Monday, August 18, 2008

rigatoni with spicy tomato sauce and sausage

SURPRISE, another tomato recipe. But get this, canned tomatoes, not fresh. I know I've been telling you about my garden and how great fresh tomatoes are at this time of the year, but I had to use canned tomatoes for a stew last week and I had some leftover and I love to create meals using leftovers. So, tonight was mystery pasta. I had rigatoni in my pantry. I had Italian sausage in my freezer. I had canned chopped tomatoes in the frig, fresh basil in the garden and some new spices from Penzey's that I wanted to try. Let me know what you think of this last minute creation. It took about 45 mins to prepare.

I took 3 links of Italian sausage out of the freezer when I got home from work around 4pm. I started cooking at 6:30, so the sausages were still partly frozen, making it easy to cut thin slices. I sauteed them in a little olive oil and set them aside. I chopped 2 cloves of garlic and cooked it with a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. I really let the garlic sweat, without turning color. Sometimes I took the pan off the heat, for a few seconds, so the garlic would not burn. Once the garlic started to perfume, I added 1/2 cup of white wine. We usually keep several whites in the outside refrigerator. The Chardonnay happened to be the opened bottle. Any white will do. I let the wine reduce by half and then added the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon of Penzey's (a spice store in B'ham, but also available online) Tuscan Garden (it's a mix of thyme, oregano, basil, and other Italian herbs) I let this simmer for about 20 minutes on medium. Make sure it does not evaporate too much. I'm really looking for a little thicker sauce than just chopped tomatoes. After 20 or 25 mins. it was done. I added 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream (I know, so bad!)But every now and then a splurge is in order. Stir cream into tomato mix and cook on low heat while you cook the pasta.

Heat a 5 quart pot of water to a boil. Add about 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of dried rigatoni. I really thought I was going to use penne, but I found the rigatoni first. On any given day, I have anywhere from 6-8 different dried pastas on hand. Did I tell you I was Italian....

Stir the pasta and let the water come back to a boil. Usually another 5 minutes to come back and then stir about every 3-4 minutes until the pasta is al dente. This is so important. DO NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA. It should have a slight bite to it. 2 cups of dried pasta should take about 8-10 minutes to cook. I always snag one out of the pot to try. Before I drain the cooked pasta, I scoop out 1/2-1 cup of pasta water. This will help thin the sauce if it's too thick. Drain the pasta and add to large skillet with the tomato cream mixture. Stir to combine and let cook about 1 minute on high to mix everything together. This made 4 good size portions.

I plated the pasta and topped with freshly grated Parmesan and some torn fresh basil (from the garden). Serve immediately. This could be served with a small salad and a piece of garlic bread for a complete meal. ENJOY, or should I say "MANGIA".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

roasting garlic

This is so easy and lends itself to so many dishes. On Sunday's I usually roast about 8-10 heads of garlic. I love this stuff almost as much as tomatoes. I whack off the top 1/3 of the garlic head, take off any loose paper skin that is coming off anyway and drizzle a little olive oil on the exposed garlic cloves and a sprinkle of S&P. Wrap tightly in foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. I do a bunch at a time, so 1 head may take only 30 mins. The best way to check if they are done, is by using a potholder, squeeze the little packet. If it is soft, it's done. I let the finished garlic sit on the counter for about 10 mins, unwrapped and then squeeze the delicate pulp into a bowl. From here the uses are endless.

If you can not think of a recipe using roasted garlic, freeze it in ice cube trays and then in a ziploc when completely frozen. Now, you can pull out 1 or 2 cubes as necessary depending on what you are cooking. But let me give you some ideas for quick uses....

bruschetta with roasted garlic and tomatoes

2 or 4 slices of a good country bread or sour dough, about 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon of roasted garlic for each piece
1 teaspoon of olive oil for each piece
1 cup of chopped tomatoes, or 4 slices of a great tomato
fresh basil thinly sliced, 1 teaspoon for each slice

Brush the bread with 1/2 of the olive oil. Grill or toast the bread until golden brown. If grilling, brush the remaining half of oil and turn over to grill the other side. If toasting, take bread out of oven and brush the other side with the oil.

Spread the hot bread with the roasted garlic, top with tomatoes, S&P to taste and finish with basil. This is the perfect starter to any meal this summer, or fall for that matter.

*Roasted garlic salad dressing: add 1 to 2 tablespoons to your favorite vinaigrette

**Roasted garlic cream sauce: add 1 to 2 tablespoons to any cream sauce and pour this over pasta. I like to add peas, prosciutto and a little Parmesan cheese.

***Pasta with tomatoes and garlic: Pan roast cherry tomatoes in a little olive oil over medium heat until they are soft and barely bursting, add roasted garlic 1 or 2 tablespoons depending on how much you are making, stir to combine and toss with hot pasta and a little more olive oil. Top with fresh sliced basil and a quick grating of Parmesan cheese.

Monday, August 4, 2008

forgive us our past tomatoes

I write about tomatoes because I love them. But several people have asked me to write about other foods because they hate tomatoes. I can only assume they have had a bad tomato somewhere in their past and can’t get over that mealy, squishy, no taste red thing they consumed. I feel so bad that their first tomato experience may have been their last because of a bad tomato.

I don’t know if it was a hothouse tomato, or “on-the-vine” tomatoes from the grocery store, or even a canned tomato their mother made them eat because fresh tomatoes were not in season, or she didn’t know how to prepare them. Either way, today’s tomato is nothing like that. Especially now. This is the prime growing/eating season for tomatoes. They are at their peak of freshness. They are juicy, sweet, colorful and have great texture. No gases were used to turn these fruits red (as is the case of store bought tomatoes). Sunshine, water, bumble bees and tomato food have made these babies ready for picking and eating. Grab one, you will no be disappointed.

I’m hoping everyone that has a bad tomato memory will vow to try one bite of a summer fresh tomato and see for themselves that the tomato has come a long way baby! Please make it a great bite. Ask a friend who loves tomatoes to fix a bite for you. Whether it’s in the form of a sandwich, flatbread, pizza, sauce or a little salt and pepper, try a tomato now!

No, I do not work for the tomato growers of America. I just love this fruit/vegetable and wish the season would last longer. My plants are loaded now, but I know it’s only a fleeting moment until they are empty and brittle branches blowing in the wind. This year I have decided to make the season last a little longer. I just ordered fall tomatoes.

These plants go in the ground the second week of August and take about 45-55 days to produce. These fall heirlooms are a little hardier and will last until the first frost. Once again, a little prayer for a late, late Alabama frost. It could be as late as mid-November. I will keep my fingers crossed. And if that works out to be the case, then I will only have to wait about 5 months for great fresh tomatoes again!

I will buy tomatoes in the winter but I’m very picky. I will oven-roast a bunch of tomatoes now and freeze them so I’ll have tomatoes all winter long. Of course, it won’t be the same as eating a freshly picked tomato, but you must make concessions. It’s better than the alternative.