About a month ago it was pretty much the end of basil season here North of Seattle. Any additional growth would be a “bonus”. This year I didn’t wait around until basil turned purple — I proactively cut best looking 3-6″ everywhere on the plants and hung them on the sweater drying rack:
There are also oregano sprigs laying across the top of the bars on the left-hand side. The stuff that was too small to hang on its own wound up on a window screen that we laid flat between two chairs.
It’s been a very mild summer here Vaguely-North-of-Seattle. We finally got a few days that could be called “very warm or hot” strung together and the basil really responded. Happy and productive basil means it’s time for panzanella (last week, didn’t get a picture), flatbreads (more below), and pizza:
The toppings are basil, roasted red pepper puree, and fresh mozzarella that I squeezed as much water as possible out of so it wouldn’t make the pizza soggy.
Recipe: 300g bread flour, 175g water (58% hydration), 6g olive oil (2%), 6g kosher salt, 3/4 tsp instant yeast. Knead and let rise 2-3 hours, folding the dough about halfway through. Preheat oven to 425F. Stretch the dough out over the screen, top with red pepper puree and bake 10 minutes. Top with mozzarella and bake 4-5 more minutes. Remove from the oven. After the pizza has cooled somewhat top with the basil, unless you’re ok with dark green wilted basil, in which case putting the basil onto a hot pie will work fine too.
Mrs. Iron Chef needed a dish for a work pot luck recently and of course she turned to me to ask if I would make something. I debated making my Mac and Cheese, but we weren’t sure if there was any way to heat it up and it has been too bloody warm to make Mac anyway. I figured that since the event was outside and during the heatwave we have been going through that a nice Caprese Salad would be a good choice and I would do it with a twist. Tomatoes are just about in season, watermelon is in season and I have more basil right now than I know what to do with so it seemed like a good candidate with easily accessible ingredients. It would be quick to make and easy to transport also. So I went with it. At the event there was a contest for best dish and guess what took home the top prize?
1 ¼ lbs. ripe, in season, tomatoes, cut into ½ in pieces
8 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, preferably Ciliegine size, drained, patted dry and halved
8 oz. Watermelon, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 ½ tablespoons coarsely minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 table spoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, mozzarella and watermelon and toss gently to combine. Add basil, oil vinegar and salt and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust salt and add fresh ground pepper as desired. Let sit at least an hour to combine (don’t refrigerate it) and toss just before serving. That is it, there is nothing else to do but enjoy.
The key to this is to use in-season tomatoes. The riper they are, the sweeter they are so if you grow your own, this dish will be much sweeter than if you use store bought ones. I prefer roma or cherry tomatoes for this dish, but just about any tomato will work except for the ones that you will find in the supermarket labeled as “slicing tomatoes”. The mozzarella should be available in the deli section of most mega marts and the ciliegine size are about the size of the tip of your thumb. You can use just about any size mozzarella balls (don’t use the slicing mozzarella, it doesn’t have enough moisture), you just want to cut the pieces into roughly the same size as the tomatoes and watermelon. If you are using home grown tomatoes that are really sweet, I would recommend using red wine vinegar rather than balsamic – otherwise you risk a very sweet salad. A nice trick for mixing the oil and vinegar – put them into a small container with a lid and shake vigorously a couple of times until combined. I usually have a small container of the two handy so I just need to shake it up and pour over a salad. Adjust the recipe to taste – if you want more tomatoes, or basil or mozzarella, or watermelon, add it. You may need more oil and vinegar, if you do increase the other ingredients – just do it slowly. This salad is also great with some raw sweet onions sliced thinly added to the mix and served over grilled bread.
Since it is tomato season and I am currently pulling more tomatoes than I can eat, I needed to do something creative with them that allows me to highlight their sweetness without completely overpowering the flavor. I also wanted something that was easy and I could pull most of the ingredients from the garden or what I usually have on hand. Here is what I came up with:
8 oz. pasta, preferably farfalle
8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/3 cup sweet onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 basil leaves, chiffonade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup pasta water, reserved
Salt and pepper
Cook the pasta until al dente, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water when done. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the vermouth and cook for 1 minute. Add the cream and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the pasta and goat cheese and toss until the pasta is coated and the cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are warmed through, about 3-4 minutes. If the sauce is too thick at this point, add a bit of the pasta water to thin it out (There shouldn’t be big puddles of it in the pot, you are really just creating enough sauce to coat everything). Check seasonings, remove from heat, add the basil and serve.
The recipe should serve 4 easily but can be easily scaled. I used Sun Gold tomatoes since that is what I had in the garden, but just about any tomato would work – just cut them small enough to be one bite. Some chives would also be a nice finish to this if you don’t have any basil and this could also work with the addition of some hot pepper flakes – just add them in when you put the vermouth in. If you don’t have vermouth, you can use any white wine that you would like.
Since I now need to harvest all of my tomatoes before the cool nights cause them to split (not to mention the basil, tarragon and Vietnamese coriander), dinner pretty much every night in the Iron Chef household is going to consist of something tomatoish. A nice, quick and easy recipe is a tomato salad. It is cool and refreshing for those remaining few warm evenings and it is quick and simple if you don’t want to think about putting together something elaborate.
½ cucumber, seeds removed, cut into ¼ inch pieces
¼ cup onion, sliced thin or cut into ¼ inch pieces
¾ lb. tomatoes, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tbsp. basil, minced
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tsp. red wine vinegar
Combine cucumbers, onion, tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar into a bowl. Toss to combine and let stand for 7 minutes on the counter. Add basil and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a crusty piece of bread to soak up the juices.
That is it, quick and easy. You can skip the sitting for 7 minutes piece and serve right away, but that will mean your onions will be stronger in flavor and you won’t get the really tasty juice to soak up. You can really add anything you want to this, but in season tomatoes bring much more flavor to the party. If you are using out of season tomatoes, use balsamic vinegar instead of red wine to account for the lack of sweetness in the tomatoes. If you tomatoes are like mine, super sweet, don’t use balsamic – it will be too sweet. The recipe feeds two easily and can be scaled as much as you want.
If you are like me and decided to grow tomatoes in the Seattle area, you are just beginning to enjoy the fruits of your labor, although you are probably hoping that the 80% of the tomatoes on your plant that are still green will ever ripen. (Quick hint – cut back on watering them, it will cause them to stop producing fruit and try to ripen what is there). That being said, I tend to get more tomatoes than I know what to do with in one sitting, so I get creative with them. Since the ones that I grow at home taste about 100 times better than anything you can get in the store, I use them in just about everything. One of my favorite applications is with eggs. You don’t need to cook them and they add a ton of flavor and brightness to any egg dish. Below is a recent breakfast I made for Mrs. Iron Chef Leftovers with some of the tomatoes and basil from the garden. The recipe feeds one but can be easily scaled.
2 Large eggs
1 tablespoon diced or minced onion
¼ cup tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon basil, chiffanade (probably about 1 large leaf)
1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon olive oil
In a medium, non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until it starts to become translucent, about 5 minutes. While the oil is heating, combine eggs and milk and beat with a fork until combined, let sit. Add the eggs to the pan when the onions are cooked and turn heat to medium low. When the eggs begin to start to form a curd (i.e. begin to become solid) gently break apart with a silicone spatula into smaller pieces; this will happen quickly, so keep an eye on it. Add the goat cheese and stir until incorporated; maybe 1-2 minutes. Once everything is incorporated, remove from heat and add the tomatoes and basil. Toss to combine and let sit for one minute. Add salt and pepper to taste, plate and serve to a happy wife.
You can leave out the cheese or substitute it with just about any kind you want. I happen to love the combination of goat cheese, tomato and basil, but cheddar works well also. The key to this dish is the low heat – it will allow the curds to be fluffy and light. Also, the more liquid you add to the eggs before cooking them, the fluffier they become. If you have particularly juicy tomatoes, remove some of the liquid before adding to the pan, otherwise you will have watery scrambled eggs. I tend to not cook the tomatoes because I like their raw flavor better. If you want to cook them, add them to the onions after they have been cooking for about 3 minutes. This recipe also works as an omelet too, but that is for another show.