Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Triple Tomato Bliss

Gifts of freshly grown and plucked winter tomatoes have found their way to my produce bin over the course of the last month. The fastidious gardener who cultivated them warned me that they might not be so tasty this time of year. But I found that to be far from the truth as I crafted three great meals with the character-laden beauties, proving that his green thumb is actually a rather talented one.

There were different varieties including mild, perfectly round and pink momotaros; super red and fleshy purple cherokees, yellow hillbilly potato leaf and then a handful of baby San Marzanos.

My first endeavor was just to dive into the larger and plump globes calling for nothing more than to be eaten at a lukewarm and juicy room temperature with a garnish of sea salt and black pepper.

Laid on a leaf of romaine with a side of red pepper hummus and a slice of organic sharp white cheddar made a perfect lunch. Notice the red veins in the yellow slices; apparently these flames are what caused the great personality on the palate.

The second batch of the cherokees and the momotaros were diced at their most bursting ripeness for inclusion into one of my standard breakfasts: the soy chorizo omelet.

I have a bizarre secret for the perfect fluffy eggs. It’s all about putting eggs in a bowl and adding a teaspoon of almond milk. I know it sounds weird but there is something about the almond milk’s slight sweetness that puts a mellow and warm spin into the finished eggs without the taste of almond sticking in the mix. The second secret is to whisk the eggs for two whole minutes to guarantee the perfect fluff. With these two things in mind, you can really throw anything else into the eggs after that, and in this case, I added some dried, French thyme.

Whisked and poured into a pan that was already simmering up some soy chorizo and then adding a sprinkle of Mexican queso fresca on top until slightly melted, the whole thing was then flipped into an omelet worthy of being topped with the fresh diced tomatoes. The spice of the chorizo, the subtle flow of the thyme and the flesh of the tomato produced savory flavors in every bite.

The rest of the bunch, were the grizzly looking and scarred San Marzanos and odds and ends of others that had been used here and there . What a perfect little gang for my favorite smoked chicken sausage spaghetti sauce. I gathered up all the ingredients I needed. The secret of this sauce is to super-slow cook two large and fresh, spicy Italian chicken sausage links in a heavy pan on low for about an hour until they are heated all the way through, watching them carefully and flipping them over regularly to cause a nice burnt (but not overly) line here and there on the link. This causes the sausage to become multi-flavored and textured adding to the complexity of the final sauce. Once done the links are kept room temperature and reserved for the sauce. My grandfather taught me this sausage secret when I was little and used to stand on a bench as he slowly cooked them, singing big band songs to me while we waited. His sauce was the best so I have adapted it to my own version as an adult, absent the Crisco and other 1950s foods that have come to mean clogged arteries to my generation.

Here is the sauce recipe:


2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small carrot or 1/2 large carrot, finely chopped

1 small stalk of celery, including the green tops, finely chopped

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil

1-3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 teaspoon tomato paste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through.

Remove cover and add the minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, including the juice and shredding them with your fingers. Add the tomato paste and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. If you want you can push the sauce through a food mill, or blend it with an immersion blender, to give it a smooth consistency but I like it chunky and textural.

At the end, cut the sausage links into one inch or two-inch chunks and throw into the pan of tomato sauce and toss. Then, serve over a bed of hot whole-wheat pasta.

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