Tag Archives: tomatoes

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

As the joke goes, there are only two seasons in Ottawa: Winter and construction season. It’s kind of like that for me – Tomato season and “not tomato season”. During tomato season, I have them for breakfast, sliced on toasted bread, sometimes with cucumber and a little salt and pepper. For lunch and dinner in salads, and quite frankly any other way I can get them. Heirlooms, big ol’ beefsteak tomatoes and regular vine-ripened red tomatoes all float my boat in a big way.

Sure, your local supermarket sells something they call tomatoes all year ’round. Raised in hothouses, bred for uniformity, heartiness for shipping, and colour, and cross-bred in labs with chunks of styrofoam and flavour inhibitors, these are tomatoes like the cheese sauce on Seven-Eleven Nachos is cheese.

With local tomatoes at their peak flavour, we thought we’d do a sampling of recipes this week that highlight them in various forms.

The first was a Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup from Gourmet Magazine. It was full of bright, fresh tomato flavour and went very well with good bread from Art-is-in Bakery.

The second was a delicious appetizer of Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes with Fontina and Thyme from Closet Cooking, out of which we made a dinner. Fresh cherry tomatoes, mixed with herbs, garlic and oil, then roasted in the oven. When they were done, they were covered with a layer of shredded fontina cheese and put under the broiler until bubbly. Again this was served with a nice baguette. The richness of the fontina was a great backdrop for the sweet, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes.

Lastly, it wouldn’t seem right to finish off a week of tomatoes without making a pasta sauce. This dish was inspired by Scott Conant’s Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce – A “too simple to be THAT good” dish, served at his Scarpetta restaurants.

It involves blanching and peeling ripe tomatoes, crushing them into a pot, with an onion sliced in half, some minced basil and oregano as well as a large pinch of chili flakes, and simmering them down for a couple hours. In a separate pot I poached some local vegetables in olive oil  — mushrooms, red pepper and garlic, slowly for 2 hours.  When the oil was deeply flavoured with the vegetables, I added a 1/3 cup of the oil to the tomato sauce.

I also made an executive decision to dump the strained, poached vegetables into the sauce. The peppers added sweetness, the mushrooms added an earthy meatiness and the garlic dissolved and blended into the mixture.

I brushed the flavoured oil on thin slices of Art-is-in baguette with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to crisp in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. The rest of the oil has been set aside for salad dressings and cooking over the next couple days.

There’s no recipe here. I winged it and so should you. I used enough tomatoes for pasta for 4 – I figured 2-3 medium tomatoes per person. We served this pasta with a Caprese salad, made with Bufala mozarella, fresh basil and heirloom tomatoes with salt, pepper and a drizzle each of olive oil and basalmic vinegar.

It’s important to note, when we substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in the soup recipe, all three meals are entirely vegetarian. All three also have rich, meaty flavours due to the prime ripe tomatoes and the way they’re cooked. There’s leftover pasta sauce in the freezer, to be brought out mid-winter when I need a taste of Summer-becoming Fall.

Heather Takes On: Gordon Ramsey

I have here, Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite. We bought this book as a coffee table decoration in mid-2009, before we even had a coffee table of our own. It was read in the car on the way home and haven’t really opened it since. Also, I spilled Diet Coke on it.

We are rabid Gordon Ramsay fans and watch all of his shows: Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, Kitchen Nightmares and The F Word. I also have a couple of his books, including Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F Words, and the Pursuit of Perfection which is an autobiographical rant about his upbringing and getting started in the kitchen. This book also points out that at one point, he was a very unhappy, overweight chef and knows a thing or two about healthy cooking.

Amazon reviewers note that the book seems to closely follow the Mediterranean diet. Lots of fish, meat and vegetables with a few pasta entrees and light cakes and roasted fruit for dessert. Entrees for kids even look great, with stir-fried duck in lettuce cups, chicken burgers, sweet potato wedges and baked eggs in ratatouille.

It consists of bright, clean photographs, a wide range of healthy recipes, features scattered throughout the book on things to do with tomatoes, oily fish or summerberries, as well as a section in the back about making your own stocks, entertaining, cooking for kids, healthy snacks, and even squeezing in exercise. Browsing through any cookbook, I can hum, haw and sticky note a bunch of pages to check back on later. All of the food in this cook book looks delicious and relatively affordable, but nothing jumps out as something I need to make right now.

I will close my eyes and flip to a random page in the center of the book, although hindsight says maybe I should have flipped a little further to the back where all of the desserts are.

Beef Burgers with Beet Relish and Cucumber Raita – Page 119 of Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite. This makes four servings.

The burger derived all its flavour from the smoked paprika, which made it semi-tasty considering it was just a lump of ground beef with only four seasonings. Not pictured is the slice of mozzarella placed on top once the camera was put away. It was paired with pinot grigio despite the fact that all my wine knowledge consists of is that I like drinking it and red wine goes with red meat. Matt works in a condominium, and residents are always feeding him… leftover cake, food their parents made, wine, etc. So I happened to have a random bottle of white. Matt doesn’t like wine, so ownership is automatically transferred over to me. Also, my mom said I could.

Suspiciously, when perusing the internet for an easy to copy link so I wouldn’t have to type the whole recipe out, I found the exact burger and beet relish recipe on a different website – but with other ingredients added to the burger such as Worcesececestershire sauce, Tobasco sauce along with – gasp – buns and toppings. Instead of the raita, there’s oven roasted potato wedges. This one can be found here.

It wasn’t amazing, but I thought it was good. (Matt: “I can see why British food isn’t very popular”). I’ve never in my life bought capers, I had no idea you could buy pre-cooked beets in a can and I stalked produce department people throughout Metro trying to work up the courage to ask them if the bunch of greenery I had in my hand was indeed arugula (it was not). Other than that, his directions are extremely easy to follow and I enjoyed myself quite a bit. This was a great experience and the perfect date night idea – to pick a recipe at random, go gather the ingredients and come home to make it.

Beef Burgers with Beet Relish and Cucumber Raita

1 1/2lb (600g) good quality lean ground beef
1 tsp smoked paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
sea salt and black pepper
olive oil, to cook and drizzle
8oz (250g) cherry tomatoes on the vine
splash of balsamic vinegar

Beet Relish:
8 oz (250g) cooked beat in natural juices, drained
3 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
handful of italian parsley, roughly chopped
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil

Cucumber Raita
1 large cucumber
handful of mint leaves, chopped
3-4 tbsp plain yoghurt
squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

Seasoning the burgers:
Put the ground beef into a large bowl and add the paprika, cayenne, 1/2 tsp salt (or less to taste) and 1/2 tsp pepper. Mix well with your hands, then shape into 4 neat patties. Place on a plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes to set the shape.

The beet relish:
Roughly chop the beet and place in a food processor along with the capers, parsley, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Pulse until the mixture is roughly chopped – you don’t want to puree the beet. Season to taste and transfer to a bowl.

The cucumber raita:
Peel the cucumber and quarter lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Roughly chop the flesh and place in a bowl. Add the chopped mint and toss with enough yogurt to bind. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cooking it all up:
Heat the barbecue or heat a little olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Brush the burgers with olive oil and cook on the barbecue, or pan-fry. Remove to a warm plate and let rest for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes to the barbecue or skillet and drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the tomatoes are soft but still retain their shape.

Serve and impress:
Serve the burgers with the tomatoes, beet relish, and cucumber raita. For a neat presentation, spoon the raita into lettuce cups and garnish with a handful of arugula.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.