wine, and over the course of last summer and this summer—with a few little tweaks—it has become one of our absolute favorites.

Heirloom tomatoes won’t be around for long, and soon we’ll just be seeing the sad, sorry excuses for tomatoes that we get at the grocery store during the winter. Of course, this loss will be offset by all the apples, winter squash, sweet potatoes, beets… oh my! But before that happens, if you can, enjoy this delectable, simple dish before it’s too late.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO PASTA

Adapted—just a little—from Food & Wine

Serves 3-4 as an entrée

1 8 oz. package of long, thin pasta (such as cappellini or spaghettini)
2-4 heirloom tomatoes*
2 shallots
3 garlic cloves
basil
olive oil
salt & pepper

* If the tomatoes are especially large (heirloom tomatoes can be huge!), two will work well. But if they’re on the smaller side, go for 2-3 tomatoes. On my last trip to the store, I opted for 4 slightly smaller tomatoes, so that I could use a mix of varieties and color: two black krims, a green zebra, and a yellow valencia (don’t you just love the crazy names of heirloom tomatoes?).

Chop the heirloom tomatoes and place in a large bowl, along with all their juices. Drizzle a couple tablespoons of good quality olive oil on top, and season well with salt and pepper. Let the tomatoes hang out in the bowl—the salt will bring out all the juices and create an incredibly yummy sauce—while you prep the shallots and garlic.

Roughly chop the shallots and mince the garlic. In a small saucepan, heat a couples splashes of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, season with a little salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Next add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the bowl along with the tomatoes. Tear a small handful of basil leaves and add to the bowl. Stir to combine, and let everything hang out together (so that the flavors meld) while you make the pasta.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions and drain. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl with the tomatoes, and toss well to coat with the sauce—the hot pasta will absorb some of the juices from the tomatoes, making the whole dish even more delicious. Divide among bowls, and top with a little extra basil for garnish. Serve and enjoy!

Pearl Couscous with Cilantro, Corn & Avocado

September 20, 2012

Now that I’ve returned to this little blog, it’s time to play catch-up. Despite my complete failure to post anything for almost a year, I actually was still cooking over here (although, I must admit, not with quite as much gusto or frequency as before—I blame work and morning sickness).

The result is that there are a few dishes that—over the course of the past year—have become staples around here, but that I’ve never shared with you all. Time to remedy that!

First up is this incredibly simple, delicious couscous. It became a go-to weeknight meal for us over the past few months. It’s somewhat inspired by another favorite at this house, but even though it shares a few of the same ingredients, the result is completely different (but equally delicious).

This recipe came together fortuitously one night, when I was trying to figure out what on earth to make with some extra corn, limes, and avocado that we happened to have on hand, plus the items in our pantry. Sometimes this can be the best inspiration…

So I cooked up some couscous, made a simple cilantro-lime-and-pepper sauce, toasted some cashews, sautéed the corn, tossed it all together, topped it with avocado and lime, and—voila!—we somehow ended up with something really delicious that we now make all the time. I love when that happens.

PEARL COUSCOUS WITH CILANTRO, CORN & AVOCADO

Serves 4 generously as an entrée

1 bunch of cilantro, tough stems removed (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
1 serrano pepper
4 ears of corn (preferably white corn), kernels removed
2 avocados, diced
2 limes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup raw cashews
3 cups pearl couscous (a.k.a. Israeli couscous)
4 cups water
olive oil
salt & pepper

* If there isn’t any fresh corn available, frozen will work as well.

Cook the couscous. Bring 4 cups of lightly salted water to boil in pot. Add the couscous, along with a splash of olive oil, and simmer uncovered for 6 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes. If you’re not going to mix the cooked couscous with the sauce soon after it’s done cooking, spread the couscous on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer to cool; this will prevent the couscous from sticking together while it cools.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, toast the cashews over medium heat, until golden. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool. Once cool, roughly chop and set aside.

Toss the diced avocado in a small bowl with the juice from one lime, and with some salt and pepper (to taste).

Make the sauce while the couscous is cooking and the cashews are toasting: while the motor’s running, toss the serrano pepper into the food processor to chop. Turn the food processor off, and add the cilantro and the juice from one lime. Process until everything is chopped and combined (scraping down the sides as needed). With the food processor running, slowing add about 1/4 cup good quality olive oil, and process until smooth (add more olive oil if needed). Season with salt and pepper (to taste).

Next, heat a couple splashes of olive oil in the same pan that you toasted the cashews in. Add the garlic and sauté (over medium-high heat) for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the fresh corn kernels to the pan, and cook together for about 3-5 minutes (the corn should still be nice and crisp). Remove from the heat, and toss together with the cilantro-lime-and-pepper sauce. Divide among bowls and top with the avocado, cashews, and reserved cilantro leaves (for garnish). Serve and enjoy!

There and Back Again.

September 17, 2012

Well, hello there. It’s me again. I’m not sure how a year has possibly passed since my last post. I have a long list of excuses: work was crazy busy last fall, and then it was the holidays, and then… blah, blah, blah. I won’t bore you with my long laundry list of excuses. But at least I’ve got something to show for the past year. Last November, we found out that we were expecting. And then two months ago, we welcomed a new addition to our little family: Wyatt Stephen Ferguson, 7 lbs. 15 oz., 21 inches, born on July 17, 2012 at 10:25 a.m.

He’s got dad’s eyes, mom’s nose, and some pretty fabulous red hair. Not to mention big blue eyes. We’re completely biased, of course, but we think he’s super adorable.

Needless to say, the past two months have been awesome. Patrick was lucky enough to get five weeks off work, making for a magical end-of-summer with our little man. Patrick’s now back to the grind, but I’m on leave until the new year, and enjoying every minute. No work. Long days with this happy little monster—and Scout too! It’s pretty fabulous. I could get used to this…

My days are surprisingly full—who knew that you could be so busy not working? But I’m nevertheless back to cooking, and even have a little time to photograph it and write about it. More along those lines coming soon. But in the meantime, life is good. And it’s good to be back.

Heirloom Tomato Pizza

September 27, 2011

Heirloom tomatoes? I know, it’s officially fall. Autumn. Leaves falling. Pumpkins and butternut squash. Hot apple cider. I mean, it’s practically October. But summer is still marching on here in San Francisco. Well, this weekend was foggy and rainy, but I’m just going to pretend that didn’t happen, particularly since the sun is now back in full force—and thank goodness for that—otherwise I might be suffering from fog-induced seasonal affective disorder right now. Regardless, we’re enjoying some much-deserved warm weather this week, so I simply cannot bear to start cooking with pumpkins and butternut squash. And I cannot start drinking hot apple cider. Not yet, at least. Although (my current pro-summer fanaticism notwithstanding) autumn is my favorite season, so I’m sure I’ll jump on that bandwagon soon enough…

Are heirloom tomatoes still gorgeous in your neck of the woods? Because they’re downright amazing here right now. They come in just about every color of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. Some are sweet. Some are tart. But they’re all so delicious. I find that imple preparations are best for these naturally delectable tomatoes—we’ve been enjoying them sliced up in a caprese salad, along with a glass of rosé on the weekend, or diced up in a simple, raw pasta sauce with garlic and shallots, for an easy weeknight meal. And of course we’ve been enjoying these on pizza too (if it’s good, it’s got to go on a pizza, right?).

This pizza couldn’t be easier to make. But it’s so good. We felt like we were feasting on a fancy, overpriced pizza at one of San Francisco’s trendy pizza joints (only for a fraction of the cost). All it takes is some simple, homemade pizza dough. Some heirloom tomatoes. Some fresh mozzarella. A handful of fresh basil (we used some very yummy lemon basil that we have growing in our herb garden). And a generous drizzle of the basil oil that you have leftover from making this dish. Pop it in a hot oven, and in just a few minutes, you’ve got a pretty incredible meal that’s ready to be devoured. Perfect.

Oh, and Patrick has made some tweaks to his super simple pizza dough recipe (basically, he’s perfected it and it’s awesome). I’ll be posting his tips for making great dough, along with step-by-step photos soon!

HEIRLOOM TOMATO PIZZA

1 recipe of Patrick’s Super Simple Pizza Dough
2 heirloom tomatoes (whatever varieties catch your fancy)
6-8 oz. fresh mozzarella
small handful of fresh basil leaves
a couple tablespoons of basil oil
salt & pepper
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (the hotter the better!).

Thinly slice the tomatoes and mozzarella. Set aside.

Use your hands to stretch out (gently!) your pizza dough into a large circle.  Lay your dough out on a pizza peel, pizza crisper, or sheet pan (whatever you’ve got—I use a pizza crisper pan). Brush or spritz lightly with olive oil. Arrange the heirloom tomato and mozzarella slices on top of the dough, and top with a very light drizzle of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper.

Bake for about 5-10 minutes (total baking time depends on how hot your oven is), until the cheese is melted and bubbling, the tomatoes are just wilted, and the dough is blistered. Drizzle a couple generous tablespoons of basil oil all over the pizza, and then scatter fresh basil leaves on top. Slice and enjoy!

Barley Risotto with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes & Basil Oil

September 22, 2011

Hello, friends. I know—it has simply been too long. An inexcusably long absence. But this summer has been filled with weddings. And travel. And work. Much too much of that last one, if you ask me. Like working until the wee hours of the morning too much. Or working every weekend that I haven’t been out of town too much. The result? Absolutely no free time for this little blog. But I’m hoping to put an end to my neglect now, although work promises to keep me way too busy through the end of the year… fingers crossed that it will be manageable.

How was your summer? I know that summer is pretty much over everywhere. But summer has arrived in San Francisco. Finally. We had the worst summer this year, weather-wise. Some summer fog is typical in San Francisco. But this year? July and August were filled days, and days, and days of fog. And mist. And wind. It was pretty miserable. By mid-August, I was wondering if we’d ever see the sun. By early-September? I was pretty sure we’d be stuck in a fog bank for eternity.

But over the past couple weeks, the sun has slowly but surely been making more regular appearances. And this past weekend our San Francisco summer arrived, at long last. Warm, sunny days in the high 70s and low 80s. It was simply wonderful. And the trend is supposed to continue. Fingers crossed that our dilatory summer lasts long into October and November, maybe even December. I know, San Francisco weather is weird.

So while summer has only just arrived in San Francisco, weather-wise, it thankfully arrived somewhat sooner in the produce section of our grocery store. Thank goodness. It’s wonderful to have fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes, and basil that actually looks like, well, basil. Not to mention peaches, cherries, apricots, etc. I’m hoping that this too lasts for as long as possible…

This dish takes advantage of some of the season’s best ingredients, and is pure summer—light, fresh, and flavorful. It’s filled with fresh white corn and cherry tomatoes, all incorporated into a simple barley “risotto,” topped with a chives and a homemade basil oil. Simple, but delicious. And one of the best new recipes that I’ve made in recent memory. I know it’s quickly becoming autumn pretty much everywhere else, but this dish is a last gasp celebration of summer, or an inaugural summer dish, as the case may be…

Oh, and don’t skip the basil oil. It’s pretty incredible, and pulls the whole dish together—plus, it’s super simple to make, and you’ll have leftovers to use on other summer-inspired dishes. I’ll be posting a recipe with those leftovers soon… stay tuned!

BARLEY RISOTTO WITH CORN, CHERRY TOMATOES & BASIL OIL

Serves 3-4

For the barley risotto:

1 yellow onion, diced
2 cups pearled barley
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken or mild vegetable broth (approximate—the exact amount that you end up using will vary depending on your grains)
3 ears of corn (I used white corn), kernels removed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
1/2 cup grated parmesan
fresh chives, for garnish (optional)
olive oil
salt & pepper

For the basil oil:
1 bunch fresh basil
1 cup olive oil

Warm the chicken or vegetable broth in a saucepan over low-medium heat.

Meanwhile, heat a couple splashes of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, along with a couple pinches of salt and a couple grinds of fresh pepper, and sauté until soft and translucent—about 3-5 minutes. Next, add the pearl barley to the pan, and cook together for 1-2 minutes (see photo). Add the white wine, and cook until absorbed—about 3 minutes.

Now you’re ready to start adding the warm broth: add one ladle of broth and cook (stirring frequently) until absorbed. Repeat-for about 30-40 minutes—until the pearl barley is cooked. The barley should be soft and chewy, with a slight bite to it.

Meanwhile, make the basil oil. Puree the basil leaves in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add 1 cup of olive oil in a steady stream, while the food processor is running, and process until everything is combined. Heat the mixture in a sauce pan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.*

When the pearl barley is just a minute or two shy of done, add the corn kernels and cherry tomatoes to the pan, and cook for  about 3 minutes—until the barley is cooked and tomatoes are just beginning to break down. Remove from heat, and stir in the lemon zest, crème fraiche, and parmesan. The crème fraiche and parmesan will add the touch of creaminess that you would expect from a traditional, arborio rice risotto, and the lemon zest will brighten the whole dish. Season with salt and pepper (to taste).

Divide the risotto among bowls, and top with fresh chives, a little grated parmesan, and a generous drizzle of the basil oil. Enjoy!

* Store whatever basil you don’t use in jar; it will keep in a cool, dry place for at least a week.

Forbidden Rice with Ginger Tofu, Asparagus & Kale

July 8, 2011

Now that we’re post-vacation and post-Fourth of July weekend (hot dogs, burgers, and root beer floats, anyone?), it’s time for something healthy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s probably nothing better than sipping a root beer float out in the hot summertime heat on July 4th. But add that to the gorging that we did in Italy and, well, my body’s just craving some vegetables. Something that’s good for me, but that tastes good too.

So I poked around on the internet to find a new, healthy recipe to try out. I settled on this one, from Martha Stewart’s Whole Living. I vamped it up by adding more vegetables and greens, and finishing it with a little extra spice, some tamari, and a drizzle of sesame oil.

This resulting dish fit the bill perfectly: it’s full of fresh vegetables and herbs (asparagus, kale, scallions, and chives), gets a nice kick from fresh ginger and Sriracha, and has just a touch of decadence from the sesame oil. Good for you. But tastes oh-so good too.

FORBIDDEN RICE WITH GINGER TOFU, ASPARAGUS & KALE

Adapted, in a bunch of ways, from Martha Stewart.

Serves 3-4.

2 (6 oz.) packages baked tofu*
1 bunch of asparagus
1 bunch of kale
1 cup of black rice
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup of scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh chives, chopped
olive oil
salt, for seasoning (to taste)
tamari, for seasoning (to taste)
1 tablespoon Sriracha (plus more, to taste, if desired)
sesame oil
limes wedges, for serving

Cook the black rice according to package instructions. Mine called for 1.5 cups of water for 1 cup of rice (other may call for a 2 to 1 ratio). Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat, add the rice, then cover and simmer for 35 minutes (again, go with the instructions on the rice you have—they all differ a little for that particular grain). Remove from heat, and let stand (covered) for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut the tofu into 1 inch long pieces, about 1/4 inch thick. Pan-fry in a wok or large pan, over medium heat, along with a couple splashes of olive oil and tamari, until golden brown (about 5-7 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

Prep your vegetables while the tofu and rice are cooking. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus, and then cut into 1-inch pieces. Remove the stems and tough ends from the kale, and coarsely chop. Chop your scallions and chives.

In the same wok or large pan that you cooked the tofu in, heat a couple splashes of olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus and the scallions (reserving some scallions for garnish), along with a couple pinches of salt, and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Next, add the garlic and ginger to the pan, and cook for about one minute (until fragrant). Add the kale, and sauté until the kale is just wilted, and the asparagus is crisp-tender. Reduce the heat to low.

Add the tofu back to the pan, along with about 1 tablespoon of Sriracha. Stir everything together, until all the veggies and tofu are coated with the Sriracha. Finally, add the black rice to the pan, and sauté everything together for a minute or two. Taste for seasonings. Want a little more kick? Add some more Sriarcha. Need a little more salt? Add a little tamari. I added a little more of both—Sriracha and tamari—until it tasted just right.

Divide among bowls, and top each with a drizzle of sesame oil, and chopped scallions and chives (for garnish). Serve with the lime wedges (these add a great acidity to the dish when squeezed on top). Enjoy!

* I used Wildwood Organics Savory Baked Tofu.

Cacio e Pepe

July 5, 2011

Another post in honor of Italy. This pasta—cacio e pepe, or “cheese and pepper,” in English—is an absurdly simple, yet incredibly delicious, Roman pasta dish. It will literally only take you a few minutes to throw together in the evenings, but is surprisingly elegant. A perfect weeknight meal, in my mind.

Patrick was itching to have some real Roman cacio e pepe while we were there, and yet (for whatever reason) we found ourselves in Rome, on our last night in Italy before flying home to San Francisco, and we had not eaten cacio e pepe. What?! Clearly, the situation needed to be rectified, and fast. So we walked down to Trastevere, got a beer at this amazing dive bar, had one last Aperol Spitz, and then headed here for some authentic cacio e pepe. All I’ll say is that it was a fantastic way to spend our last night in Rome, not to mention our last night in Italy.

I love this dish because, for me, it embodies the best of Italian cooking. It’s simple. A little rustic. Made with the freshest ingredients. And oh-so-good. You really can’t beat Italian cooking. Especially when it’s this easy to make!

CACIO E PEPE

Adapted, a little, from Bon Appétit

Serves 2-3 as a main

1 package of pasta (egg taglioni, buccatini, spaghetti, or linguine)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 scant tbsp. whole black peppercorns*
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino

Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil.** Add the pasta, and cook according to package instructions (stirring occasionally), until about 2 minutes before tender (it will finish cooking the the pan). Drain the pasta, reserving at least a cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, crush the peppercorns using a rolling pin or heavy skillet—this will give you very coarse pepper, which works well in the dish. I crush the peppercorns by placing them on a wooden cutting board, covering them with a piece of parchment paper (to keep them from flying everywhere), and then smashing them with a rolling pin until coarsely crushed (see photo). Don’t be afraid to hit the peppercorns hard—you need a little muscle here. It’s a good way to take out any stress after a long day!

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the pepper, and swirl in the pan to toast, for about a minute. Next, 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water to the pan, along with the remaining butter, and bring to a simmer. Add the cooked pasta. Reduce the heat to low, and then add the Parmesan, tossing with tongs until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat, and add the Pecorino. Toss with tongs until everything is melted and combined, and the pasta is well-coated and al dente. At this point, you will probably want to add a little more pasta water to moisten the dish—it should be silky and creamy, not dry. Taste for seasonings, and add more pasta water and/or salt as needed.

Divide among bowls and serve immediately. Pretend you’re in Rome and enjoy!

* Sensitive to spice? Just use a little less pepper. I like my cacio e pepe to have a nice kick, so my version of this dish calls for a scant tablespoon. But I’ve seen other recipes call for as little as a teaspoon. Go with what works for you.

** What does well-salted mean? I mean go to town with the salt. You should use a small handful of salt, so that the water is almost the salinity of salt water. Sounds crazy? It’s not, I promise. Using enough salt is the only way to truly flavor the pasta noodles while they’re cooking. And the pasta water will be built-in seasoning for your sauce. But always remember to taste as you go when seasoning, either with pasta water or just straight up salt—it will not only ensure that you have a well-seasoned dish that suits your tastes, but also gives you an excuse to snack (certainly one of the perks of cooking!).

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