The Search for a Perfect Tomato – Part 2

22 09 2010

Tomatoes from Pelee Island, Ontario, September 2010

Last summer you may recall that I was on the hunt for great tomatoes. A few times over the years I’ve encountered the odd one that was bursting with flavour and had the proper texture but they are surprisingly rare. Unfortunately, Summer 2009 was cool and wet in Southern Ontario so it probably wasn’t the best time to embark upon such a quest.  However, this year we had a much better summer, with near ideal growing conditions. It was time to start my search anew.

Tomatoes ripening on the vine in Southern Ontario

As tomatoes came into season by August, I started checking out farmer’s markets and roadsides stands.  I searched during my travels to Eastern Ontario and Quebec and dutifully sampled everything from cherry tomatoes to heirlooms.  The overall quality this year was far superior to last summer’s waterlogged specimens but something was still lacking.  Where was that elusive deep and sweet flavour that I’ve been craving?

And then I found them: red, ripe, flavourful Tomatoes.

I was spending the last weekend of summer on Pelee Island with my brother-in-law Dan and his wife Jenn.  Located in the middle of Lake Erie, Pelee Island is the southernmost populated point in Canada (at 41 degrees, it shares the same latitude as Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy).  The island has a temperate climate that is favourable for grape growing and it is located just south of Leamington, Ontario which is known as the Tomato Capital of Canada.  Clearly, this would be a promising place to find good tomatoes.

A roadside stand on Pelee Island

We happened upon a roadside stand that was selling locally grown garlic and tomatoes, most likely picked from someone’s garden that morning.  Like many roadside stands in rural Canada, it was on the honour system – you put your money in the tin provided and make change from it if necessary.  We deposited the requisite amount and were on our way with fresh tomatoes and a few heads of garlic.  When I got home, I sliced into them and they were just about perfect: uniformly deep red throughout, juicy and sweet.

Tomatoes that are uniformly red throughout usually taste the best

I am a firm believer that when produce is at its best, preparation should be minimal. I decided to use my precious few tomatoes in classic preparations.  I ate one plain, sliced into wedges with a dash of salt and pepper.  Next, I made a BLT: combine crisp bacon, lightly toasted bread, crunchy lettuce, thickly sliced tomatoes and a little bit of mayo and you have a lunchtime masterpiece.  Later that night, I made some bruschetta to accompany dinner (see recipe below).  Finally, the next day I made a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich (they were getting a little soft so this was a good way to use the last of them).  As summer draws to a close, I’m already dreaming of next year’s tomatoes…

A grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices pairs well with a bit of grainy mustard and pickles

Bruschetta

(VEGETARIAN)

This is more of a guideline than a detailed recipe – amounts will vary depending on how many tomatoes you have.

  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Fresh basil or oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • White bread (baguette, ciabatta, etc), cut into slices about 1″ thick
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  1. Cut tomatoes into a small dice.  Add to a small bowl.  Finely chop some fresh basil or oregano and add to the tomatoes. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with salt to taste.
  2. On a grill or under the broiler, toast one side of the bread until golden.  Rub the garlic clove over the toasted surface of each bread slice.
  3. Spoon some of the tomato/herb mixture onto each toast.  Drizzle each piece with more olive oil if desired.

Bruschetta is an easy and delicious way to showcase perfect tomatoes

For more great tomato ideas, visit the Tomato archives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Stuffed Red Peppers

9 09 2010

Stuffed red peppers make a hearty late summer meal

This week’s markets were awash in vivid colour as peppers hit their seasonal peak in Ontario.  I saw everything from mild poblanos to fiery hot habaneros but the most abundant were red bell and shepherd peppers.  Shepherd peppers are more elongated than bell peppers but they taste very similar and are basically interchangeable in recipes.

A red bell pepper growing in a garden near Picton, Ontario

Red peppers are just green peppers that have ripened.  However, once they turn red, the peppers become much sweeter, making them ideal for stuffing with meat, cheese, rice, grains or seafood.  This version was adapted from a recipe from an old issue of Bon Appétit magazine featuring the foods of Provence.  Stuffed vegetables are very popular in the South of France and are an excellent way to use up extra peppers or zucchini.

The recipe calls for slicing the peppers lengthwise in half and hollowing them out, however, they can also be stuffed by slicing off the top and filling the entire pepper.

A note to vegetarians: Check back soon for a meatless version!

Stuffed Red Peppers

Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 sweet or mild Italian sausages
  • 1 small zucchini (about 1-1/2″ in diameter and about 6″ long)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 large red bell or shepherd peppers
  • Rosemary sprigs to garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Remove the casings from the sausages and place the meat in a large bowl (see Removing Sausage Casing for tips on how to do this efficiently).
  3. Trim the stem and end from the zucchini and grate it into the bowl using a box grater.  Add the onion, garlic, herbs, breadcrumbs, egg and parmesan to the bowl.
  4. Using your hands, work the ingredients into the sausage meat until the mixture is thoroughly combined.  Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Slice the red peppers lengthwise down the middle.  Trim out the stem and any seeds and ribs.
  6. Spoon the sausage mixture into each pepper half.  Place on a baking sheet or in a shallow pan and bake for 45 minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown. Garnish with rosemary sprigs if desired.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

6 09 2010

Lasagna with layers of vegetables, sausage and pesto is the perfect meal to transition from summer to fall.

Today is Labour Day, which marks the unofficial end of summer. Kids are heading back to school this week and the temperature has started to cool down as autumn approaches.  It can be tricky to figure out what to eat in September because the weather can shift from hot and sunny to cool and damp within a few hours.  A lasagna packed with late summer vegetables, sweet basil pesto and a layers of hearty Italian sausage is the perfect dish to make the transition between the seasons.

There are a number of steps to assemble the lasagna, however, none are difficult and the various components can be prepared in advance.  It makes an impressive dish for entertaining and leftovers are even better the next day.

Click here to get the recipe from Suite 101.com: Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Corn Relish

2 09 2010

Corn relish preserves a taste of summer

Every summer when I was a kid, my mom would make homemade pickles. By the end of August it became a ritual and her amazing dills, bread-and-butters, chow-chow and sweet pickles would last us through the winter.  It was quite a production and the house would smell of spices and vinegar before everything was sealed into mason jars and put into the cold room for the winter.

Preserving has become a bit trendy in the past few years as people re-discover how delicious and economical homemade pickles and jams can be.  I’ve been wanting to try it but unfortunately I don’t have anywhere to store the finished product. However, this week I had some leftover corn on the cob and decided to try my hand at making some corn relish.  I worked out a recipe that produces a small batch so I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to store it.  However, if you’d like to make a larger batch for canning, the recipe can be multiplied (see below for a link about safe canning procedures).  This relish is especially delicious on grilled sausages and hot dogs.

Corn Relish

(VEGETARIAN)

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1-1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons prepared (yellow) mustard
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups raw corn kernels, cut from about 5 cobs
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1 small or 1/2 large red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1/2 a large pepper)
  • 1/2 cup diced green pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 Tablespoons cold water
  1. In a large sauce pot, add vinegar, white sugar, brown sugar, salt, prepared mustard, dry mustard, celery salt, turmeric and red pepper flakes.  Whisk together and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat.
  2. Once the vinegar mixture has come to a simmer, add the corn, celery, onion and diced peppers.  Stir to combine and reduce heat to medium-low.  Gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. In a glass mixing cup or mug, whisk together flour and water until fully combined and free of lumps.  Pour flour mixture into the relish mixture and whisk well.  Turn the heat to medium-high and simmer the mixture until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.
  4. Let the relish cool and place into jars.  It will keep in the fridge for about a week. If you want to can the jars to store, you can follow these instructions for safe canning procedures: Canning Pickles.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Farmers’ Market Report – August 31st, 2010

31 08 2010

Heirloom tomatoes at the East Lynn Farmer's Market, Toronto

I recently returned from two weeks in Quebec and can see the signs of summer winding down.  The sun is setting earlier, the evenings are cooler and kids are gearing up to go back to school.  However, the farmer’s markets are in full swing – if it grows in Ontario, you can probably get it at our markets right now (with the exception of early spring produce such as asparagus and fiddleheads).  I went to three farmers’ markets over the past week and here are some of the highlights:

Heirloom tomatoes at the market. Don't be fooled by their imperfect looks - they were delicious!

Tomatoes

The king of late summer markets, tomatoes are finally in season.  Last year I lamented how horrible the season was for tomatoes because the weather was cool and wet and there was a fungus that destroyed a lot of crops.  However, all signs point to 2010 being a much better year thanks to hot and dry weather. I’ve been experimenting with heirloom varieties, plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes and so far I’ve been pretty pleased.  The key to using summer tomatoes is to keep preparation simple.  Why not make a classic BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato) Sandwich?  When tomatoes are sweet and juicy, it just might be the perfect sandwich. Cook up some good quality bacon, cut some tomatoes into thick slices and add some cool, crunchy lettuce.  A smear of mayo on lightly toasted bread finishes this masterpiece.

For more great tomato ideas, check out the tomato archives: Tomato Recipes.

A classic BLT: Possibly the perfect sandwich

Eggplant

It took me a while to get into eggplant – I used to think it was bitter and mushy. However, now I love them, as long as they’re not too big (the bigger they are, the more watery and prone to bitterness they’ll be).  This week, there were eggplants of every size, from miniature ones not much bigger than my thumb to large ones you would normally see at the supermarket.

Tomatoes + Eggplant = The basis for Pasta alla Norma (see below)

For a fresh idea, why not make a simple Pasta alla Norma?  Last week I made a version with rigatoni, fresh plum tomatoes, fresh ricotta cheese and miniature eggplant rounds.  This recipe from Mario Batali is similar but uses canned tomatoes instead: Pasta a la Norma.

My version of Pasta alla Norma made with fresh plum tomatoes, baby eggplant and creamy ricotta

Corn

Corn was a bit early this year so it’s already starting to taper off. I’ve been enjoying it straight off the cob – boiled and simply dressed with butter, salt and pepper. However, Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers is a great way to use up extra corn (and local peppers, which are also in season right now).  Leftover cooked corn can also be mixed with some fresh thyme, sage or basil and tossed with olive oil, parmesan and pasta for a simple, summery dinner.

Corn on the cob at a vegetable stand

Summer Berries

Local raspberries and blueberries are abundant right now and won’t last long so take advantage of them while you can. Raspberries are delicious in both sweet and savoury recipes so you can create an entire menu built around them.  Start with a hearty main course salad such as Duck Confit Salad with Fresh Raspberries and finish with an impressive dessert like Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Tartlets.

A hearty salad with duck confit and fresh raspberries

Autumn Fruit

Autumn fruit such as plums, pears and apples have started appearing at the market. I’ve been focusing more on ‘summer’ fruit (such as the berries, above) but I did try some delicious plums and a beautifully crisp Cortland apple.  Visit the apple archives for some tasty and impressive ideas: Apple Recipes.

I’m a little saddened that in a matter of weeks this abundance of produce will begin to slow. However, I love fall (and the cooler weather that comes with it) so I’m looking forward to coming up with some great ideas for autumn.  Plus, there is still plenty of summer left so hit the markets and enjoy!

Trish





Blueberry Lemon Bread

30 08 2010

Fresh blueberries at a farm stand near Belleville, Ontario

Local blueberries are at their peak right now in most parts of Canada.  While imported blueberries are usually available at grocery stores year round, local wild berries are a special summer treat.  This moist and flavourful sweet bread is the perfect way to showcase juicy berries.  However, it can be made with frozen blueberries if fresh aren’t available.

Click here to get the recipe from Suite 101.com: Blueberry Lemon Bread

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Slices of freshly baked Blueberry Lemon Bread





Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Tartlets

22 08 2010

Fresh raspberries and dark chocolate are an unbeatable combination in these mini-tarts.

Raspberries are at their peak right now and it’s a real treat to use fresh berries in pies and tarts.  Local raspberries can be found at roadside stands, farmer’s markets and most supermarkets by the end of August.  However, they are very delicate and don’t store well so they should be used within a day of purchase.

These mini-tarts are very easy to make but they do require a bit of time between steps so the ingredients can cool.  They’re great for entertaining because they can be made in advance and the shells won’t get soggy thanks to a layer of chocolate protecting the tartlet shells.  You could also make one large tart instead of mini tartlets.

Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Tartlets

Makes 8 mini tarts (about 3″ each in diameter).  Recipe can be doubled or halved as desired.

  • 8 mini tart shells – I sometimes use Tenderflake frozen mini-tart shells or you can make the pastry from scratch: Basic Pastry
  • 2 ounces / 57 grams dark chocolate (70% cocoa).
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch + 2 Tablespoons water
  • A pinch of salt
  • 8 fresh raspberries for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  If using frozen shells*, let them stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Use a fork to prick the bottom of the shells.  Place on a baking sheet and blind bake (ie. bake the empty shells) until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.      *If you are using freshly made pastry, line mini-tart pans or a muffin tin with the pastry and crimp the edges.  Prick the bottoms with a fork and bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove baked pastry shells from the oven and let them cool completely.  They can be baked a day or two in advance and kept in an air-tight container until ready to use.
  3. To prepare the chocolate layer:  Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler or in the microwave in one-minute increments.  Spoon some of the chocolate into each tart shell and use a pastry brush to coat the entire inside of the shell. Refrigerate the shells until the chocolate has hardened.
  4. To make the raspberry filling: In a medium saucepan, add 2 cups of raspberries, 2 Tablespoons of water and the sugar.  Bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Cook until berries begin to soften, about 8 minutes.  Lightly mash berries with a spoon.
  5. In a mug or glass measuring cup, mix together the cornstarch and water until smooth.  Pour into the saucepan of raspberries and stir to combine. Cook raspberry mixture until it becomes glossy and thickens, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Remove the raspberry filling from the heat and let cool slightly.  Spoon filling into the chocolate-lined tart shells and refrigerate shells until the filling is cool and firm.
  7. Garnish tarts with fresh raspberries and serve.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

18 08 2010

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

It’s mid-August and we’re just coming into tomato season in Southern Ontario. It’s been a great year for tomatoes because we’ve had hot and dry weather for most of the spring and summer.  Some of the tastiest tomatoes that can be found at grocery stores and farmer’s markets are cherry tomatoes (bonus: they’re grown in greenhouses during the winter so high quality cherry tomatoes are usually available year-round).  They can be used in salads, pasta dishes sandwiches, roasted or just eaten on their own.

Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrates their flavour

This pasta dish is one of my most popular recipes on Suite 101.com.  It’s easy, delicious and only requires a few ingredients.  The sauce coats the noodles lightly but it’s very flavourful so a little goes a long way.  The spaghetti is delicious served with a green salad and a glass of wine.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Makes approximately 6 main dish servings

(VEGETARIAN)

To roast tomatoes:

  • 4 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (about 40 tomatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Parchment paper

To finish sauce:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil + more to finish, if desired
  • 2 cloves chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to garnish
  • 1 lb. / 500 g dried spaghetti
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt and sugar and toss to coat all of the tomatoes. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.
  3. Pour tomatoes onto the baking sheet and roast for 25 to 35 minutes or until they collapse and their skin begins to char.
  4. Remove tomatoes from the oven and let cool slightly. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the tomatoes and all their roasting juices into a large bowl. Set aside. (Tomatoes can be roasted in advance and refrigerated until ready to use).

To finish sauce:

  1. In a large skillet or enameled cast iron pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the roasted tomatoes with their juices and oregano. Use a spoon to break up the cherry tomatoes and cook until heated through.
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions (for al dente results, it’s usually cooked for 9 to 11 minutes). Reserve 2 Tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and drain spaghetti.
  3. Add pasta and 1 Tablespoon of the pasta waster to the tomato sauce. Stir to thoroughly coat the spaghetti. If it seems a bit dry, add the remaining tablespoon of pasta water and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a grating of fresh parmesan to serve.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers

26 07 2010

Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers, made with fresh corn and sweet summer peppers.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite soups was corn chowder.  My mom made it using canned creamed corn, green peppers, onions, potatoes and milk.  It was simple, delicious and comforting.  I took the basic concept and dressed it up a little with fresh corn and added some red peppers, a hint of jalapeno, some garlic and fresh thyme.  It’s a great way to use up corn on the cob and can be a summery starter or a hearty meal on its own.  You can add some protein such as shellfish, chicken or ham if you’d like.  It can also be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock in place of chicken in the base. Serve the chowder with fresh bread or biscuits.

Click here to get the recipe from Suite 101.com: Corn Chowder with Bell Peppers.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Baby Red Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

16 07 2010

Potato salad made with baby red potatoes and a mustard vinaigrette is a delicious change from mayonnaise-based salads.

I love potatoes.  I grew up in an area that was originally settled by the Irish and potatoes were the main starch that accompanied most of our meals.  I tend to think of them as a winter vegetable because they can be stored year round but new baby potatoes are a special summer treat.  They are sweet, tender and have very thin skins.  New potatoes can be prepared very simply – just steam or boil them and top with a bit of salt and pepper.  They also are great in potato salads and don’t require a lot of work to prepare.

For a great mayonnaise-free potato salad that is full of zesty flavour, check out my recipe on Suite 101.com: Baby Red Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!