Tuesday, September 27, 2011

pappa al pomodoro (tuscan tomato bread soup)


Pappa al pomodoro, a hearty Tuscan bread soup, perfectly exemplifies the beautiful simplicity of Tuscan cooking. End-of-season farm-fresh, ripe tomatoes, bursting with robust flavor, fresh basil, garlic, and day-old bread are combined over bread and drizzled with good olive oil. Think of a simple fresh tomato basil sauce over pasta but with soft bread soaking up the sweet and tart tomato sauce instead of pasta. Sound heavenly?

I thought so. It is particularly a welcomed treat in September, with the cusp of fall and the tease of a San Francisco Indian summer. Imagine a warm, spoon friendly panzanella turned into soup that you will come running home to after a long chilly day at work.

The approach is fairly simple. The most involved part is blanching tomatoes for 15 seconds and peeling off the skins. I cored the tomatoes, chopped coarsely and pressed them through a sieve to remove the seeds, but you could easily skip that part.

Then saute onions in olive oil with garlic with a pinch of crushed red pepper. Add tomatoes and their juices and simmer until tomatoes begin to soften and break down. Add bread chunks and stir until all the bread has absorbed as much liquid as possible, and stir in the basil. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Heirloom Tomato and Peach Salad with Mint


Over a lovely brunch at The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma I had a beautiful salad of heirloom tomato and watermelon stacks sprinkled with sage and marinated feta. I absolutely loved the combination of acidity from juicy, robust tomatoes and the sweetness of watermelon. It reminded me of Mark Bittman's simple heirloom tomato and peach salad and I thought it would be a perfect way to use the last of the season's stone fruits and heirloom tomatoes.

This delicious heirloom tomato salad is simple and especially perfect for lazy nights when you don't want to cook or follow a real recipe. You throw heirloom tomato slices and peach slices together, scatter thinly sliced red onion, drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, season with salt and pepper and top with mint leaves. I just wish I had made this salad at the start of the season because it is definitely the kind of salad you will want to eat over and over again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup + Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese


No matter how old you are, there is something unbelievably comforting about a bowl of warm tomato basil soup and biting into a gooey, crusty grilled cheese sandwich. Lately I have been craving the perfect pairing of tomato soup and grilled cheese from my beloved Fox & Obel in Chicago. It was truly my ultimate comfort food, keeping me warm on many chilly winter nights in Chicago and offering great comfort during long nights of problem sets, studying for qualifying exams and writing my dissertation.

Recently I found myself with over five pounds of beautiful, ripe heirloom tomatoes between my CSA box and several coworkers sharing their bumper crop of tomatoes. The very thought of enjoying the luscious, juicy summer treat puts a little skip in my step. A quick salad course consists of heirloom tomato salad with burrata or simply dressing thick slices of heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and lemon juice, a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper, and chopped basil (or oregano or mint or parsley). Something a little more involved but showcasing summer flavors is a Tuscan bread salad, or panzanella.

But as the end of tomato season approaches, I wanted a way to savor the beautiful tomatoes all year. I decided to use all of the tomatoes in a roasted tomato soup and store extra in the freezer to enjoy the summer goodness over the coming months. Best idea ever, right?

Of course, good tomato soup without grilled cheese sandwich is like salsa without chips. And so I slathered dijon on thick slices of sourdough bread, topped it with nutty, aged gruyere and caramelized onions, and heated up the grill pan and panini press. What a perfect combination of gooey, nutty, aged gruyere, sweet onions and tangy dijon surrounded by bread that is crisp, crunchy on the outside and still chewy on the inside.

But, instead, we ate it all. That's right, my brilliant plan to make extra soup to enjoy in the remaining-tomato-less months of the year completely failed. Let's just hope I get another bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes in the last weeks of summer.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zucchini patties with feta and dill (mücver)


When faced with yet another armful of summer squash and zucchini, sometimes the best approach is to play with different textures and methods of preparation, from raw to grilled to roasted. It helps keep things interesting, especially after you make the season's 500th zucchini. This summer we have enjoyed zucchini with lemon zest and almonds, zucchini ribbons, pan roasted zucchini with parmesan and balsamic, patty pan squashgalette of zucchini, lemon, and ricotta, spaghetti with fried zucchini, and grilled zucchini with cherry tomato, fennel, and cannellini beans.  

And recently, in desperate need for a textural contrast, I made mücver, Turkish fried zucchini patties. Folks, these are not just any fried patties; these are fabulous zucchini patties with feta, scallions, parsley and dill drizzled with cacik, a garlikcy cucumber yogurt. The crunchy crust was a welcome change to raw or pan roasted zucchini. And the savory Mediterranean flavors were oh-so-refreshing and satisfying.

Quick, grab the last of your summer zucchini and grate away!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Summer Squash Pizza with thyme and goat cheese


If you know me, you know that I really love pizza. I'm talking about Neapolitan style pizza with a perfectly crisp crust and delicious in-season toppings, reminscent of the kind you find in Italy. You don't need heavy sauce and tons of cheese to make a good pizza.

Lucky for me, San Francisco's best pizzerias stand out from others (ahem, say those in Chicago) by their use of peak in-season pizza toppings.  Just recently I had a delicious summer squash pizza at Beretta with my favorite brother-sister duo, BK and CK, and CK's wife.

You may recall that I am a fan of Mario Batali's pizza dough and have perfected achieving a thin, crisp crust in the oven using a 12" cast iron skillet. The crust is parbaked on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet and then topped with ingredients before sliding under the broiler. This approach works best with ingredients that can be cooked quickly.

Given the arm loads of yellow summer squash in my latest CSA box, I decided it would be a fun Saturday night activity to make a bunch of different summer squash pizzas and of course, share our favorite one with  you!

Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan (or pecorino) over the parpaked pizza dough, dot with fresh mozzarella. Toss half of garlic over the cheese. Top with thinly sliced summer squash tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining garlic, thyme leaves and red crushed pepper. Add crumbled goat cheese (optional). Toss under the broiler for 8 minutes and it gets good color. Garnish with thyme sprigs.
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