I admit that I’ve been a little scarce lately as things have suddenly gotten busy work-wise what with the sudden onset of “back-to-school” or “the Season” or whatever you want to call it. The French call this event
la retour la rentree (see comments where I stand corrected!), – which is ever so much nicer than “Back-to-School,” isn’t it? French is so good for having a single word that means an entire concept (as in terroir for example, a word so powerful it takes an entire paragraph to define in English). At any rate, suddenly everyone is back to being overbooked and overscheduled and everything is happening at once and wine is being -- or ought to be -- sold and drunk at a suddenly alarming pace and New York is back in action.
When not busy with work I suppose I have just been lazy. Or rather lazily enjoying what is just the very lovely loveliness of early fall days. Having spent my impressionable teen-aged years living in the Frozen North I still find it difficult to believe that here in New York you can make it through September still wearing short little pants and cute shoes with no socks and not even a proper jacket. I mean, here it is all but October and the leaves haven’t even changed yet. I ate dinner OUTSIDE last night (and in aforementioned outfit for crying out loud) and it was not only not in the least too cold (being a rather surprisingly soft breezy warm night) but all the nicer for seeming like perhaps one of the last nights when outdoor dining would be possible.
This pump-not-boot-wearing weather happens to be a very good thing for me at the moment because due to the amount of running I’ve been doing I simply cannot get my lovely tall boots on any more (calves now the size of Nebraska) and will have to cough up an insane amount of money to get a new pair. However I simply HAD to go to Blue Hill at Stone Barns this month (if only for the tomato water revelation, see below, it was worth it) and to be honest there went the boot money. Ah, the sad woes of the urban over-privileged.
In addition to enjoying the weather and the
overspending overeating of course I’ve been enjoying the flood of fresh produce that continues in garden and Greenmarket. Haven’t been able to go up to my house for a couple of weeks, but it was nice to get to Union Square last Saturday for some salad (frisee! And a great bag of gnarly mixed greens including some tiny chard, which was delicious raw).
A lot of cooking energy at this time of year, of course, still centers around All Those Tomatoes. Except now that we’ve had our fill of fresh tomatoes, and now that it’s cool enough to cook, tomatoes are a whole new ballgame. Cooked, they become more intensely sweet and sharp and I think maybe even more delicious. Concentrated, reduced more to their pure essence.
The problem with cooking tomatoes, however, is dealing with all the skins, seeds, and juice. Really the amount of prep involved is kind of a pain. I have several ways to deal with them, which are as follows:
- For when you can deal with boiling water and peeling the damn things: core your tomatoes, score their bottoms, dump them into boiling water for a few seconds. Pull them out, run them under cold water, and slip off the skins. Slice into quarters, scoop out seeds, throw flesh into colander to drain off juice. At which point you can either use, freeze, or can the tomatoes. And by the way, save that juice!! At BHSB they serve ‘tomato water’ in shots as an amuse-bouche. You, too can do this! Just garnish some tomato water with olive oil and basil and be tres haute barnyard (‘cause if the Tasting Room is haute barnyard, Blue Hill is certainly tres) at your next dinner party! Could it be frozen? I think so. . . I’ll see Dan Barber his tomato water and raise him granita!!
- For when you can’t deal with the peeling of tomatoes (and lets face it, sometimes the whole pot of boiling water, colander, tongs, general wetness, etc is just too much), you can just core and quarter the tomatoes, scoop out the seeds and pulp, again put them in colander to drain (saving the precious juice!) then cook them down slightly with some garlic for sauce. Put through the coarse setting of your food mill. Use or freeze
- Or, when the weather is cool enough to put the oven on, you can do all of step 2 except rather than cooking down the tomatoes in a pan, toss them in olive oil and roast them (skin-sides up) at 400 degrees for about 30 mins or so. Let the tomatoes cool for a minute and then you can pull the skins off with your fingers (or just put them through the food mill if you mind burning your fingers, which after years of cooking and/or working in restaurants I don’t).
Anyhow, just think how all that piddly boring tomato prep-work will be but a vague memory as you happily pull containers of tomatoes out of your freezer in deep mid-winter. The joy of sweet tomato sauce in midwinter is incomparable.
And in case you want to partake of their glory immediately, here is a wonderful soup that pretty much sums up the flavor of late summer. I made this soup last week and then promptly set aside a full quart of the roasted tomatoes I was freezing so I can make it again sometime in January when it’s dark and I’m blue:
Essence of Late Summer Tomato Soup
3 lbs (or more) tomatoes – peeled, seeded, juiced by any method above (about 1 full quart if you have them in the freezer)
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled
one medium-to-large sweet onion
one yellow or red pepper
(substitute for pepper or add some finely chopped fennel or celery if you like)
3 cloves garlic (if you did not use any in the initial tomato prep)
pinch of whole fennel seeds
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp mild curry powder
salt to taste
splash of dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth (use low sodium if you use pre-prepared)
fresh herbs (basil, parsley, whatever) to garnish
Finely chop carrots, onion, pepper, other vegetables if using. Gently cook the onions over medium heat in a generous amount of olive oil until the start giving their liquid, then stir in curry powder, a sprinkle of salt, and the fennel seeds; turn to mix well. Turn heat down slightly and add other vegetables (garlic goes in now if you are using plain tomatoes). Sprinkle with salt and turn until everything is well coated with the curry powder, then gently sweat until the carrots and peppers are starting to get soft (you can cover partly if you like).
Turn up the heat, add the prepared tomatoes and a small pinch of red pepper flakes (if you like). Heat until bubbling, then add a splash of white wine and the chicken broth. Start with 2 cups and see how much liquid you have (depends on your tomatoes) and adjust as necessary. Let simmer for 15 –20 minutes and serve. Garnish with fresh herbs, serve with rustic toasty bread. If you want to get really crazy, toast the bread, drizzle it with olive oil, then rub it with smashed cloves of garlic.
This dish needs a wine that is ripe but has ample acidity (like the tomatoes). Lately I’ve been digging wines like Apremont from Savoie, and there’s always my standby Marc Olivier Muscadet. . . . or some other racy little Loire white (Cheverny?) . . . for reds, well, there’s always cru Beajolais! Do I sound like a broken record? I also tend to drink these wines that I happen to sell for a living not only for matters of convenience but because there in a nutshell is one good reason I chose to work for the people who sell them. It is a true fact that I would almost say that I could be happy if the only wines left in the world were Marc Olivier’s Muscadet and several good cru Beaujolais. . . except then there would be no other wines (Burgundy, you know, is rather hard to give up. Oh, and Cornas. And Barolo, and great champagne and lots of other wines I can’t afford to drink often. Not to mention Cabernet Franc from the Loire, which I can. . . ) And actually that would be a little sad, wouldn’t it? But at least it would be a world in which I could somehow go on living.