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.

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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.

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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





Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

27 08 2009
Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Summer is winding down but there’s still time to host an outdoor party before the evenings turn chilly.  Miniature tomatoes stuffed with a little bit of avocado and crab salad are always a hit and are easy to put together.  This dish was inspired by a salad I had on my honeymoon in France.  We enjoyed a fantastic multi-course lunch one day while overlooking the Mediterranean – everything was local and seasonal, including rosé wine, fish, vegetables and a salad of tomatoes and crab.  I took this idea and turned it into small bites that can be eaten as hors d’oeuvres but you could always serve it as a first course if you’d prefer.  Just use larger tomatoes and adjust the number of servings accordingly.  You can substitute lobster meat for the crab if desired.  

Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Makes 12 hors d’oeuvres (recipe can easily be doubled)

  • 12 cocktail or large grape tomatoes (about the size of a ping pong ball)
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked crabmeat (approximately 6 oz.) or lobster meat
  • 2 Tablespoons Hellman’s or Best Foods style mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon very finely diced red onion
  • 1 Tablespoon very finely diced celery
  • 1 Tablespoon finely diced red or yellow pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped chives, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 very ripe Haas avocado, skin and pit removed
  • 1 Tablespoon sour cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Using a sharp knife, cut a small sliver from the bottom of each tomato so it makes the bottom flat enough for them to stand upright without rolling over.
  2. Cut the top ¼ off the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds and pulp and discard (be careful not to scoop right through the bottom of the tomato). Set tomatoes aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the crabmeat, mayonnaise, onion, celery, red pepper, parsley, chives, salt and pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. In a small bowl, combine avocado, sour cream and salt and mash with a fork until smooth.
  5. To assemble: Spoon a small scoop of avocado mixture into the bottom of each hollowed out tomato. Top with a spoonful of the crabmeat and garnish with chives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This recipe first appeared on Suite 101.com.





Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta

19 08 2009

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Mid-August is peak tomato season and usually markets are bursting with all shapes and sizes of the delicious fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit).  However, this year many areas have been plagued with cold, wet weather and an unfortunate blight has taken a toll on vines in some regions.  The few local tomatoes I’ve tried have been tasteless and mealy but I’m hoping to find better specimens in coming weeks.  I have found that smaller cherry, grape and cocktail tomatoes have been sweeter and juicier than the field varieties I’ve tried.

If field tomatoes are poor in your area, why not make a delicious dish with cherry tomatoes?  They should be easy to find at most markets and roasting them concentrates their flavours, giving them a sweet and slightly charred flavour.  Turned into a simple sauce with fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil, it makes delicious vegetarian summer meal.  

Click here to get the recipe from a recent Suite 101.com article I wrote:  Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti

Roasted Cherry Tomato Spaghetti





Winter Caprese Salad

26 02 2009

 

Roasted tomatoes, oregano and balsamic vinegar make this salad suitable for winter

Roasted tomatoes, oregano and balsamic vinegar make a caprese salad suitable for winter

One of the most popular posts on this site is for Caprese Salad.  I did a feature last summer about composing this classic salad in various ways.  Because of the recipe’s simplicity, the key to a perfect caprese salad is selecting top notch ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s February and quality tomatoes and fresh basil aren’t available to most of us.  So why not improvise and create a winter version?  

Roasting winter tomatoes enhances their flavour, making them suitable for this salad. They don’t look as pretty as fresh slices but their sweetness will make you forget about their appearance.  A drizzle of balsamic vinegar gives the salad a bit of body and an extra boost of flavour.  I use oregano instead of basil because it has a heartier taste that stands up nicely to the roasted tomatoes.

Winter Caprese

Like my summer caprese post, this is less of a recipe than a guideline.  If you use the roasted tomato recipe I posted last year, it will yield 16 tomato halves.  Roasting the tomatoes takes some time but once the prep work is done, they go into the oven until they’re done.  I find that winter tomatoes take a bit longer to roast than summer ones so add an extra 30 minutes or so to the roasting time if nessecary.

  • Roasted tomatoes – sprinkled with oregano instead of thyme
  • Fresh mozzarella, cut into slices about 1/2″ thick.  The number of slices should be equal to the number of tomato halves used.
  • Finely chopped fresh oregano
  • Good quality olive oil, to drizzle over salad
  • Decent quality balsamic vinegar, to drizzle over salad
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Fresh ground pepper
  1. Arrange slices of mozzarella and roasted tomatoes on a platter, alternating and overlapping them.  Drizzle with a spoonful of olive oil and another of balsamic vinegar.
  2. Sprinkle salad with chopped oregano, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Bucatini All’Amatriciana

28 11 2008

 

The view from Cortona, Italy

Overlooking the Tuscan countryside from Cortona, Italy

While visiting Cortona, Italy in 2007, I had a memorable lunch on a terrace one day. It was a simple meal of bucatini all’amatriciana, a glass of Chianti and some vanilla gelato for dessert. Simple though it was, it remains one of my favourite dining experiences: stunning views, beautiful weather, good company and food that was simple yet perfect.  When making recipes that rely on few ingredients, it’s important that you use the best quality you can find.  

I was reminded of that lunch recently when I was trying to figure out something to make for dinner that was quick and easy.   Even though this is typically a summer sauce, it works for cooler months when you can use good quality canned tomatoes. It’s the perfect dish when the weather is gloomy and you want to be reminded of warm, lazy summer afternoons.  

Bucatini is a long pasta that looks like thick spaghetti but is hollow in the centre, like a very long piece of macaroni.  I prefer De Cecco brand but any kind will suffice.  If you can’t find bucatini, use penne or spaghetti instead.  Pancetta is made from Italian cured, unsmoked pork belly and is similar to bacon, while guincale is made from the pig’s jowls.  Regular bacon can easily be substituted but it will give the dish a smokier flavour (however, it will still be delicious!).

An interesting note: bucatini all’amatriciana originated in the town of Amatrice in Lazio, about 180 kilometres from Cortona so it is not a traditionally Tuscan dish (Italian cooking is very regional!). However, it is popular throughout Italy and around the world.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Makes 6 to 8 servings

 

  • 8 oz. (230 g) diced pancetta OR guincale OR bacon (about 5 rashers of bacon)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 28 oz. (796 ml) can good quality whole tomatoes
  • 5.5 fl. oz. (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon sugar, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: 2 Tablespoon fresh basil
  • Grated pecorino romano OR parmesan cheese to finish
  • 500 g (about 1 lb.) bucatini OR penne

 

  1. Heat an enameled cast iron pot or large skillet on medium-high heat and add pancetta/bacon cubes. Cook until they’re beginning to crisp, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Drain off all but 1 Tablespoon of the rendered fat from the bacon (if there is very little fat left in the pan, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil).  Add onions and sauté until they’re beginning to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Sauté for another minute.
  3. Add tomatoes and break up with a spoon.  Reduce heat to medium low and let sauce simmer for about 20 minutes.  Return pancetta/bacon to sauce, add tomato paste and season with sugar, salt and pepper.  Add basil, if using.  Let sauce simmer for another 10 minutes while the pasta is cooking. (See ‘How to Cook Perfect Pasta‘ for tips).
  4. Drain bucatini and add to sauce.  Toss until pasta is evenly coated with sauce.  Serve with grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese.

 

Bucatini all'Amatriciana with basil leaf garnish

Buono Appetit and Enjoy!