Sablefish with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes

2 12 2011

Sablefish with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes

We’re in the middle of the holiday season with all of its requisite parties, dinners and general overindulgence. However, sometimes in the midst of festive meals and a few too many cocktails, we start to crave something a bit lighter. Sablefish with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes is just the dish to serve: it’s on the lighter side but is still packed with lots of flavour.

What is Sablefish?

Sablefish is also commonly known as black cod, butterfish and sable. It is a mild, buttery white fish, typically caught in the North Pacific Ocean off British Columbia and Alaska. According to The Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Canadian counterpart, SeaChoice.org, sablefish is considered a ‘Best Choice’ for sustainability, meaning that stocks are abundant and well managed.

Sablefish with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 4 servings

  • 4 sablefish (black cod) fillets weighing about 4 oz. (113 grams) each
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fennel (white part), sliced about 1/4“ thick
  • 12 large cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fennel fronds for garnish (optional)

For Crumb Topping:

  • ¾ cup breadcrumbs made from fresh bread (about 1 thick slice of bread)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (use a mortar and pestle or the side of a large knife to crush them)
  • A pinch of salt and pepper
  1. Prepare the Crumb Topping: In a small bowl, add the breadcrumbs, oil, chopped thyme, fennel seed, salt and pepper and stir together until all breadcrumbs are moist. Set aside.
  2. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper evenly over the fish fillets and set aside. Preheat the oven broiler and move the rack to the top position.
  3. Heat a large ovenproof, non-stick skillet on medium heat and add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Add the fennel slices and sauté until they caramelize and turn a dark golden brown, about 14 minutes. Be sure to stir the fennel around so it doesn’t burn and remove any pieces that brown quickly.
  4. Once the fennel has caramelized, remove from the skillet and set aside on a plate. Return the skillet to the burner and turn heat to medium-high. Heat the remaining olive oil and place the sablefish fillets in the pan, skin side down.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the fish for two minutes. Carefully turn the fillets over and cook for another two minutes.
  6. Turn the fish once again, so the skin side is down. Add the cherry tomatoes, wine, garlic, thyme and lemon juice and cook for another 2-1/2 to 3 minutes or until the fillets are almost fully cooked through. Return the cooked fennel to the pan.
  7. Press a couple of spoonfuls of the breadcrumb mixture onto the top of each of the fillets. Place the skillet with the fish under the oven broiler, watching very carefully, until the crumbs turn golden and crisp, about one minute.
  8. To serve: Divide the caramelized fennel and tomatoes between four servings and mound in the centre of each plate. Place a piece of the sablefish on each portion of fennel/tomatoes and spoon the pan sauce over the fish.
  9. Garnish with a sprig of fennel frond, if desired, and serve immediately.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

This article first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Burrata with Tomato and Basil

31 08 2011

Burrata with heirloom tomatoes and basil makes a great appetizer or first course

With summer produce at its best right now, we can rely on top quality ingredients to keep cooking simple. One classic summer dish that couldn’t be easier is Insalata Caprese – a salad made with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and sea salt. For an interesting twist on a standard caprese salad, why not try it with burrata instead?

Colourful heirloom tomatoes give the dish visual appeal

Burrata is a type of fresh mozzarella cheese from Puglia in southern Italy. Each baseball-sized round of burrata is stuffed with mozzarella curds and cream, which spill out once it has been cut. Each ball has a ‘knot’ on top where the cheese was sealed, keeping the cream inside. It is often packaged in a damp wrapping or suspended in liquid to protect it. Burrata is extremely delicate and should be consumed within a few days of production.

Until recently, burrata had to be imported from Italy to North America, however, there are a number of producers now making it in Canada and the United States. In Toronto, I usually buy burrata produced by Quality Cheese or Santa Lucia. It’s usually available at specialty cheese shops including Olympic Cheese, Scheffler’s Deli and the Cheese Boutique. In other areas, a google search should indicate where you can find it (unfortunately it may be difficult to locate outside of urban areas but ask at your local market – they may be able to order it for you).

Fresh basil pairs beautifully with ripe tomatoes

The key to serving burrata is to keep it simple. A simple drizzle with olive oil and a dash of sea salt will suffice but I like to showcase peak season tomatoes and basil to take it to the next level. Prepare some Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps to spread it on (see recipe below). Use good quality olive oil, sea salt and the best quality fresh tomatoes and basil you can find. Be sure to bring the burrata to room temperature for a half hour or so before serving. This dish only takes minutes to put together and will be sure to impress your guests as an appetizer or starter dish.

Burrata with Tomato and Basil

  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups good quality tomatoes (any kind will do as long as they are ripe and sweet – heirloom varieties come in many colours and are visually appealing)
  • 4 to 5 large fresh basil leaves, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch or two of sea salt
  • Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps (below)
  1. Remove burrata from its packaging and use a clean towel or paper towel to dry it. Set it on a serving platter and let it come to room temperature for at least a half hour before serving.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and basil (to chop basil, see my tip on How to Chop Fresh Herbs)
  3. Place the tomatoes around the burrata and sprinkle with chopped basil. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the cheese and tomatoes and season with a pinch or two of sea salt.
  4. Use a knife and spoon to serve on crisps.

Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps

Tip: These crisps can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for a couple of days. However, if you don’t have time to make them, Ace Bakery sells a similar product that works well. You can also serve the burrata with toasted baguette slices or even crackers.

  • 1 baguette
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup (approximately) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 1 clove fresh garlic (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice a baguette into rounds about 1/2“ thick. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown and toasted. Turn crisps over and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Crisps can be kept in an airtight container for a few days.
  5. To make garlic crisps: Peel a clove of garlic and rub it onto each crisp.

Burrata is delicious served on Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crisps

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!
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Portions of this article first appeared on Suite 101.com. Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.




Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

2 08 2011

Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

Farmers’ markets are at their peak right now and almost anything that grows during the summer is now available. To take advantage of the bounty, why not make this lasagna which is packed full of summer herbs and vegetables? It’s the perfect dish for entertaining because you can assemble it in advance and bake as guests arrive. The various components take a bit of time to pull together but it’s pretty straightforward and the effort is well worth it. The recipe can also be adapted to suit vegetarians.

Summer Lasagna with Vegetables, Sausage and Pesto

Serves 6 to 8

For a vegetarian version, omit the sausage and double the vegetables.

Pesto Sauce:

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

Sausage and Vegetable Sauce:

  • 3 mild Italian sausages
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup diced eggplant (about ½ small eggplant, cut into a ½” dice)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini (cut into a ½” dice)
  • ½ small red pepper, diced
  • ½ small yellow pepper, diced
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 28 fl. oz. (796 ml) can whole tomatoes
  • 5.5 fl. oz. (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt to taste

Béchamel Sauce:

  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste

For Assembly:

  • 3 to 5 fresh lasagna sheets (or more to fit the pan)
  • 5 oz. mozzarella, grated (equals about 1 cup loosely packed when grated)
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

To Make the Pesto Sauce:

  1. In a food processor or processor cup of a hand blender, combine all ingredients and puree until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To Make the Sausage and Vegetable Sauce:

  1. Remove sausage meat from casings. Heat olive oil on medium-high in a large skillet or enameled cast iron pot. Add sausage meat and cook until just browned, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove sausage from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onion to the pan and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chopped basil and red pepper flakes and cook for another two minutes.
  3. Pour in tomatoes and break up with a spoon. Add tomato paste and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes until it is thick (béchamel can be prepared during this time – see below). Season tomato sauce with a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Set aside until ready to use. Sauce can be refrigerated up to two days.

To Make the Béchamel Sauce:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat butter on medium-high until just melted. Add flour and quickly whisk into the melted butter. Reduce heat to medium and cook flour mixture for 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
  2. Add 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken and add another cup of milk. Continue until all milk has been added. Add nutmeg and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste and set aside until ready to use.

Assembling and Baking the Lasagna:

  1. In the bottom of a baking pan measuring 7” X 11” X 2” (2 quarts), spread a thin layer of pesto sauce. Cover with a thin layer of tomato/sausage sauce and top with a drizzle of béchamel.
  2. Place a fresh lasagna noodle on top, cutting sheets to fit the pan as necessary.
  3. Repeat the process: pesto, tomato sauce, béchamel, noodles/pesto, tomato sauce, béchamel, noodles/pesto, tomato sauce, béchamel. Top with shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan. Lasagna can be refrigerated until ready to bake, up to two days.
  4. To Bake: Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake lasagna for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and beginning to brown. Let cool slightly before serving.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!
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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

This recipe first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Roasted Tomato Salsa

5 05 2011

Roasted Tomato Salsa with tortilla chips

May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, which is a great excuse to enjoy Mexican-inspired food and drinks. A simple roasted tomato salsa makes a delicious accompaniment to many dishes, from quesadillas to tacos. Or, just enjoy it with some tortilla chips and a margarita or Mexican beer.

Tomatoes are not in season right now but high quality greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes are available in the produce section of most grocery stores. I usually use Canadian-grown Savoura brand cherry tomatoes but any kind will do as long as they’re ripe. A quick roast in the oven enhances their sweetness and adds a bit of delicious char. You can add additional jalapenos and hot sauce for a hotter salsa.

Serving Suggestion: Why not make some Crispy Fish Tacos and Mango Margaritas?

Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes about 1 cup

(VEGETARIAN)

For the roasted tomatoes and onions:

  • 2 cups (400 grams/ 14 oz.) cherry tomatoes, stems removed
  • 1/2 small red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon neutral oil such as canola or safflower
  • A generous sprinkling of salt
  • Parchment paper

To finish the salsa:

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers (or to taste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional – a lot of people don’t like it so you can omit it if desired)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Extra hot sauce, to taste (optional)

To roast the tomatoes and onion:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add the tomatoes and onion chunks. Toss with the oil and a generous pinch of salt until they are coated.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure the paper goes up the sides of the rim so it catches any juices from the tomatoes.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 25 minutes or until they are softened and slightly charred. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pour the contents into a large bowl. Let cool completely.

To finish the salsa:

  1. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and their skins, leaving the sauce slightly chunky.
  2. Add the chopped jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, cilantro (if using) and salt to taste. Stir together until smooth. Add additional hot sauce if desired.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.





Creamy Tomato Soup

19 01 2011

Tomato Soup with a grilled cheese sandwich is a classic cold weather meal

Tomato soup is a classic winter favourite.  Paired with crackers or a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s the perfect meal on a cold and gloomy day. Canned soup is quick and easy but making your own doesn’t take a lot of effort and you can control how much salt and additives are in the finished product. It can also be made in advance and re-heated for an easy meal on busy days.

Obviously tomatoes are not in season right now but canned tomatoes work beautifully for this recipe. Try to use good quality tomatoes that don’t have a lot of added salt or citric acid. I like Aurora brand diced tomatoes because they have good flavour, don’t have any additives and are affordable.  San Marzano tomatoes are also a good choice but they tend to be a bit more expensive.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Makes about 4 servings – can easily be doubled

(Can be made VEGETARIAN)

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (use vegetable stock if serving vegetarians)
  • 28 oz. (796 g) can of tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream or evaporated skim milk
  • Pinch of sugar, to taste (optional – it’s to balance the acid in tomatoes)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated swiss, parmesan or old cheddar cheese to garnish (optional)
  1. In a large saucepan or medium enameled cast-iron pot, heat the butter on medium-high heat until melted. Add the onion and sauté until it’s just beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook for another two minutes.
  3. Pour in the stock and tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a large spoon and let the soup gently simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes (don’t let it come to a hard boil).
  4. After 20 minutes, remove the pot from the burner and let the soup cool for a few minutes.  Carefully puree the soup mixture with a hand blender until smooth (or transfer to a regular blender and puree – use extreme caution with hot liquids).
  5. Return the pureed soup to the pot and place back on the burner. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, if necessary. Add the cream and stir until combined.  Heat on medium until the soup is hot.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
  6. To serve, top with grated cheese and fresh ground pepper if desired. Serve with crackers, sandwiches or Cheddar Herb Biscuits.

A tip for freezing: Prepare the soup as directed but don’t stir in the cream/evaporated milk at the end.  Freeze the pureed tomato base.  To thaw and prepare: Defrost the frozen soup base and place in a pot.  Add the cream/milk as directed and season as necessary.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Copyright Trish Coleman. Please contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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Sablefish with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes

30 11 2010

Sablefish (aka Black Cod) with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes is a flavourful, lighter option.

The holiday season is upon us and with it comes parties, festive meals and general overindulgence.  Why not lighten up with a pan-roasted fish dish that doesn’t sacrifice flavour?

Sablefish is more commonly known as black cod.  It has become popular in the past few years because it is both sustainable and delicious.  Nobu restaurant popularized sablefish in their iconic dish, Black Cod with Miso, which has been copied by restaurants across North America (with good reason – it’s delicious).  Preparing the fish with fennel, cherry tomatoes and a lightly herbed crust gives it a Mediterranean twist.

Sablefish should be available at well-stocked fishmongers under the name sablefish, sable, butterfish or black cod.

To get the recipe from Suite 101.com, click here: Sablefish with Caramelized Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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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!





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.





Arancini (Fried Risotto Balls)

9 02 2010

 

Arancini: A great way to use leftover risotto

 

I recently featured a primer on how to make basic risotto, a Northern Italian rice dish. It’s very versatile and is delicious as a base for braises or as a main course dish on it’s own. But what if you have some risotto left over at the end of the meal?  Not to worry  – it can be transformed into a delicious snack.

Arancini are small balls of risotto that have been rolled a crumb crust and lightly fried.  You can make them with plain or flavoured leftover risotto and I often make a simple tomato sauce to serve with them.  I like arancini so much that sometimes I deliberately prepare extra risotto just so I can make them!

You can find the recipe on Suite 101.com:  Arancini – Italian Fried Rice Balls Recipe

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





The Search for a Perfect Tomato

23 09 2009

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Once upon a time there was a garden that grew each summer and produced red juicy Tomatoes that were sweet and flavourful.  I can still remember going out to the garden to pick those Tomatoes as my mom was preparing salad to go with dinner. They were warm from the sun and smelled of vines.  Those Tomatoes were good enough to eat plain with just a sprinkle of salt and dash of pepper.  After eating far too many mediocre, mealy and flavourless tomatoes in the intervening years, I sometimes ask myself: Were those Tomatoes for real?  Or did they only exist in my imagination?

A basket of tomatoes, September 2009

A basket of tomatoes, September 2009

I’ve had fleeting encounters with Tomatoes again from time to time (as opposed to small ‘t’ tomatoes, the mediocre tasteless fruit of which I’ve had too many).  A trip to Napa, California in 1999 led us to Michael Chiarello’s restaurant, Tra Vigne.  It was early September and tomatoes were at their peak.  The menu featured them heavily so we ordered a simple caprese salad and an heirloom tomato mini pizza.  A good caprese salad is all about the ingredients so everything has to be top notch: high quality mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, good olive oil, sea salt and of course, the very best Tomatoes you can find.  The Tra Vigne caprese was flawless.  The restaurant made their own olive oil and mozzarella and the Tomatoes had the advantage of California’s climate to ripen them to perfection.

Now and again I would encounter a Tomato again but was particularly hopeful that a trip to Italy would provide a cornucopia of perfect Tomatoes.  After all, don’t Tomatoes and Italy go hand in hand?  Aside from the fact that tomatoes actually came to Italy from the New World, we were traveling in the Tuscan region which isn’t the epicenter of tomato based Italian cooking.  However, one day in Florence, I ordered a simple bruschetta with lunch.  On two pieces of toasted Tuscan bread were chopped ripe tomatoes and a drizzle of local olive.  I took a bite and there it was: that elusive fresh Tomato flavour that I had been seeking for so long.

P1000936

Bushels of tomatoes at a roadside stand in the Niagara region

Upon my return to Canada, I visited farmer’s markets and roadside stands in my quest to find delicious Tomatoes.  I was always hopeful but all too often even red, ripe specimens yielded no flavour and even worse texture. Occasionally I would find ones that were pretty good and they weren’t always the ones you’d think.  Just because a tomato has an odd shape or strange colour doesn’t mean it has no flavour.  Likewise, perfect looking tomatoes can be awful. Luckily, heirloom tomato varieties have seen a surge in popularity over the past few years and the quality is often remarkably high.  Heirlooms are tomatoes that have been grown from seeds passed down through generations.  I have tried to grow my own but due to lack of space, a shady property and devilish raccoons that foil all attempts at growing anything edible, I’ve given up and now rely on the farmer’s markets.

Roasted cherry tomatoes

Roasted cherry tomatoes

Admittedly, 2009 was a poor year to embark on a quest to find the perfect Tomato. The weather in Eastern Canada was unseasonably cold and wet for most of the summer which is not the ideal environment for tomato growing.  Most tomato varieties require hot, dry weather and lots of sun so clearly this wasn’t going to be a banner year. However, I held out hope of finding something more acceptable than tasteless watery tomatoes that are no better than what’s available in January supermarkets. I visited farmer’s markets and asked farmers their opinions about which ones tasted the best.  I bought heirlooms in various colours, cherry, grape and plum tomatoes, basic field tomatoes and strange looking cluster tomatoes.  Then I cut them up, sprinkled them with a bit of salt and subjected my poor husband to a blind tasting.  The results were as follows (I’ve used somewhat generic terms to describe the types of tomatoes I tasted – there are hundreds of specific cultivars):

From left: coloured heirloom tomatoes, cluster tomato, Campari cocktail tomato, plum tomato, field tomato

From left: coloured heirloom tomatoes, cluster tomato, Campari cocktail tomato, plum tomato, field tomato

Field Tomatoes – Generally pretty poor overall, with pale colour, little taste and mealy texture.

Plum (Roma) Tomatoes – Plum or Roma tomatoes are typically a bit drier than field tomatoes but I also found them lacking in flavour.  However, cooked into sauce and seasoned they were still pretty good.  Roasting will also enhance their sweetness.

Heirlooms – These come in a variety of colours and even patterns such as green and yellow zebra stripes.  Overall they were pretty good – sweet and flavourful and with tender, moist flesh.

Cluster Tomatoes – These were some of the best I found.  They were bright red, meaty and full of flavour.  When I returned to the market the following week, I mentioned to the farmer how much I enjoyed them and he threw in a couple for free which was very nice of him.

A cluster tomato

A cluster tomato

Cherry Tomatoes – These were also quite good.  Small and sweet, they were my tomato of choice this summer.  When roasted, they get even sweeter as their juices concentrate.  They’re also great for salads because you don’t have to fuss – just toss them in whole or simply cut them in half.

Greenhouse Grown Cocktail Tomatoes – For comparative purposes, I threw some Campari cocktail tomatoes that were greenhouse-grown into the mix.  To my surprise, they compared very favourably to the summer varieties.  This is good news for the 10 months of the year when fresh field grown tomatoes aren’t available where I live.

Colourful heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market

Colourful heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market

So overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag and I didn’t find the elusive Tomato of my youth but I will continue my search next year. Cherry tomatoes and heirlooms were the most consistent overall and the cluster tomatoes were also pretty good (although they can be a bit harder to find). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a ton of tomatoes to deal with so I’m off to make sauce….

UPDATE: Will I ever find a ‘perfect’ tomato? Visit Part 2 of my search to find out!

Check out some of my tomato recipes, including a few for roasted and cooked tomatoes which can be made year round:

Tomato Recipes

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes
Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta
Winter Caprese Salad
Bucatini All’Amatriciana
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sherry Vinaigrette
Slow Roasted Tomatoes
How to Peel Tomatoes
Tomato Tart with Herbed Ricotta
Caprese Salad 101
Corn and Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

A cocktail tomato stuffed with fresh mozzarella and a basil leaf

A cocktail tomato stuffed with fresh mozzarella and a basil leaf