Cooling Tomato Recipes When It’s Too Hot to Cook

Tomato Nectarine Salad (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomato Nectarine Salad (by Cyndy Crist)

By Cyndy Crist

I’d bet the farm that I’m not the only one who had no interest whatsoever in turning on the stove or oven during the recent heat wave that gripped most of the country in its steamy and unrelenting grasp.  While those with central air may not be quite as reluctant as someone like me, in an older home cooled with only window air conditioners, to create any heat, I think most of us at least have an appetite for different kinds of food when temperatures soar into the triple digits.

Tomatoes are, quite frankly, a Godsend under these circumstances.  It seems there is no end to the ways in which chunks or slices of meaty, fresh tomatoes can satisfy our taste buds (obviously, I’m talking about locally grown tomatoes, not the tasteless hothouse variety still available in grocery stores).  Although there are many options for turning uncooked tomatoes into something delicious, in this post I’m going to focus on ways to create salads that can be sides or main courses.   My hope is that they’ll serve as a starting point for creating dishes that suit your fancy.

Variety of Heirloom Tomatoes (by Cyndy Crist)
Variety of Heirloom Tomatoes (by Cyndy Crist)

Start Here…

First, choose a variety of tomatoes. Whatever you make with them, you’ll have more visual interest, as well as some variation in flavors, if you choose different colors, shapes, and sizes of tomatoes.  You’ll find that some tomatoes have a milder flavor than others, some tend to be sweeter and others tangier, etc. (check out Dorothy’s heirloom tomato chart for guidance).  In addition, depending on what you’re making, consider cutting your tomatoes in a variety of ways.  If you slice some, cut others into chunks, and halve the small ones, you’ll get still more visual interest (after all, we use more than just our sense of taste to enjoy food!) and create lots of surfaces for soaking up the flavors you’ll be adding.

Then Add…

This is where it starts to get fun. What you choose to add to your tomatoes will determine the flavor profile.  The simplest thing to do is to simply toss tomatoes with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Here’s where you want to use the very best EVOO you have on hand, since its taste will be prominent. You can also have fun with the vinegar to bring more or less flavor from this component to your salad.  My favorite is balsamic, but red wine and sherry vinegars are also great with tomatoes.

Next, consider adding herbs, onions and/or garlic to your salad.  Fresh basil is a classic partner with tomatoes, with the leaves either torn or julienned (roll up a stack of leaves and cut across to create thin ribbons), but mint, parsley, chervil, and oregano are also good options. In general, I think salads are best when the onions used are small, sweet varieties (shallots are especially good) cut into very thin slices. If you wish, you can mellow the flavor of onions or shallots by soaking them first in the vinegar for 10-15 minutes.  Thinly sliced scallions or green onions or finely minced garlic are also good additions.

Tomato Salad (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomato Salad (by Cyndy Crist)

As I recently sorted through a stack of Everyday Food magazines (one of my favorite things to do when it’s too hot to expend more energy than it takes to turn pages), I found a few simple tomato salad combinations that sounded good.  One replaces vinegar with the zest and juice of one lemon and adds a small seeded and minced chili and 2 tablespoons of minced, peeled fresh ginger per four large tomatoes, along with EVOO, salt, and pepper.  This would deliver some nice heat for those who are so inclined. Another calls for red wine vinegar, olive oil, minced shallot, and capers tossed with big wedges of ripe, red tomatoes, the capers adding some great saltiness, tang, and crunch, I suspect. A third variation, which would be light and bright, combines lemon juice and zest, thinly sliced white onions, and fresh mint with EVOO, coarse salt, and pepper.  These three recipes underscore my primary point – that tomatoes provide a tasty and colorful canvas on which to create all kinds of simple culinary works of art.

Tomato Nectarine Salad (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomato Nectarine Salad (by Cyndy Crist)

Sweeten it up…

Another option is to add a little sweetness by using wedges of nectarines or peaches or chunks of watermelon.  When I first read about these flavor combinations, I frankly thought they sounded pretty weird. Even though I know that tomatoes are fruits, I’m used to thinking of them as vegetables (which, after all, is how they’re used in many culinary traditions), so combining them with other, sweeter fruits just didn’t make sense to me.  But I have since discovered how tasty these combos can be.  With peaches or nectarines, a fruity olive oil and a light, slightly sweet vinegar work well, and mint and basil are good herbal partners.  As for the melon, I’ve made a salad with watermelon, parsley or mint, and parmesan or Feta (again, highly unlikely but surprisingly delicious combinations), and I think tomatoes would make an interesting addition.

Make it more substantial…

Nicoise Salad (by Dorothy Stainbrook)
Nicoise Salad (by Dorothy Stainbrook)

You can add other, heartier ingredients to create a tasty, nutritious, and satisfying main course salad.  Try a traditional Nicoise Salad with tuna and eggs.  Or a Greek salad, which traditionally combines chunks or slices of cucumber, slices of red onions, olives, Feta cheese, and slices of green or red bell peppers with chunks or wedges of tomatoes. A simple vinaigrette is all you need to dress this salad, which can be served as individual composed or tossed salads or arranged on a large platter.   To turn this into an even more substantial meal, serve it with wedges of pita bread and hummus drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a little smoked paprika.  If you have kids who have decided that they don’t like salads, you can follow a suggestion from Everyday Food and layer ingredients between slices of bread to create Greek Salad Sandwiches (for this option, they suggest processing a can of drained chickpeas with lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley for one layer and mashing the feta with olive oil for another).

Another traditional option is Panzanella, or Bread Salad. This quintessential Italian dish is comprised primarily of toasted bread (a good way to use up bread that has become a bit stale), chunks of tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, fresh basil, and a simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Adding a sprinkling of crushed red peppers will add a little zip to this salad, as will a finely minced fresh chili. Some recipes for Panzanella also call for using cubes of cucumber, which adds nice body and “greenness,” while others suggest adding chunks or flakes of Parmesan or spoonfuls of ricotta, providing some salty flavor and textural contrast.  For the bread component, you can drizzle cubes of day-old bread with olive oil and toast them in a hot oven, or you can rub slices of bread with a crushed garlic clove, brush with olive oil, and grill until crispy.

Yet another variation on this theme is a BLT Salad.  Here, you’ll need to do two things that generate a little heat – cook the bacon and make croutons – but you can minimize the heat by cooking the bacon in the microwave (you could use bacon bits, but I wouldn’t recommend it – you’ll lose “body” and place the bacon in a supporting, rather than a lead, role) or using “store-bought” croutons. Romaine lettuce will stand up better to the substantial ingredients than leaf lettuce, but there’s no one “right” choice of greens, and you could add a lot of flavor interest by including some arugula in this salad.  Again, you can toast croutons in the oven or grill and then cube slices of bread, or you can increase the bacon flavor by tossing and toasting cubes in the pan used to cook your bacon.  You can also up the flavor quotient by adding some finely sliced onion and/or chunks of ripe avocado (I love a good BLAT sandwich, and eating it as a salad is much less messy).

Since mayonnaise is traditional on a BLT, making a dressing by whisking mayonnaise with a little vinegar, salt, and pepper seems in order. You can add tang by whisking in a little buttermilk or make it richer with sour cream or crème fraiche.  Adding some fresh herbs could improve the dressing still further. I think basil could be a nice complement and parsley is always bright and fresh, but here again, it’s all a matter of taste.  Just add herbs a little a time to be sure you get a good balance of flavors. You could also be less traditional and make a simple vinaigrette, or make a warm dressing by stirring wine vinegar, salt, and pepper into some of the bacon fat.

Tomato & White Bean Salad (by Cyndy Crist)
Tomato & White Bean Salad (by Cyndy Crist)

A few last thoughts…

The pantry may offer more ideas for no-cook dishes that satisfy in the heat.  I try to keep cannellini beans and chickpeas on hand, and a can of either one, drained, rinsed, and tossed with chunks of tomatoes, chopped garlic or shallots, sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of basil or oregano makes a quick and delicious salad.  You could add color contrast and crunch by tossing some diced zucchini or blanched green beans into the salad or brighten it by adding the zest and juice of one lemon. Conversely, you could make a combination of veggies (cannellini beans, chickpeas, black beans, zucchini, and frozen or left-over grilled corn come to mind), onions or garlic, a little cheese, and even some pieces of bacon or bits of ham and stuff it into large halved and hollowed-out tomatoes.

With a little digging in your pantry and refrigerator and, if you have one, a little cutting in your herb or kitchen garden, you’ll probably come up with still more ideas for salads tailored to your tastes and those of your family that require little or no cooking.  What could be better in this summer of record heat?

Creative Recipes using Roasted Tomatoes – Tasting Table’s Bloody Mary Tomatoes

Bloody Mary Tomatoes (Roasted)
Bloody Mary Tomatoes (Roasted)

Bloody Mary Roasted Tomatoes:  A Treat to Awaken Your Tastebuds

By Cyndy Crist

As tomato season gets closer, I’m becoming increasingly impatient for the appearance of the first locally grown delights at the farmers’ market.  Our unusually early spring offers the promise of an equally early tomato harvest, but as I write this, that’s still weeks away at best.

In the meantime, I continue to look for ways to turn plum or Roma tomatoes into something tasty, since this variety seems to offer a more acceptable “off season” substitute for locally grown fruits of the larger, juicier types.  I found a great new recipe in a Tasting Table post from a few weeks back that I was eager to try and when I did, I got great results.

If you don’t know Tasting Table, you’ll want to check them out.  They send out daily posts targeted to national and selected “big city” audiences, as well as several weekly posts that focus on the restaurants and foods of specific cities, new foodie treats and kitchen products, and recipes from chefs and sous chefs, mixologists, the producers of commercially available products, and their own staff.

The recipe that caught my fancy, Bloody Mary Tomatoes, was created by TT editor Rebekah Peppler, with the idea of enhancing the deep, rich flavor of tomatoes with something from her liquor cabinet.  These Bloody Mary tomatoes were the result.

Prepping Bloody Mary Tomatoes
Prepping Bloody Mary Tomatoes

On a cool spring day, I assembled my ingredients, got the oven pre-heating, and set about making a batch.  I stayed true to the recipe’s ingredients with one small exception explained below, but I varied the process just a bit.  While Peppler calls for tossing the tomatoes in the spice/horseradish mixture, I decided instead to spoon and spread it on the cut side of each tomato.  I did try tossing them, but the thick, paste-like mixture didn’t really adhere to the smooth tomato skin, and I also thought more of the flavor might get into the tomatoes if it was all applied to the cut surface.

The only ingredient called for that can be challenging to find is fresh horseradish. I found some nice, firm pieces of fresh root on my second grocery store stop and am really glad I was able to use it, since it added such a lovely, bright pungency to the tomatoes.   I suspect, though, that a decent, prepared horseradish would be fine as long as it wasn’t horseradish sauce (the kind that mixes horseradish into something creamy). The other ingredients include lemon zest, celery salt, cayenne pepper, sugar, grape seed or canola oil, plum tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  I discovered that I had celery seed but not celery salt, so I used a little more salt than called for and about half the suggested amount of celery seed.  That worked just fine.

Cleary, finding the fresh horseradish root was the hardest part of the whole process.  The topping mixture was easily assembled and the whole thing was ready for the oven in minutes.  I used a fork, rather than my fingers, to do the mixing, which worked jut fine (in this case, I’m not sure what the advantage of a hands-on approach would be).  I also used only eight tomatoes and the topping seemed just sufficient for that number, but perhaps I was slightly generous with it. Finally, I was concerned that the amount of roasting time called for seemed excessive, so I watched the tomatoes closely, but the recipe worked well as written. Since test kitchens are generally pretty rigorous in their testing and perfecting of recipes before they’re published, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess a little caution never hurts!

We’ve mostly eaten these to date as a kind of side dish or condiment with meals – they were delicious served alongside grilled Porterhouse steaks, for example, and tossed into scrambled eggs.  Recently, I decided to try them in two combinations inspired in part by up the ubiquitous Buffalo chicken wings of which my husband is so fond.  For one version, I made a kind of thick dip in which I mixed some of the diced tomatoes with our favorite blue cheese yogurt dressing and a little additional crumbled Gorgonzola and served them with stalks of celery. For the other, I mixed diced tomatoes with cream cheese and a little Greek yogurt and spread them on the celery stalks.  I preferred the latter, since I felt the tomatoes were complimented by, rather than competing with, the other ingredients.  I think my husband will prefer the more robust tomato-blue cheese combo.

However you use them, these tomatoes offer a real flavor punch that’s not for the faint of heart but which definitely wakes up your taste buds.  And if you find them a bit too spicy, the amount of cayenne could be reduced. I will definitely be making these again and letting them inspire new ideas for good flavor companions.  In fact, the mental sparks are already flying!

Spreads with Bloody Mary Tomatoes
Spreads with Bloody Mary Tomatoes

Bloody Mary Tomatoes
From The Tasting Table Test Kitchen

1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh horseradish
1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest,
½ teaspoon celery salt,
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Grape seed or canola oil
10 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a medium bowl, use your fingers to rub the horseradish, lemon zest, celery salt and cayenne pepper into the sugar. Add the tomatoes and Worcestershire and toss to coat.
Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with oil and place the tomatoes, cut-side up, in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until the tomatoes are tender and shriveled, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature and serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Tomato Soup – Two Ways – Two Great Recipes

Two different ways with Tomato Soup
Two different ways with Tomato Soup

Tomatoes in the Kitchen:  A Tale of Two Soups
By Cyndy Crist

I’m starting to get restless for the taste, texture, and great pleasure of garden-fresh tomatoes.  But I have a long wait – in Minnesota, we’ve only gotten to the time of year when tomato growers can start to think about hardening off their seedlings (see Dorothy’s post earlier this week).  That means I still have to make dishes that work well with something other than fresh tomatoes.

My inspiration today came in part from the folks at Canal House Cooking.  If you don’t know their work check out one of their beautiful seasonal books or their website.  Their latest book is  Canal House Cooking Volume No. 7: La Dolce Vita.   They also have daily posts at “Canal House Cooks Lunch”, which are inspiring, not to mention hunger-inducing.  Recently, they made several dishes selected to use up things languishing in the back of their freezer. I have a deep freeze in the basement in which I store extra Farmers’ Market produce to get me through the long winter, and I was pretty sure I still had some bags full of plum tomatoes.  Sure enough – I found three, each with about one pound of tomatoes.  I was on a roll.

Next, I took a look at my two most recent food-related e-book purchases for ideas and found two I wanted to try.  One was in Vegetables, Revised: The Most Authoritative Guide to Buying, Preparing, and Cooking, with More than 300 Recipes, a beautifully illustrated and comprehensive tome published by Ten Speed Press. The other I found in Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living From America’s Best Chefs, published by New American Library; its subtitle, “Lessons in Eating and Living from America’s Best Chefs,” makes me think I’ll find it useful in all kinds of ways.  Both recipes seemed quick and easy enough to make in the small window of time available to me. I checked the pantry and fridge, made a list of the few ingredients I didn’t already have, headed to the nearby coop for what I needed, and I was set to go.

I started with a recipe from Adato’s book, Naomi Pomeroy’s Creamy Asian Tomato Soup.  I was impressed by Pomeroy when she competed on the third season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, which added to my interest in a recipe that sounded delicious, and I had almost everything needed, including tomatoes , soy sauce, fish sauce, onions, garlic, paprika, and red wine vinegar.  The only thing I was missing was a can of low-fat coconut milk (I had a can of “regular” coconut milk, but it just felt wrong to use it in a recipe created for its low calorie virtues).  The trip to the market fixed that.

Although I’m inclined to improvise a bit when I cook (one reason I’m more of a cook than a baker), I did just two things that differed slightly from the recipe. One was using a can of roasted tomatoes along with one of locally canned heirloom tomatoes (the latter from St. Paul’s Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market, where Beard-nominee Lenny Russo makes and sells fantastic, locally sourced food). I liked the smoky flavor the roasted tomatoes added, a result that could also be achieved by  using smoked paprika or smoked olive oil.  The other was that instead of blending the soup until smooth, I used an immersion blender to achieve a chunkier texture.
As I was finishing the soup, I was reminded of how important acid is in cooking, a key lesson I’ve learned from Top Chef and Iron Chef.  The last two ingredients in the recipe, added when the soup is finished, are red wine vinegar and sugar.  I loved the taste before adding them and debated about whether to use them.  But I’m so glad I did, as their addition really sparked the flavor.  Delicious!  And one more word – for those who may not be fans of coconut milk, I didn’t detect much coconut flavor in the soup; instead, it primarily added creaminess. The soup was a great success, and I’d be surprised if it took me 30 minutes from start to finish.  This one is a keeper.

Cream of Tomato Soup Ingredients
Cream of Tomato Soup Ingredients

James Peterson’s recipe was even easier.  It called for just four ingredients – tomatoes, salt, pepper, and heavy cream. I primarily used the frozen plum tomatoes mentioned earlier, but also added a few locally grown tomatoes that I found at the coop (yes, they were grown hydroponically, but they looked and smelled good and I thought the fresh flavor would be a plus). I was reminded that one benefit from freezing whole tomatoes is how easy it is to slip the skins off as they thaw.  Since plum tomatoes tend to have far less juice and fewer seeds than larger tomatoes, I decided to forego seeding them, and since they were frozen, I didn’t bother chopping them, knowing I’d be able to easily break them up with a wooden spoon as they cooked.  I did peel, chop, and seed the fresh tomatoes and discovered how effective the Zyliss tomato peeler is (and realized how much easier it would have been if I had remembered to peel them before they were halved and seeded!).

Beyond that, the recipe is hardly a recipe – heat the tomatoes in a pot over medium-low heat until they’ve achieved the texture you want (some might want a shorter cooking time that retains more fresh flavor and texture, while others might prefer a more fully cooked, smoother product). At that point, simply stir in heavy cream, salt, and pepper to taste, heat through, and you’re ready to go.

Cream of Tomato Soup
Cream of Tomato Soup

I decided I wanted just a little more flavor and had intended to use fresh basil, but when the coop didn’t have any, I opted for a nice, fresh bunch of dill.  Its bright flavor didn’t disappoint.  I also decided to use the smaller quantity of cream called for in the recipe (Peterson suggests 1/2 to 2 cups of heavy cream per 5 pounds of tomatoes), not to be virtuous but because I find great pleasure in swirling a little cream into the soup in my bowl.  It’s all about the little pleasures, right? The recipe doesn’t call for blending, but anyone wanting a smoother texture could easily add that step. And my husband, who arrived in the kitchen as I was finishing this soup, suggested that the addition of a little crumbled feta cheese would be great. I think that would add some great tang and texture and intend to try it.

And so, here I sit, about two hours after I started, with two batches of tasty tomato soup that will feed us well for several days.  One is the epitome of simplicity, the other not much more complicated but with a more complex flavor.  I’ll definitely make both again – and, oh my, how wonderful they’ll be when I can make them with fresh-from-the-vine local tomatoes.  That day can’t come soon enough for me.

Naomi Pomeroy’s Creamy Asian Tomato Soup:  As adapted by Allison Adato

(Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living From America’s Best Chefs)

2 Tbsp cooking oil
1 ¼ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped (1 rounded Tbsp)
1 28-ounce can chopped canned tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp paprika
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsps fish sauce
1 can low-fat coconut milk
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, or to taste
2/3 cup (or more) water to thin

Heat cooking oil in heavy-bottomed pot. Cook onions until translucent and add garlic.  Cook for a minute more.
Add chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Add soy, fish sauce, and coconut milk. Simmer 5 minutes to meld flavors together. Add sugar and vinegar and adjust season to taste.
Puree in a blender until completely smooth. Serve in bowls with optional garnish of chopped cilantro.

Cook’s Note:  You will note the directions above do not reference the water. I did not add it and assume the author’s intent was to mention that water could be added to taste to achieve the desired thickness and texture

Ratatouille: Winter Recipe with Eggplant and Tomatoes

Ratatouille:  Eggplant and Tomatoes as Partners (even in winter)                                                          by Cyndy Crist

Ratatouille Preparation
Ratatouille Preparation

It must be eggplant season somewhere, because last Saturday Whole Foods Market had at least six different sizes and varieties of eggplants.  There were the round, green and white Thai beauties; long, skinny purple Japanese eggplants; that lovely pink and white striped kind (I think they were Rosa Bianca, an Italian heirloom variety); and your “typical” large, purple Globe eggplant.

But what caught my eye were little purple babies about the shape and size of eggs (hmmm, does that tell us something about the English name for this vegetable that the French call aubergines?).  I couldn’t resist their glossy, smooth beauty, so I scooped up eight or ten of them and immediately began thinking about how to prepare them.

My mind went first to ratatouille, which I find to be one of the easiest and best things to do with eggplants.  Ratatouille is commonly made with eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and summer squash.  I took a quick mental inventory and remembered that I had some decent Roma tomatoes at home and some grape tomatoes that were not long for this world. I always have onions and garlic on hand. I also had a hydroponic basil plant whose demise was clearly imminent, and I was pretty sure I had a couple of summer squash in the fridge, but since they were old enough to be of uncertain quality, I picked up a couple of firm, blemish-free little zucchini just in case I’d need them. I was all set.

There was no question about how I would prepare my ratatouille.  I have found that I get the best flavor and texture when I roast it, that process seeming to deepen the flavors and keep the pieces from collapsing into mush.  Roasting also helps solve the problem of eggplant’s tendency to soak up olive oil as fast as it’s poured into the pan.  That was two decisions made.

Near dinner time, I cut each vegetable into pieces of roughly the same size to ensure that they would cook evenly.  I crushed and sliced the garlic (I find that if it’s cut too small, it often burns, but if I leave the cloves whole, the flavor doesn’t “spread” through the whole dish as much as I like). I finished by tearing the basil leaves into pieces and scattering them over the top, sprinkling it with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzling good olive oil over it all, and then tossing it with my hands (as they say, clean hands can be a cook’s best tool).

I decided to roast my ratatouille at 350 degrees rather than a higher temperature to avoid the risk of burning the tender vegetables, and I checked it every 15 minutes or so until it was done.  In all, it took about 45 minutes to roast to the point at which the pieces were largely intact but nicely softened and the flavors somewhat melded (though another advantage of roasting is that I think each vegetable retains some of its own distinct taste rather than getting lost into a kind of amalgam of flavor).

Ratatouille with Tomatoes and Eggplant
Ratatouille with Tomatoes and Eggplant

The lovely thing about a dish like this, of course, is that you can use what you have on hand and/or what you like.  Although it’s traditional to use peppers, I had decided not to do that this time.  Any of the ingredients I used could have been left out (though to my mind it couldn’t be called ratatouille without at least most of these ingredients, but as the Bard said, what’s in a name?).

There is also no need to measure.  I wanted roughly equal amounts of the main ingredients, but I could easily have used more of one and less of another vegetable as I preferred. I could also have roasted it for a longer time at a lower temperature or hurried the results by using a higher temperature and a shorter time.  And I could have used an herb other than, or in addition to, the basil if I had wished, oregano and rosemary being two likely choices.


When it was done, I sprinkled the last of a container of grated Parmesan and Romano cheese on the hot ratatouille to melt deliciously over and into the whole mixture, but I could have used any cheese I liked, or none at all.  Because I was having dinner alone while my husband was out, I did my favorite thing and fried an egg to serve on top.  I had considered serving the ratatouille over rice and could have done that quickly, since I usually keep a couple of pouches of the pre-cooked rice mixtures packaged by Trader Joe’s and Seeds of Change in my pantry (I know, I know, rice is easy to cook, but sometimes being able to heat up a toothsome and nicely seasoned pouch of rice in the microwave in under two minutes is too handy to resist).   But all I could find was a version with Indian spices, which didn’t fit my mood.  Besides, the egg sounded just right.  All in all, it was a nutritious and satisfying meal.

Ratatouille with Egg Finish
Ratatouille with Egg Finish


Ratatouille is a dish I most often make in late summer when I can buy all of the ingredients locally at the Farmers’ Market.  But as I said earlier, it’s obviously eggplant season some place and I was quite pleased with the quality of all of the ingredients I found.  On top of that, I was able to use several things in my kitchen that would soon have been past their “best buy” dates, something that gives me an absurd amount of satisfaction in this throw-away culture.  I was even able to use one of the “old” yellow squash.

I do try to be a locavore, but sometimes my appetite gets the better of me, and when I can get a result as good as what I enjoyed this time, I’m hard pressed to apologize.  Still, please don’t tell Alice Waters.




Tomato Butter, Tomato Spreads and Pasta Variations made with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Exploring Ways to Use Sun-Dried Tomatoes

by Cyndy Crist

HeathGlen's sun-dried tomatoes
HeathGlen's sun-dried tomatoes

I think that Sally Schneider’s wonderful blog, The Improvised Life, has had a real impact on me.  I’ve had both of her cookbooks, A New Way to Cook and The Improvisational Cook, for years, but her almost daily dose of blog posts has heightened my awareness and appreciation of her approach to creativity in the kitchen and in life. More and more, I find myself looking at recipes as sources of ideas for cooking rather than “the way” to prepare a dish.  Or, said another way, as starting points rather than itineraries.

Take sun-dried tomatoes.  I’m seldom without them and usually have some packed in olive oil and others in their “natural” state in a jar or zip lock bag (for detailed information on how to dry your own, visit Dorothy’s farmtojar blog, which is associated with this blog).  Too often I’ve only used  sun-dried tomatoes when a recipe I wanted to try explicitly called for them.  Now, I’m thinking about an array of possibilities, starting with three general approaches – butters, spreads, and pasta.  And the more I let my mind wander, the more ideas are popping into my head.  Here are just a few.  Continue reading “Tomato Butter, Tomato Spreads and Pasta Variations made with Sun-Dried Tomatoes”