07 October 2010

I've tomato juice on my hands.

Tomatoes. Fragrant, juicy, unique. With the bounty that I received from Jemma and Dana, I've made a few pretty tasty meals.
1. Tomato soup and grilled cheese

Using Michael Chiarello's recipe as a starting point, I made a scrumptious tomato soup with a few changes.

Instead of using canned tomatoes, I chopped up about 20 oz. of fresh, ripe tomatoes. I strained the juice into a bowl and saved it for the soup. My tomatoes were plenty juicy, so there was no shortage of liquid for the base. I added about five cloves of garlic instead of the suggested two, substituted half&half for the heavy cream and omitted the use of butter altogether. I don't have an immersion blender, but with help, using a regular upright blender was perfect. Just make sure to hold the lid down while blending!

For the grilled cheese sandwich, I used bakery 9-grain bread, butter and sliced havarti cheese. The buttery havarti complimented the subtle acidity of the soup quite well!

2. Colombian aji (ah-hee) salsa over chicken taco salad

Out of all of my mother's talents, cooking is perhaps her best (and most redemptive) one. Instead of all-American classics growing up, my mother made Hungarian goulash, lentils and hamhocks over rice, plantains, skirt steak and aji.
Often I crave her food and with all the tomatoes on hand, I set out to match some of the flavors of my childhood.

Ingredients (aji)
1 bunch of cilantro                      1 lemon
6-7 scallions                                hot sauce to taste
6-7 medium, ripe tomatoes         salt and pepper
5 cloves of garlic
Ingredients (salad)
2 large handfuls of spring greens
one box of 6 crushed taco shells
3 chicken breasts
taco seasoning
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

In a large bowl, place diced tomato, chopped garlic and cilantro. Using the white and about an inch of green only of the scallions, dice those up as well. Juice the lemon. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper. Mix.

For the salad, crush taco shells in the bottom of a large bowl. Add greens and cheese. Dredge chicken through taco seasoning and pan-fry in olive oil until done. Wait about five minutes before slicing chicken breasts into cubes.  Place all ingredients in a bowl and put the desire amount of aji on! Easy and healthy.

3. Chunky garden tomato sauce

What else does one do with a bunch of tomatoes? Make tomato sauce of course! I consulted a few recipes for long-simmering and barely-cooked sauces, but the timing just wasn't right for me. This recipe is sort of a hybrid, cooked just long enough for the flavors to meld together but short enough so that I could wander away from the house without worry of it burning down!

My roommate said that the house smelled just like a freshly watered vegetable garden. Using fresh ingredients definitely benefited the flavor in this recipe.

2 celery sticks, diced
1 carrot, shaved, diced
10-12 tomatoes of varying sizes, peeled, seeded.
2 tbspn oregano
1/4 cup fresh basil. 1 tspn dried
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup zucchini
1 onion
5 cloves of garlic
couple shakes of red pepper flakes
1 green bell pepper, diced
2-3 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn tomato paste

In a large pot, bring water to boil. Have bowl of ice water ready. Add tomatoes until skins peel off, about 1-2 minutes. Remove tomatoes with slotted spoon to ice bath. Let cool. Over the sink, peel tomatoes and squeeze out seeds. THIS WILL BE MESSY. Place the majority of the tomatoes in blender, saving two of the larger ones to coarsely chop.

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Place onions, carrots, celery into pot. Salt and pepper. Place bell pepper and zucchini into pot. Add garlic. The tomatoes will be soft anyway, so pulse the blender 3 or 4 times. Pour tomatoes into pot. Add chopped tomatoes. Add herbs and salt/pepper to taste. Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, uncovered. Add tomato paste. Cover and simmer for half an hour. Taste and add additional spices to your taste. Let simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the desired thickness is reached.

Even after using all of these tomatoes, I still have some left (believe it or not). Tonight, I plan on making a delicious recipe from Giada DeLaurentis that brings tomatoes, spinach and asiago cheese together over fusili. Yum! Hopefully the tomato army's numbers will be decimated by this fourth tomato-starring recipe. Hopefully.

What I'm reading: Beat poet Alan Ginsberg's epic Howl. Favorite line so far: "... a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire / escapes off windowsills off Empire State out of the moon..."