Continuing on the tomato theme, I figured it’s time to blog about my latest favorite pasta dish. It’s dead easy, lightning-fast, and more delicious than it has any right to be. I’ve been making it at least once a week since tomatoes showed up at the farmer’s market, and feeding it to anyone and everyone who shows up at my house.
This is the simplest of sauces–just cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and seasonings. Using cherry tomatoes means you can make a delicious fresh tomato sauce at almost any time of the year. Because they’re allowed to ripen further before shipping, they’re sweeter and less mealy than any other tomato you can find at the supermarket. They’re also higher in pectin, making for an especially luxurious sauce texture. And, of course, during tomato season, this recipe goes from “darn good for five ingredients” to “totally sublime” if you use really good tomatoes. (I used golden tomatoes for the pictured batch of pasta, hence the adorable yellow hue.)
As always, the beauty of a recipe this simple is that it’s a perfect jumping-off point for all kinds of variations. I’ve certainly never made it the same way twice. During tomato season I’ll sometimes use chopped heirloom tomatoes, which make for a lighter and gauzier sauce. If I don’t have basil around, I’ll swap in fresh parsley or mint, or chopped scallion tops, or both. I’ll bump up the chile flakes for an arrabiata-ish kick, or leave them out altogether. I’ve added fennel seeds, celery salt, dried chives; all of these are delicious, but none of them are necessary.
In terms of adding protein, I love serving this with eggs–a classic and wonderful partner with tomatoes. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll poach or soft-boil the eggs and plop a couple gooey-yolked beauties on top of each plate of pasta. For a quicker and easier option, I’ll hard-boil a bunch of eggs in the pressure cooker and serve them alongside. Cheese is also, obviously, great; Parmesan is a no-brainer, but I’ve also used goat cheese, dolloped onto each portion and swirled in for a creamy-tangy finish. Again, none of this is obligatory–just a nice extra flourish.
I love the internet. (I also loathe and fear it. It’s a complicated relationship.) My modest little blog has started connecting people in unexpected and delicious ways, and I am just tickled pink.
For example, the lovely and talented Daisy stumbled across this blog a while ago, and commented on a recipe I posted. My (also lovely and talented) friend Molly saw Daisy’s comment, and clicked over to her blog. Molly made and loved several of Daisy’s recipes, and now Daisy’s spaghetti squash with sausage and tomatoes has gone into heavy rotation at Molly’s house. And I, the not-so-innocent bystander, sit on the sidelines and clap with glee.
Over the weekend, a big group of friends gathered for an impromptu dinner, and Molly spearheaded the making of a giant batch of squash. Four squashes, to be exact, and three skillets of sausage and tomato, with at least two bottles of wine and a growler of beer to keep us company while the squash roasted. Following Molly’s lead, we tweaked the recipe slightly from the Italian-inspired original, subbing in chorizo for the Italian sausage and adding a fat glug of red wine to the sauce. It made a satisfying mess of the kitchen, as we tried to fork the squash into strands while it was still hot and ended up dropping bits of it all over the stove. (I have the burned fingertips to prove it.)
If you haven’t yet experienced the smell of chorizo, tomatoes, red wine, and garlic cooking in olive oil, I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of smell I would happily wear as perfume, if only I could bottle it. We used Mexican chorizo–the raw, squishy kind–which gave the sauce a sharp sour-chili warmth and a slight bitterness. You could just as easily use the hard-cured Spanish chorizo, which would give a sweeter, smokier flavor and provide more of a chewy texture contrast with the noodly-crisp squash. Either way, the squash will drink up the fatty, winey sauce and become far more delicious than a vegetable has any right to be.
It’s high tomato season, and I’m conflicted. This is the time of year when the raw tomato is king, when every shape and size of tomato is juicy and soft, when the heat rolls through in waves and the stove sits neglected. But I just can’t do it. I can’t enjoy tomatoes raw. To me, the texture is unpleasant, the taste sickly. Unless they’re exquisitely soft and heirloom, or cherry-sized and picked straight off the vine, I can barely choke them down.
So if I’m eating tomatoes–even height-of-summer tomatoes–they’ve got to be cooked. And for me, there’s no better way than the oven. Baked or roasted, tomatoes suddenly go from can’t-do to can’t-get-enough. The dry heat-bath of the oven takes them from watery to wrinkled, from tart to saucy-sweet. Even less-than-stellar tomatoes become summery treats when handled this way. So on the Fourth of July, when my neighborhood itself felt like the inside of an oven, I decided to suck it up, turn on the beast, and stuff some tomatoes.
The filling here is Moroccan-inspired: almost-caramelized onions, grated zucchini, fresh parsley, a pinprick of chili and thyme, fragrant nubs of toasted pistachio. It makes for a gorgeous contrast, these crayon-red tomatoes and their green-on-green filling. Where many stuffed tomatoes are bready and dense, these are light and fall-apart tender. In the oven, the filling relaxes and settles into the tomatoes; the tomatoes themselves slump but stay deceptively whole, until you touch them and realize the walls have turned to jelly. Oh, and fresh parsley on top is definitely not optional–the contrast between roasted and fresh herb flavor kind of makes the dish.
I brought these tomatoes to a potluck, nestled snugly in a Pyrex dish. They sat tucked away in a corner, all homely and humble next to peanut noodles and berry shortcake and good French bread and several different kinds of pie. I was sure they’d be completely outshined. And yet, fifteen minutes into the party, they were the first thing to disappear. Not bad for a vegetable-on-vegetable.
So I was going to get all ranty on here about an ad I saw the other day, and medicine and concern-trolling and the “headless fatty” phenomenon. Maybe someday soon, I will.
But you know what? It’s been a gorgeous sun-drenched week in San Francisco, and I made some damn delicious beans the other night. I’m not going to let The Advertising Man get me down.
This meal I’m going to write about was a little rite of passage. It was the first thing I cooked in my new kitchen, in my very own studio apartment.
When I was a little kid, and making my little-kid list of what Being a Grown-Up might possibly mean, high up on the list was having a living space all to myself. From the time I was 3 until the day I left for college, I shared a room with my sister. Never let it be said that I don’t love my sister–if you’re reading this, sistah, I love you–but the everyday grinding closeness, the shattering of any privacy, got under my skin in a big way.
I went to college, and had roommates and dorm-mates. I graduated and moved back home, then found other roommates. But this is the first time, ever in my life, that I have really had a complete living space that was 100 percent my own.
I’m so happy I could cry.
Well, not unbearable. In fact, pretty damn appealing.
Fact is, there are days when I feel compelled to do fancy things with food. And then there are days when it’s ungodly hot outside, and I’m staring down the Workweek from Hell, and standing over the stove with an elaborate plan and a spatula sounds like torture.
Guess which kind of day I’ve been having lately?
Hello, blog. I’ve missed you.
The past few weeks have been…strange, to say the least. My father was diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly our family had to learn a whole new vocabulary.
Tumor. Malignant. Carcinoma. Radiation. It’s amazing how a few singular words can suddenly taste so different rolling off your tongue.
Thankfully, the only words in our mouths right now are ones of relief and gratitude. Dad is healing at warp-speed, and (fingers crossed) on the way to being certified tumor-free. We’ve moved on from swarming and fussing and waiting with fingernails in our mouths, and settled back down somewhere near normal. It’s been a wild ride.
Time for some comfort food.
You know what? It’s spring. The air is soft and downy, shot through with veins of light and blossom scent. The sky is bottomless blue, the kind of super-saturated color that makes my teeth ache (no, really). The market stalls are overflowing with bright clamoring produce, so fresh and blink-you’ll-miss-it-seasonal that it’s tempting to bring home bagfuls and just eat it, unadorned.
This is the season when I start to lose patience with fuss. In the winter, I’m perfectly content to hone my kitchen-sink cooking and practice all manner of fancy flourishes. But when the clouds break and the temperatures climb, I want something different altogether. I want fresh, and simple, and clean. I want to really taste spring in my food.
Do you ever have the kind of workweek where you go in expecting to have an easy-breezy time, and instead your office is handed a bomb with a sizzling fuse? Where your boss was supposed to be on vacation, but instead has to come back to defuse said bomb, and his frantic, disappointed aura sours everyone’s mood? Where you spend days on end combing through the haystack that is Google, looking for needles that may or may not exist? Where, to add insult to injury, the sky is gemstone-blue and the air is perfumed with fruit blossoms and the sun is high and bright for the first time so far this year, and you’re stuck indoors for all of it? Where you come home every night tasting sleep in your mouth, wishing to somehow melt your corporeal self into your mattress and lose consciousness for a million years?
Yeah. That was my week.
I’ve had no spare energy left for creativity. Which is a shame, because I had a really fabulous time cooking with friends over the weekend, and I’ve completely run out of words to describe it. I’ll try, though.
Let’s talk about anchovies.
They’re not easy to like. They’re salty, they’re fishy, they’re pungent, and they’re generally not out to make friends. Given the chance, they’ll take over a dish, running roughshod (or rough-finned?) over meeker, milder flavors. A mere mention of the word prompts scrunched noses and pouts. “I don’t really…like anchovies.”
Which is a damn shame, because they’re absolutely delicious when they’re treated right.