Wait, don’t answer this. It is meant to be rhetorical. Oh, you already have answered? Sssshhhhh, keep it to yourself, trust me, I already know.
It is September. Yes, the month that comes on the calendar after August, which is in reality, the last true month of summer. Where did the months of June, July and August go (rhetorical, again)? I waited patiently all through the winter months, and then the first month of pre-Spring for the Farmer’s Markets to unfold. I went once back in May, by myself, and made an enormous haul. So enormous that I could barely maneuver the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing without teetering side-to-side. My arms weighed heavy, carrying all that my eyes told me to buy.
I bought a tomato plant too.
Did I mention my arms were full and I was shopping alone?
I left that tomato plant at numerous stands. Weaving through busy crowds, I back-tracked to retrieve it as I happily thought about all the delectable morsels it would someday soon bring.
The last stop got me talking about pickles. Not just pickles, but sauerkraut too. I had to have several large (heavy) jars.
The tomato plant was left behind once again.
It wasn’t until I had reached another 7 minutes into the walk back to my car that I realized Tomato Plant had been abandoned again.
I paused for a moment and pondered about the four dollars I had paid and the worthiness of that money, versus heading back to retrieve it, laden with bags cutting marks into my wrists.
It wasn’t really to do with the money that made me return for Tomato Plant. It was the promise of the red, juicy succulence, bursting into our mouths with nothing more than a rinse from the fountain to clean off their skins. It was also the vision of delicate red balloons, multiplying and offering more sweetness, more nutrients, more summer, again and again and….
As mentioned, it is now September, and that was my only trip to Farmer’s Market this year (until last Friday). What is wrong with me? (Sssshhhhh)
And this new friend that I could not let go, brought only one, yes one, lovely little Roma, that decided to ripen while we were away on a trip. Apparently that was it, and I am most sad.
It is a good thing I was (somewhat) fortuitous in that I did buy a second plant; the type that promises to produce tomatoes. It was in a small wooden basket, gripping from a little wood trellis and did produce a bunch of bright red gems, but, only a few really made the cut. The rest were mealy. Thankfully, a mealy tomato can still make a robust, earthy sauce. So, that is what I did, sauce, times two (well one was actually a purée).
My real problem is this, I sometimes go whole seasons, yearning for the next season. I know, we all do this (no?). I then go through the next season and forget to enjoy (to the fullest), all the delights that said season brings… until the end. I am now at the end of Summer without having reveled in a plethora of perfect tomatoes. And there are few foods I adore more than Summer-fresh tomatoes.
For my sprint to the end (of Summer) though, I have managed to pile 4 bags of produce, farm-fresh eggs, pasta and pickles into my car last Friday from the Bellevue Farmer’s Market before heading off for the weekend where I piled a few more bags of the same (minus pasta) from the local farm stand (Hunter’s Farm) near Hoodsport, WA. I have a very full fridge and a bowl filled with Summer tomatoes (I am happy to say, but anxious about using in time).
This Fall, I must remember to cook using pears and squash. Until then, I give you freshly grown tomatoes, roasted and puréed, served with a side of chicken and eggplant Parmesan (because, it looks a little bit like Fall and I did have mealy tomatoes for sauce).
Roasted tomato (purée) sauce
makes approximately 2 cups
Once, long ago, when I worked at (the sadly now-defunct) Seattle restaurant Italia, I noticed the ovens were constantly filled with sheets of whole tomatoes roasting and sending out a heavenly scent. The cooks would take them from the oven and dump them through a large contraption that separated the meat from the seeds and skin. I have no idea what temperature the ovens were or how long they roasted, but I did know two things; roasted tomatoes made delicious sauce, and roasting tomatoes made everything smell fantastic.
This is less of a recipe than a process. To coax out that earthy, sun-kissed tomato flavor, roasting them low and slow in the oven is a pretty neat trick. Roasting high and quick works pretty well too and I often switch between the two depending on how much time I have, what I am making and how big the tomatoes are; it is pretty hard to screw up at this.
For instance, if I am using smaller, cherry tomatoes that I want to liken to those sun-dried numbers, I usually douse them with a little olive oil, sprinkle over some sea salt and cook them at around 300-degrees until they dry out a bit, but retain their natural juices. At 300-degrees, this might take only an hour or less; if I reduced the oven to 250-degrees it would take longer, but provide a more-succulent result. I am slightly impatient (again, shhhhhhh) so I usually opt to cook at a higher temperature (sometimes 375-degrees) for a shorter time. For this sauce however, low and slow is the way to go.
1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
1 head garlic, outer skin removed, cloves separated, hard inner skin still intact
Sea salt + fresh ground pepper, to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste
Preheat the oven to 275-degrees.
Put the whole tomatoes and garlic cloves on a sheet pan. Drizzle over some olive oil, then sprinkle with sea salt. Add some herb sprigs if you like, such as fresh thyme, rosemary or oregano. Shake to coat.
Place the pan in the oven and let roast for approximately 2 hours.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, including juices (if any), yet removing the garlic’s skin (and any skin that easily slips from the tomatoes), as well as picking away the stems from the herbs; purée.
Add the vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and grind of pepper to taste. Process to combine. I sometimes add a little more fresh herb or dried oregano; this is optional because it will taste fantastic with or without.
That’s it. Easy, right? Yes, it truly is. You can use this versatile sauce for many things; use right away or freeze to use later.
Roasted tomato (purée) sauce with a side of chicken + eggplant Parmesan
1 cup (+/-) roasted tomato (purée) sauce – see recipe above
2 smallish eggplants (Chinese or Japanese varieties work too but adjust quantity per slice circumference), sliced into 1 to 1 1/2″ slices.
Olive oil for brushing
Sea salt to season
2 boneless, skinless breasts of chicken, each breast cut in half down the center
Sea salt and pepper for seasoning
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup panko
1/8 cup grated Parmesan
Olive oil for frying
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
Soft herbs (such as basil or oregano) for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.
Lay the eggplant sides on a baking sheet and brush each side with olive oil. Sprinkle one side with a little sea salt.
Roast the eggplant in the oven for approximately 20-30 minutes. It wants to be slightly browned but not hard. The top will be slightly tough but with a little give to the touch. Remove from the oven and let sit. The eggplant should soften as it sits (making it hard to resist eating directly from the sheet pan; I always make enough to account for my nibbles).
In a shallow plate or bowl, mix the panko and grated Parmesan.
On a cutting board, between two sheets of wax paper, pound the chicken breasts until even and 3/8″ thick. Season with salt and pepper and throw a handful of flour over, lightly coating each side.
Dip each chicken breast quarter in egg, then press into the panko/Parmesan mix. These can set aside 1/2 to 1 hour before cooking.
Heat a sauté pan and add enough olive oil to just fill the bottom to 1/8″ deep. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook undisturbed until golden on the bottom side. Flip and cook 30 seconds more. Turn off the heat and transfer the chicken to a paper towel-lined surface.
Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking pan (just enough to barely coat).
Add the roasted eggplant in four vertical lines .
Top each line with a chicken breast quarter.
Pour the remainder of the sauce over all, down the center.
Sprinkle with shredded cheese and chopped fresh oregano.
Bake for 30 minutes, loosely covered with foil. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Now, may I recommend that you serve one quarter chicken + eggplant Parmesan, on a plate alongside a fresh green salad with vinaigrette or dressing of your choice?
(And don’t forget, tomatoes are good for pups too)!