Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tomatoes.....Gifts From the Garden

Our garden has seen a frost, so the final harvest of tender plants yielded plum tomatoes,peppers, eggplant and swiss chard. One of our favorite ways to prepare plum tomatoes is to roast them. Roasting the tomatoes provides a delicious ingredient as well as creates a wonderful aroma in the kitchen . A duel pleasure.
The first step is to peel, core and seed the tomatoes. This is accomplished by putting the tomatoes in boiling water just long enough to loosen skins, then transferring them to an iced water bath. Cool, core, remove skin then cut in half and remove seeds. ( I like to save the seeds along with the pulp and juice for possible use later). Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
I line a baking sheet with parchment, then arrange the tomatoes cut side up.

The tomatoes are readied for roasting with a generous drizzle of good olive oil, salt and pepper. I like to add an herb such as chopped fresh basil, but in this case I use fresh thyme. What little basil that remained in the garden succumbed to the frost.
The tomatoes go into the oven for several hours, generally 4-5 hours. I check them after about 3 hours and determine whether to continue roasting. I would say on average to plan on about 4 hours roasting time at a low heat or 200 degrees.

The Roasted Tomatoes.....out of the oven at last!

Allow them cool then place them in a bowl with any of the pan drippings and then drizzle additional olive oil ( high quality) coating them. They can be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.
The tomatoes can be served as is, as part of an antipasto plate, in a salad, served on toasted bread as a bruschetta ( with or without cheese). For a simple pasta dish, spaghetti tossed with olive oil,
garlic, red pepper flakes and grated pecorino or parmesan cheese.

A more complex pasta dish would be to prepare a ragu featuring roasted tomato.

Bowl of Pasta with Ragu of Sausage , Porcini, and Roasted Tomatoes

Recipe : Ragu with Sausage, Porcini and Roasted Tomatoes

A ragu is a sauce, a meat sauce found in kitchens and on menus all through Tuscany and Umbria. A ragu might contain sausage meat as this one does but boar, veal , lamb or duck are commonly used as well. This recipe is very adaptable to any ground meat or even a braised meat shredded into bite sized pieces. James and I both are fond of porcini mushrooms, so we add those to this dish, here we use dried that are soaked in water just brought to a boil, turned off and left to stand for about 20 min. , then removed from water ( reserve liquid).

In the meantime finely chop : 1 onion, 2 carrots, 1 stalk of celery and 1-2 cloves of garlic.
Heat oil in saute pan, cook onions until translucent, not brown. Remove from pan and reserve.
Saute carrots and celery until they begin to become tender. Add garlic and saute, being careful not to let brown. Remove vegetables from pan and reserve with onions.
Heat oil in pan to saute meat, in this case about 12 oz. of Italian sausage removed from casing. Cook slowly, do not quite brown it. When fully cooked, add chopped porcini mushrooms and cook through. Add 1/4 red wine...hopefully Italian wine! Add one and half to two cups chicken stock ( or other meat stock) along with reserved porcini liquid. Add the roasted tomatoes and reserved juice.
Season with salt and pepper, a bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme ( alternatively, fresh sage can be used).
Simmer on a low heat letting the sauce slowly reduce, adding additional broth a quarter cup at time, as needed. Adjust seasoning. This should simmer for about one and a half to two hours. Toss with pasta. I prefer to use wide pasta like papperdalle. Serve with grated pecorino or parmigiano reggiano cheese.


The best duck ragu we ever ate was at a trattoria, La Porta, in Tuscany in the medieval village of Monticchiello that looks over the Val d'Orcia. It was heavenly yet balanced with an earthy richness. At La Porta the duck ragu is served over the regional pasta called pici.

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