Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lonely, naked cooking...

No, not me! The food! (Name that chef.) What happened to his new show, by the way--the one where he cooks things fresh from his garden? I loved that! Well, today's recipe is an homage to the kind of nearly naked food that Jamie Oliver prepares. But first, a preamble, as is my way...

So I'm cooking just for myself these days, and it's hard not to eat a big bowl of Breyer's and call it a night. It seems wasteful to spend a lot of time and make a big mess in the kitchen just for little old me. Plus, I've been horribly sick since last week (something that rarely happens to me), and I just haven't felt like doing too much. But thanks to the wonder drug that is Mucinex (seriously, it kept me from going to the ER this week to plead for antibiotics before it turned into pneumonia), I think I am going to pull through! Moreover, the dogs took pity and let me sleep in today, so that was the best rest I've had in I can't remember when. I feel like a whole new woman--a woman with a head cold, perhaps, but no longer the Harbinger of Death. I even had enough energy to spend some time outside this morning, weeding, watering, and generally tending to my sadly neglected herb and vegetable gardens. And bending over to weed didn't set my chest on fire and make me have to call 911 as it might have a couple of days ago. Yeah!

What I discovered in making my foray into the garden is that, now that we have had a couple of weeks of actual summer-like weather, things are finally starting to produce. Even the squash that I had to replant in July has yielded the first zucchini and yellow crookneck. There are peppers in a rainbow of colors, too, and of course, the tomatoes are going like gangbusters. And that's my problem, you see. I am putting tomatoes on or in everything and eating bruschetta by the buckets, but I just can't eat all of these tomatoes by myself! Cyd usually helps thin the herd by eating a bowlful at every meal, but with her gone, I have become horribly overrun! Of course, I am processing and preserving some of the excess, especially anything red. But I can't bring myself to can the unusually-colored ones (black, yellow, orange, green, and especially the red and yellow bi-colors, my favorites), since they are just so incredible and flavorful when eaten fresh! So I have been trying to figure out new ways to eat them, and I have found just the thing. Over at my beloved Harvest Forum on the GardenWeb, many folks are experiencing the same tomato glut as I, and a couple of them shared an idea for a minimalist, nearly raw pasta sauce that is the perfect dish for this time of year when you can't use up the tomatoes fast enough.

My picture doesn't do it justice, because I used two huge mainly yellow bi-color tomatoes, so there's not much color in the shot. Also, I started making dinner late, and I couldn't find fresh basil and parsley in the dark (through all the weeds!), so I just used a little basil that I had in the fridge. Thus, it lacks the visual pop of additional greenery. But let me just tell you how AMAZING this dish is, and so easy! It tastes like a Caprese salad but with pasta. The sauce is very thin, of course, but it's also rich. You'll want to use something like penne or shells or orechiette to hold every savory drop. And it makes a TON! I ate a huge bowl for dinner and another one for lunch today, and I think I maybe finished half of what I made. But that's okay, because it tastes better the longer it sits, as the flavors meld and the pasta absorbs the tomato juice and the cheese. It's heavenly stuff!

Furthermore, it's a great dish for this time of year because you can throw any garden vegetable that you like into the mix. Someone left an unusual pepper on my desk yesterday at work (I love that I am the sort of person for whom people leave strange vegetable gifts). It was white and elongated in shape and mildly spicy, so I used half of that in this pasta dish, along with a half an onion that I had knocking about. I think some sauteed summer squash would be a delicious addition, too! Now I ate this as a stand-alone dish, and it's certainly hearty enough to fill you up. But it would be equally lovely as a side dish to a steak, grilled chicken breasts, a few meatballs, or a link of spicy sausage. And it would be yummy with some shrimp tossed in, too. This is a great recipe because it's so adaptable. Actually, it's more of technique than a precise recipe, but here is an approximation:

Tomato Deluge Pasta (Caprese-Style)

4-5 regular-sized tomatoes (I used two ginormous and one smaller one)
1/4 cup (a handful) fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup (a handful) fresh parsley, chopped
8 oz. cheese, cubed (I used mozzarella, but anything melty would do--provolone, fontina, even brie)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 bell pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
1/2 medium onion, chopped (optional)
1 lb. pasta, cooked al dente then drained
parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shaved, to garnish

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Drop in the tomatoes for one minute, then remove with a spider or slotted spoon. Cool them off under running water, then core and peel. Gently squeeze each tomato to remove the majority of seeds and gel. Roughly chop and add to a large mixing bowl (something that retains heat--metal or pottery, not plastic). Chop the herbs, dice the cheese, and throw them into the bowl along with a good amount of salt and black pepper.

In a saute pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and any veggies that you're inviting to the party. I sauteed some pepper and onions until softened, and then I threw in the garlic at the last minute (do not brown the veggies). You could also add some sliced summer squash, or you could just use garlic by itself and no additional veggies--your call. Pour the olive oil and garlic (and other veggies, if using) over the tomato mixture, stir, and set aside while you cook the pasta.

When the pasta is cooked (al dente), drain and toss into the mixing bowl with everything else. Gently combine the pasta and sauce, cover the bowl and let stand for five minutes. (I just put the saute pan that I used over the mixing bowl, but you could also use plastic wrap.) Serve with a generous sprinkling of parmesan or romano cheese.

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