Pasta Puttanesca

In high school, I made pasta puttanesca for the first time. My teacher gave us a take-home assignment to cook an authentic Italian dish, and my team drew the puttanesca. All I really remember about the assignment was the name “Pasta Puttanesca” and just how funny it was, and the horrendous idea that we would have to eat capers (yuck!) and olives (double yuck!) and anchovies (too disgusting even to think about). I actually thought it turned out pretty good, though I imagine if I had to eat a meal prepared by three high school kids with no cooking experience, you might hear a few double yucks from me now.

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I haven’t made pasta puttanesca since high school, but every time I’ve thought about it since then I’ve laughed — “Whore’s Pasta!” — gufaww! I’m laughing now. I guess jokes from your childhood have a way of making you smile. I find the name so funny that it was actually hard to cook it. I made joke after joke to Jim, who didn’t find them as funny as I did, and I even called a bunch of people to tell them I was making pasta puttanesca, hardy har har. I’m obviously regressing in leaps and bounds.

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But if reverting to a fourteen-year-old is the price for pasta puttanesca, I’ll pay it. Capers, olives, and anchovies all seem so delicious now; briny, oily, fishy — the stuff of my dreams! I’m rather ashamed of my 14-year-old self, sticking out my tongue at those lovely ingredients. And the name, whore’s pasta or street-walker’s pasta, or whatever it actually translates to in Italian, only adds to the greatness of the dish, adding a little sex to the tomatoes and chilies and big fat shrimp.

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To make a pasta puttanesca special, parsley is key. Use lots and lots of it. It’ll be the foil to the spice, the fish flavor, and the sweet tomatoes. Parsley brings it all together.

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I’ve heard that people don’t traditionally put cheese on their puttanesca, so we tried it without first. But a good block of parmigianno was in my fridge, and a load of pasta on my plate, and the combination proved too hard to resist. And I don’t really know why you wouldn’t want cheese in there; it was delicious melding with the spices, coating the shrimp. A good glug of olive oil on top won’t hurt, either.

big bowl o' pasta

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

adapted from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria cookbook (a lovely cookbook, indeed)

serves 6

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 flat anchovy fillets cured in olive oil, minced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
sea salt
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in juice
15 salt-cured black olives, such as Italian Gaeta or French Nyons, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1 pound dried Italian imported spaghetti
1 cup flat leaf Italian parsley, coarsely chopped.
1/2 to 1 pound big, fat shrimp, peeled and deveined

In an unheated skillet large enough to hold the pasta later on, combine the oil, anchovies, garlic, crushed red peppers, and a pinch of salt, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook over moderate heat just until the garlic turns golden but does not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour out a little of the juice from the can of tomatoes, maybe about half, then add the tomatoes with reserved juice into the pan, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add the olives and capers. Stir to blend, and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, in a large pot bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and the spaghetti, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain.

Add the drained pasta to skillet with the sauce. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and add the shrimp to the pasta and sauce. Toss, then tuck the shrimp into the pasta and let it cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the shrimp is mostly done. Turn off the heat and let the sauce absorb into the pasta for another minute or so.  Add the parsley and toss. Serve immediately, passing parmesan cheese and olive oil at the table.

Ricotta gnocchi with corn and chanterelles.

This is not the time, amid all this heat, humidity, and rain, to ask you to stand in your kitchen with the stove-top going—two burners—and roll gnocchi.  And it isn’t the time, quite frankly, to ask you to eat gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi, covered in brown butter; heavy with cheese and fat.

But it is the season for corn. And chanterelles are popping up here in New Jersey. And there’s lots of fresh summer herbs.  This gnocchi is perfect, really, for after one of those summer days of swimming and exercise; those days when you get home in good spirits with some adrenaline left and you can get to work rolling gnocchi. Then by the time dinner hits the table, you’ll be ravenous.

I think I just planned your Saturday.

You won’t be disappointed.  Homemade gnocchi is just better than anything you can get frozen or—gasp!—from a box.  (Though, to be honest, I’ve heard that Trader Joe’s frozen gnocchi is pretty good…)  It takes a little getting used to; you need to use the right amount of pressure while you roll each piece against the tines of a fork in order to make those pretty little grooves, and while that right amount of pressure can’t be taught by a recipe, it’s easily learned after you experience squashing your first few.

It’s a bit more labor intensive than rolling out pasta, but I think I mentioned, cheese is involved in this dough, so a little more labor is worth it.  And gnocchi is the perfect pasta fix for those without a pasta machine.

This gnocchi recipe is Suzanne Goin’s from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a gorgeous cookbook, organized by season. I want to make every single one of her recipes, but this was the perfect way to jump into the book.  The gnocchi cook up luscious and tender, only to be made more so by the brown butter used to cook each component of the recipe.  First the chanterelles are fried in the butter with thyme until they are crisp and ruthlessly seductive.  You really must work not to eat them all before the dish is done.  Then sage is added to the butter, and the house all of a sudden smells better than ever.  Corn gets tossed in with some shallots; the hot butter shines over each kernel of corn before slipping around to hug the gnocchi, which is added to the pan last.  Let everything saute for a moment and then serve with lots of fresh parsley, some chives, a grating of parmigianno, and some crispy toasted breadcrumbs.

We ate this alongside spare ribs from the local farm, from pigs we met last winter, using James Beard’s recipe for baking spare ribs.  His technique let the natural pork flavor sing and we couldn’t decide which we liked better, the ribs or the gnocchi, until we decided that it was useless, they were both so good, working so well together, that picking sides would be like choosing between chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes.  But everything about the gnocchi, we did agree, even with all it’s lusciousness and butter, epitomized summer.  It’s irrestible.  Happy-making.

Now get rolling.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Chanterelles, Sweet Corn, and Sage Brown Butter

adapted (ever so slightly) from Sunday Supper at Lucques

The only adaption I made was to add less salt than the original recipe.  During the last step, Goin advised us to add another 1 teaspoon salt, but I found I didn’t need that.  I recommend tasting before adding.

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 pound chanterelles, cleaned
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sliced sage leaves
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears)
2/3 cup diced shallots
1 recipe ricotta gnocchi (follows)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

Toss breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread them on a baking sheet, and toast 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown.

If the mushrooms are big, tear them into bite-size pieces.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and heat another minute.  Swirl in 1 tablespoon butter, and when it foams, add the mushrooms, half the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a health pinch of pepper.  Saute the mushrooms about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender and a little crispy.  Don’t be tempted to move them around in the pan too much in the beginning: let them sear a little before stirring.  Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a platter.

Return the pan to the stove, and heat on high for 1 minute.  Add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter to the pan, and cook a minute or two, until the butter starts to brown.  Add the sage, let it sizzle, and then add the corn, shallots, remaining thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and some freshly ground pepper.  Saute quickly, tossing the corn in the hot butter for about 2 minutes, until the corn is just tender.  Add the gnocchi and toss well to coat with the corn and brown butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the mushrooms.  Toss to combine, and heat the mushrooms through.  Add the parsley.  Arrange the gnocchi on a large platter, and shower with the breadcrumbs.  Grate over some parmesan cheese if you like.

Ricotta Gnocchi

2 extra-large eggs (I used eggs from my friend’s chickens, which were smaller than extra-large, but didn’t notice a difference)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 pound whole milk ricotta, drained if wet
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beat the eggs together in a small bowl.

Place 2 cups flour, 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and the ricotta in a large mixing bowl.  With a dinner knife in each hand, cut the ricotta into the flour.  When the flour and ricotta are combined, make a well in the center and pour in the eggs.  Use a fork and, starting in the middle of the mixture, incorporate the eggs into the flour and ricotta.  Knead the dough with your hands briefly, just to bring together while being careful not to overwork it.  Shape the dough into a ball, and place it on a lightly floured cutting board.  Cut the ball into four pieces, and cover with a clean kitchen towel.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.

One by one, take each piece of dough out from underneath the towel, cut it in half, and roll it into a 3/4 inch thick rope on a lightly floured cutting board.  The amount of flour on the board is very important:  if you have too much the dough is difficult to roll, and if you don’t use enough, the dough will stick to the board.  Cut the ropes into 1-in-long pices, and sprinkle a little flour over them. Using your thumb, roll each piece of dough over the back of those tines of a fork, leaving an indentation from your thumb on one side and the marking from the fork on the other.

Plunge the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches.  Once they rise to the surface, cook them for 1 minute more.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a baking sheet or platter.  Drizzle the cooked gnocchi with the olive oil, and toss to coat them well.

Mascarpone Chicken

I hope you won’t think me immodest if I say I can roast a serious chicken. Because, ahem, I can.

The art of chicken roasting is a lifelong project and all, so maybe my chickens aren’t the best they can be (yet); and it could be that half of the knock-you-off-your-chairness of my roast chickens owes to their being Podere di Melo chickens, but I nonetheless think my roast chickens are cause for immodesty.  And unchecked gluttony too, since Jim and I are liable to polish off a whole bird whenever we roast one.

Usually, I keep it simple with roast chicken: some lemon, butter, salt and pepper—and into the oven.  I’m always in love with the outcome, and it’s hard to want for anything different.  Except, of course, if there’s cheese involved.

Mascarpone cheese in fact, and how could anyone resist that?  There’s herbs too, and even the tiniest bit of olive oil, and lots of salt and pepper.  And if you follow the recipe, I promise it will be a serious chicken, with skin so crisp it crackles, and cheese hiding underneath it, lush and herb-y.  There’s more cheese than can be stuffed under the chicken, so halfway through the roasting process, you spoon the uncooked cheese all around the chicken.  It makes a creamy, curd-like sauce.  If you’ve ever had milk-braised pork, you know what the sauce will taste like, and it’s okay if you need to leave right now to procure a chicken.

Don’t fret if you’ve never spatchcocked a chicken before (and don’t skip this step, spatchcocking allows for every inch of the skin to crisp up into a delicious golden brown).  All you need is a good pair of kitchen shears (or a good handle on your sharpest knife).  You cut out the backbone, and then place the chicken cavity-side down on the cutting board.  Press down with a heavy hand to break the breast-bone, so that the chicken lies flat.  Ta-da!  You’re done.  It can seem a little brutal the first time, backbone cutting and breast-bone breaking, but let’s not forget that we are eating the chicken already, so we might as well prepare the thing right. I imagine if I were to be roasted and feasted upon, I’d want to look like this:

Roast chickens can be a tough thing for families—one roast chicken never seems to feed enough people—but in this recipe, a little goes a long way.  Jim and I couldn’t finish our pieces, no matter how hard we tried (and normally we put away a whole one).  It was so luscious and filling, one chicken could certainly feed four.  But better yet, you could make it for one, and have a lot of leftovers.

Mascarpone and Herb Stuffed Chicken

serves 4

for the filling

3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
small handful of oregano
small handful of parsley
small(er) handful of thyme

for the chicken

1 chicken, any size, though to feed 4 you’ll need about one of about 4-5 pounds
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine garlic, mascarpone, eggs, parmigianno, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
Cut out backbones from chicken with kitchen shears. Pat chicken dry, then spread flat, cavity side down, on a cutting board. With a heavy hand, press down at the middle of the breasts until you hear the breast-bone break. Cut two slits in the chicken skin, in the creases between the thighs and the breasts.

Sprinkle each chicken with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. To loosen the skin, gently slide your finger between skin and flesh of the breast, starting at the top. Slide your finger between the skin and flesh of the legs by going through the slits you made (be careful not to tear skin). Using a small spoon, slide 2/3 cup ricotta mixture under skin, using a finger outside of skin to spread filling over meat of breast, thighs, and drumsticks. Tuck the wing tips under. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Place chicken in a well oiled roasting pan, skin side up.

Reserve remaining filling.

Bake chickens in middle of oven 30 minutes, then spoon remaining filling around chicken. Continue baking until chicken is just cooked through and instant read thermometer reads about 165F, about 20 minutes more. Let chickens stand 10 minutes, then cut each into quarters. Serve with cheese.

Simple tomato salad.

When I first started to throw dinner parties, just a few years ago now, I would work myself into such a tizzy over the damn things, overextending myself, liable to melt into a pool of nervous tears halfway through.  I needed to make enough food to feed an army, in the vain hope that everyone would be so enraptured by my talents that they’d eat until it was all gone.  I chose recipes that were vastly above my skill level, deciding on them before even hitting the market. There’d be hard-to-find ingredients hailing from Asia, or Morocco; cheeses I was supposed to use though I’d never tried them (and had no sense of their potency). And when something would go wrong—I couldn’t find the ingredient or hated the cheese—I would turn into a ball of nerves, believing there was nothing I could do, that I didn’t have any other recipes to turn to.

Thankfully, those times are past.  Lots of dinner parties, and problems, later, I’ve learned that you go to market without a set plan, with your head full of possibilities.  I still follow recipes, but loosely.  I keep a pantry full of basic ingredients—for a basic vinaigrette, a basic sauce—and I revert to the simplest food whenever a problem arises (or even, before.)  After a few years of chefs and cookbooks drilling simplicity into my head, I’ve finally come around.

The lovely thing is, simple food doesn’t have to taste simple.  Duh. But I think that fact eludes most fledgling cooks, entering a world of complicated techniques and endless cuisines.  It eluded me, that’s for sure.  I think I picked complicated recipes because I couldn’t bear the thought of screwing up simple, while making a mistakes in advanced cooking were easily shrugged off.  Simple can be scary.  But simple food is worth learning.

Especially in the summer, when you don’t want to spend too much time cooking (I certainly prefer swimming), and when you can take full advantage of the tomatoes you (or your magical elves) grow in the garden, and when even the measliest herb garden will do its part.  During the dog days of summer, simple isn’t just best, it’s the only option.  This simple tomato salad is a must too, or at least it was for me, because I got to spend a lazy summer day driving around the pretty countryside along the Delaware river, picking up tomatoes down the road, and a fancy goat cheese at the market; to come home and feel very accomplished while I picked French sorrel and herbs from my little potted garden.

I used a variety of tomatoes; some from down the road, some from the little gourmet shop where I got the cheese, and one from a fancy grocery store.  We did a blind tasting before making the salad and it was hard to judge these tomatoes, they were so different — though surprisingly, the fancy grocery store won by a small margin. (They did cost about 4 dollars per small tomato: don’t judge me people, I knew full-well it was ridiculous!).  I also used a variety of herbs: lemon thyme, a few leaves of peppermint, basil, parsley, a load of chives, and some very biting sorrel.  The goat cheese, a pepper crusted capricchio, was a perfect addition; it made the watery juice of the tomatoes taste creamy and it tempered the bite of sorrel.  Pick a goat cheese that  packs a load of creaminess and some sort or herb or spice crust is a nice.  And if you don’t have an herb garden, you can just use whatever herbs are on your shopping list, two of them at minimum, because without the variety of herbs, you risk your good, simple salad turning bored.  We ate this with a chicken slathered with marsacapone that practically knocked me off my chair, which I’ll write about next, promise.  It was one of my favorite meals I’ve made, summery and, duh, simple.

Simple Tomato Salad

serves 2-3

3-4 heirloom or garden tomatoes, tasted for quality
small bunch sorrel leaves (or watercress or arugula)
handful of mixed herbs, such as mint, basil, lemon thyme, and chives
soft goat cheese, preferably with a pepper crust
balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
good quality olive oil, for drizzling
fleur de sel, or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Slice tomatoes into thick slices and season with a bit of salt.  Leave in a colandar to drain for 15 minutes.  Toss them around so any excess water comes off, then arrange them on a platter.  Tuck the sorrel leaves under and around the tomatoes.  Tear or chop up the herbs and scatter over tomatoes.  Crumble the goat cheese over tomatoes.  Drizzle balsamic and olive oil over the tomatoes and season to taste with fleur de sel and fresh black pepper.

While we’re at it…

Let’s talk about summer soups.  Love them?  Loathe them?  Do you prefer cold and icy, like gazpacho, or do you think hot soup is the only way to slurp?  I’m torn, really: I love hot soup, and considering I put the a/c on during the summer, there’s no reason not to eat something hot.

Since tomatoes have a week or so until they reach their summer prime (gazpacho is out for now), lately my mind has been on corn.   We’ve had our fair share of corn on the cob, tossed in garlic and basil brown-butter, or saffron infused French butter, or plain with lots of sea salt and pepper.  Corn eaten off the cob (with dental floss nearby for afterward) is the ultimate summer side; it’s always messy, and wet, and fun (especially for me, since I spent years and years of my childhood in braces, corn on the cob-less).  But corn on the cob every night, no matter how much you change up the condiments, can get tedious.

So, when I was jolted back into soup-mode with zucchini basil soup last week, I got a hankering for corn soup.  Corn soup, in my experience, has always been heavy, made with cream, or whole milk—more creamed corn than corn soup.  But, like I mentioned last post, I’m in teeny bikini mode right now, with another visit out to the Hamptons very soon, and heavy cream is a definite no-go.

I opted for a simplistic version, the corn purist’s corn soup.  A dozen ears of corn go into it with a few cups of water and some salt.  Easy-peasy.  Except that cutting corn off the kernel takes some time, not to mention the husking (the annoying price you pay for fresh corn), but if you give yourself a quarter hour or so to prep, it’s no problem.  Unless your immersion blender breaks: looks as if it’s working, sounds as if it’s working, with the blade spinning around like it could lob off a steel-plated thumb, but it isn’t freaking working, not blending a damn thing, and you haven’t used a stand blender to blend soup in years and you hardly know how it works, and you picked today of all days to have not one but two pots of soup on the stove-top that need to be pureed because wouldn’t it be stress-relieving to have enough soup to last through the weekend; and you fill up the blender halfway with hot-hot corn and press puree and it promptly spits boiling liquid all over your arms and face and the ceiling and you thank the gods that you bought yourself a proper apron last week and that you didn’t choose to cook in that teeny bikini of yours and your eyes start to water and your chin crinkles up and you feel yourself start to cry, but you stop. Because Jim isn’t home and crying over your boo-boos isn’t the same when your muscle-bound fiance’s not there to wipe your tears.

Unless that happens, you should be alright.  Just make sure you put a towel over the cover of the blender and you hold it down like your life depends on it as you press the purée button.  If you’re not a stickler, you could get away with straining the blended soup once through a medium sieve, though I ran it through a food mill and then a sieve, pressing the solids dry as it passed through the sieve with the rounded back of a ladle.

On first bite, this soup makes a statement: I am corn! Corn it is, purely, like corn on the cob intensified, with no starchiness, or skins stuck in your teeth.  It’s almost too much, a bowlful of pure corn flavor just may be too, uhh… corny.  To cut the flavor, I added a flurry of freshly ground black pepper and a hefty snipping of chives.  The result, with the oniony bite and peppery kick, is perfection. I hope you get a chance to make it this weekend, before the perfect tomatoes take over, when corn is still king.

Fresh Corn Soup

adapted from Gourmet Magazine

  • corn kernels cut from 12 ears of corn
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • handful of fresh chives
  • freshly ground black pepper

Simmer corn with salt in the water, covered, 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). As each batch is puréed, pour through a coarse sieve, pressing on solids, into a saucepan.  (Or you can pass it through a food mill, then a sieve, or through a sieve more than once, to get a flawlessy smooth soup.)

Reheat soup, stirring. If soup is too thick, thin with water.

With scissors, snip a good amount of chives into each bowl, and sprinkle with black pepper to taste.

Indian summers and spicy shrimp.

I meant to show you this recipe before Labor Day but life, as it so frequently does, got in the way.  I went out with friends over the long weekend and got a little lot too hungover to write the post on Monday.

Then, since I work in public education, my summer was over and I went back to school on September 3rd.  The first couple of days were a whirlwind of getting things in order and seeing how much the kids have grown over the summer (some of them seem to be freakishly taller than they were last June) and I never got to post about the spicy, Creole shrimp boil that we had to honor my last weekend of Summer.

But this week, here in New Jersey, has been hotter than the entire month of August and making this summery dinner is still totally appropriate.  It’s the perfect dinner to eat outside with tons of napkins and a cold beer—a great way to languidly soak in every last bit of this hot Indian summer.

If you’ve never made spiced shrimp before, you may be surprised by how much spice goes into the pot—it’s a lot.  But don’t worry, not everything gets absorbed into the shrimp, most is left on the shells once you peel it.  The potatoes however, will be bursting with spiciness (or, to be frank, flaming hot).  If you don’t want them so spiced, you could cook the potatoes first and then add them to the pot later, but I thought they were pretty amazing, especially once they were slathered in the sweet-sour, creamy horseradish sauce.

Enjoy the last few days of this hot weather—and I hope you can stay dry if you’re on the east coast!

Shrimp Boil with Spicy Horseradish Sauce

makes one big pot//from Gourmet, August 2008

  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 5 tablespoons Creole or Cajun seasoning
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cayenne, divided
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 8 small boiling potatoes (about 2 inches)
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and halved
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp in shell
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bottled horseradish

Squeeze lemon juice into 4 qt water in a 6- to 8-quart pot, then stir in lemon quarters, Creole seasoning, 2 teaspoon cayenne, bay leaves, garlic, potatoes, and 2 tablespoons salt (omit salt if it is the first ingredient in seasoning).

Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are almost tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Increase heat to high, then add corn and simmer, partially covered, 4 minutes. Stir in shrimp and cook until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together ketchup, mayonnaise, horseradish, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cayenne.

Drain shrimp, potatoes, and corn and serve with sauce.

The star.

It’s mid-August—and I’m worrying about tomatoes. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough this Summer. Maybe it was that whole salmonella scare thing—I’ve eaten those little grape ones and have had a good slice on a burger or two but I just haven’t gotten into tomatoes this year. I know, that’s like, blasphemy. I felt thoroughly ashamed by Deb’s post—the woman freakin’ dries them. Others out there are making tomato tarts, salsa, preparing tomatoes sauces; I, on the other hand, made a bolognese last week… with canned tomatoes.

The problem is that I’m just not all that inspired by tomatoes in the Summer. Tomatoes, on most accounts, make me think of winter. Of thick sauces. Of chili. Of roasted tomato soup. Summer tomatoes, for me, are a sideshow—sliced on a sandwich, or thrown in with some buttery avocado for guacamole. I hardly ever come up with a dish that makes a tomato the star.

Not so for this one. Down the street from my new house, there’s a few crates in front of someone’s house, filled with peppers, peaches, melons, green beans, and, of course, tomatoes. The tomatoes at this humble market are not your ordinary variety—they are big uglies. Meaty, juicy, and ugly. I knew that they would need to be stars. So I grabbed two, placed two dollars in the plastic bag that accepts your money (I just love living in a town that is that trustworthy!) and thought of the Boucheron that I had in the fridge.

Boucheron-stuffed tomatoes were born. They are absolutely simple. Cut the top off your tomato and scoop out some flesh (but not too much, remember that the tomato is the star), then fill it with any herbs you have, some, garlic, and Boucheron (or any other semi-soft cheese you love.) Cook until bubbly. Then all you have to do is savor the summer’s star, tomato.

Boucheron-stuffed Tomatoes

serves 2

  • 2 large, heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of any herbs you have—I used basil, tarragon, thyme, and chives, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4-1/3 cup Boucheron, or any other semi-soft goat cheese, cream cheese, or blue

Preheat the oven to 400º. Cut the tops of your tomatoes. With a spoon, scoop out some seeds and flesh, but not much since the dish should remain mostly tomato. Set in an oiled baking dish.

In a small bowl, throw chopped in herbs and garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. Mash everything together with the back of your fork for a few seconds, then fill the bottoms of the tomatoes with this garlic mix. Put a few bits on the rim of your tomato for prettiness.

In another small bowl, mash the cheese to crumble it up. Then fill the tomatoes—you should mound it, don’t press the cheese in too hard or you’ll hurt your precious tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again and bake for 10-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and tomato skins have begun to split.

Let cool for a few minutes before serving. This dish goes delightfully with some chicken risotto and a good white wine.