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.
It’s almost Memorial Day here in the US, and that means the start of barbecue season. For our crowd, that means burgers. Lots and lots of burgers. And for me, a burger just isn’t a burger without a big splodge of ketchup.
But, after a lot of pretending that everything was fine between me and ketchup, I’ve had to admit defeat. As usual, onion is the culprit. The classic American ketchup (rhymes with “Shmeinz”) contains onion powder, and even such a small amount is apparently enough to rumble my stomach. It’s also sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t an issue for me but causes trouble for some of my friends.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative. I first made tomato jam years ago, and loved it, and then more or less forgot about it. When I started bellyaching to Sam about my new ketchup-less life, he suggested that tomato jam might be worth a revisit. And he was right. This stuff is basically ketchup 2.0: thicker, sweeter, spicier, with a more interesting texture and intense tomatoey flavor. It’s the best thing that ever happened to a burger. And it’s lovely on a sandwich, with cheese and crackers, or alongside whatever configuration of eggs and potatoes you like for breakfast.
For this go-around I turned to Food in Jars, which is my favorite online resource for canning and preserving recipes. (Marisa also commented on a blog post here once, so that basically makes us friends.) This recipe is explicitly designed for water-bath canning, meaning you can put up a batch during tomato season and portion it out throughout the year. If processing the jam for shelf storage feels too daunting, though, it’s just fine as a fridge or freezer jam.
It’s high tomato season here in California. They’re everywhere, those fragrant red orbs, and it’s hard not to just eat them all raw. But please, if you can bear it, set aside a few juicy specimens for this recipe. It’s my new favorite paella, and a truly wonderful late-summer party meal.
I’ve been trying for years to come up with a great vegetable paella. This blows away every other version I’ve tried. The difference is those tomatoes–ripe and juicy, cut into meaty wedges and scattered on top of the rice. Unlike other paellas I’ve made, this one starts on the stove and then gets a brief blast in a hot oven. The tomatoes wrinkle and slump, while holding their gorgeous form. Stick a spoon in, and you’ve got sweet tomato jelly on top of delicately seasoned rice. It’s a total winner.
This started its life as a Mark Bittman recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, swapping out the onions in his recipe in favor of peppers–both sweet and hot–and romano beans. I add a bay leaf for extra fragrance, and a splash of wine just for fun. To keep the tomato flavor front and center, I use water as the cooking liquid. Once the paella comes out of the oven, it gets strewn with parsley and scallion confetti. Serve with lemon wedges for folks who want a bit of zing, and the rest of that bottle of wine.
Years ago, I won a copy of Root-to-Stalk Cooking in an online raffle. As soon as it arrived in the mail, I plonked down on the couch with a pile of Post-It notes and bookmarked every recipe I was dying to try. Then I tucked the book away on my shelf of cookbooks and promptly forgot it existed. A couple weeks ago I pulled it down, pages still studded with little pink flags. This is the first of those recipes I’ve tried, and it’s good. Really good.
The secret here is chard stems–those beautiful, vivaciously-colored stalks that you should never, ever throw away. I love them pickled; I love them in soups and stews. And, if you blanch them until soft and tender, they make a fabulous hummus-like dip.
Yes, I said hummus. Turns out, cooked chard stems make an admirable–dare I say superior?–replacement for the ubiquitous chickpea. They blend up even smoother and softer than canned chickpeas, with no fibrous skins to get in the way. And their subtle beet-y sweetness is a perfect balance for the usual hummus suspects: nutty-bitter tahini, tangy lemon, and buttery olive oil. It’s delicious, thrifty as hell, and a great low-FODMAP alternative to traditional hummus.
One thing I didn’t expect: if you make this dip with red chard stalks, it turns out pink. Like, tutu pink. Millennial pink. I found this delightful, but it did lead to several party guests asking why there was a bowl of strawberry yogurt next to the chips. Fortunately, chard comes in a wonderful variety of colors. If you prefer a more neutral-colored dip, choose white chard stems, or a mix of white, yellow, and green. (I’d avoid full-on rainbow chard, which seems like it would turn an unappetizing shade of brown.)
That drizzle of olive oil means it’s hummus, not yogurt. Right? Right?
One thing I’ve learned this summer: people go apeshit for homemade salsa. I don’t quite know why that is–maybe it’s just that my friends are so used to the stuff from a jar. But when I brought a batch of this salsa to a barbecue, it was nearly gone before Sam had a chance to photograph it.
Good thing, too, since I can’t comfortably eat storebought salsa anymore. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to whip up a delicious tomato salsa from scratch, customized to your needs and tastes. Start with ripe, in-season tomatoes–I like cherry tomatoes for their sweet, juicy snap. Then add some thinly sliced scallion tops, a splash of lime juice, a minced chile or two, and a handful of fresh herbs. Sometimes I add a little sugar to balance the tomatoes’ tang; sometimes it’s not needed. Season with salt and pepper, and you’re in business.
Once you’ve got the basic building blocks, there’s lots of room to play. My friend Andrea makes her own preserved limes, and adds a minced tablespoon or so into every salsa she makes. You could replace some of the tomato with diced fresh fruit–ripe pineapple or papaya are nice low-FODMAP options. You could roast the tomatoes and chiles in a hot oven until they blacken and char, then pop all the ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Or you could just make this same, simple salsa every time. I’ve certainly never heard a complaint.
If there’s a drawback to homemade salsa, it’s that it tends to turn watery as it sits. But there’s a solution! After chopping the tomatoes, toss them with some salt in a strainer and let them drain over a bowl for about 30 minutes. The excess liquid will drip down into the bowl, leaving you with firm, perfectly seasoned tomatoes for your salsa. And don’t throw away that tomato liquid–it’s delicious to drink on its own over ice, or mixed with a little vodka for a feather-light take on a bloody Mary.
A couple months ago, when I came home from the doctor with a pamphlet on FODMAPs and a brain full of questions, one of my first (slightly panicked) messages was to my friend Ida. Not only had she gone through the same process a couple years earlier, but she’s one of the most wildly creative cooks I know. So I invited her to dinner and picked the heck out of her brain.
Of all the tips and resources Ida shared–and there were a lot–one thing stuck with me. Choose one meal, she said, that fits your dietary requirements, that you love, and that you can make with your eyes closed. That’s your go-to meal. When you feel like there’s nothing you can eat, make that. For her, during the strictest elimination phase, that meal was fajitas. For me, it’s Vietnamese-style noodle bowls.
This isn’t really a recipe–it’s a method. I start by soaking some dried rice vermicelli in near-boiling water for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I make a punchy dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and some sort of chile. Then I root through the fridge for cooked protein, raw vegetables, and fresh herbs, and cut everything up into strips or morsels. Finally, I drain and rinse the noodles and combine everything in a big bowl. (I’ve written out a more detailed description of my method and proportions below the post.)
This is the perfect thrown-together summer food. It’s light and crisp, savory and refreshing. The dressing, fresh herbs, and scallions make it intensely flavorful and exciting. It comes together in 20 minutes or less, without turning on the stove (except maybe to boil some water, and I’ve got an electric kettle for that). It fills me up without leaving a brick in my belly. It accepts whatever mishmash of veggies and meat I have in the fridge. And it’s easily tailored to even a fairly strict diet. I’ve been eating this at least twice a week for months now, making it differently every time.
It’s funny the things we self-taught home cooks take as gospel. Leek tops, for instance. How many times have I read a recipe that says, “1 leek, white and light green parts only?” That great dark green headdress gets lopped off first thing, and then what? Occasionally someone suggests saving the greens for the stockpot, but otherwise they go unmentioned and unused. This has led to more than one of my friends believing that leek greens are inedible.
So let it be known: The green parts are edible! Leek tops are just as flavorful and useful as the bulbs. They’re a bit more fibrous, but that’s easy to get around by cooking them long enough. And they’ve got the same delicate, almost sugary onion flavor as the bulbs.
If you’ve got allium issues, look to leek greens–like scallion tops and chives, they are low in FODMAPs. But unlike scallions and chives, they’re sturdy enough to saute or sweat, which makes them an easy substitute for onions or leek bulbs in a lot of dishes. Anywhere you’d start with a saute of aromatics–perhaps a mirepoix, or just a simple onion base–leek tops can provide. The flavor is milder than onions, and the greens mellow to a muted green color when cooked. For soups and stews, particularly, I find them indispensable.
Take this soup. I had zucchini that needed using, and this Serious Eats recipe on my mind. The recipe calls for one large leek, and I knew the green tops would work just as well as the white bottoms. So I sliced up the greens from one splendidly headdressed leek, and cooked them low and slow in a covered pan with some olive oil until they softened and turned jammy. Add some zucchini, fresh basil, water, and seasonings, simmer for a while, blend, and voila–a simple, summery soup that comes together surprisingly fast.