This weekend's Serious Eats Weekend Cook and Tell project highlights the tomato.
I thought, "Pfft, this is going to be easy!" We use tomatoes all the time. I mentioned this to Bug and he replied that we should do something other than what is expected; namely, tomato salad and tomato sauce pasta.
For four days, we stewed over this, flipping through our cookbooks, scouring websites, and brainstorming ingredients.
Yes, this was a cop out. Throw tomatoes on a plate. *shrug* It tasted good.
yellow tomato, sliced ($1.96)
hydroponic tomato, sliced ($1.41)
roma tomatoes, sliced ($0.60)
cucumber, sliced ($0.50)
grape tomatoes, sliced ($0.67)
kalamata olives ($1.12)
ciliegine mozzarella ($1.49)
At a total cost of $8.19 for 2 servings, I wouldn't consider this budget cooking, but it was pretty filling, easy, and the leftovers will carry us through a part of the week. Bug enjoyed it, as much as he is able to enjoy a platter without meat.
When the plate was finally made up, I began shuffling and singing, "Which vegetable doesn't belong here?" I was compelled to include some kind of crunch.
For the main course, Ms. Michele Humes' Spaghetti all'Aglio e Olio with Marinated Summer Vegetables recipe posted on Serious Eats stood out. Her recipe is as follows (which I apparently didn't).
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 plum (Roma) tomatoes, stem ends removed, halved lengthwise and seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons white sugar
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small zucchini, cut on the bias in 1/3-inch slices ($0.88)
1 small yellow squash, cut on the bias in 1/3-inch slices ($0.70)
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral-flavored oil
Salted water for boiling
1/2 pound dry spaghetti or other pasta
1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Pour half of the extra virgin olive oil into a large glass or ceramic baking dish. Place tomatoes in dish cut side up.
2. Pour remaining oil over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, 15-45 minutes longer, depending on ripeness of tomatoes.
3. Transfer tomatoes and 1/4 cup of the oil to a large bowl, reserving the remaining oil for another use. Sprinkle garlic and parsley over tomatoes and let steep until tomatoes are room temperature. (Can be done and refrigerated up to five days ahead. Bring up to room temperature before using.)
4. While the tomatoes are resting at room temperature, place yellow and green squash slices in a large mixing bowl. Add canola oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to coat.
5. Heat a large saute or grill pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, arrange squash slices in pan in a single layer and cook for two minutes on each side or until well-browned. Remove and transfer to the bowl containing the tomatoes, coating the slices in oil. Repeat with remaining squash.
6. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook pasta until al dente. Drain and immediately toss with tomato, squash and olive oil mixture. If it seems a little dry, add some of the reserved oil until pasta is uniformly glossy. Serve hot or cooled to room temperature.
Silly me, I worked off memory, so I used:
3 roma tomatoes ($1.79)
2 cloves garlic, minced
basil ($0.44) -- instead of parsley
2 kielbasa ($1.58) -- Bug wants his meat!
peanut oil -- this was the only neutral oil we had
linguine -- our preferred pasta
I was lucky to have picked an amazing zucchini that was the sweetest I've ever tasted. The tomatoes were tasty, even though I added the garlic and basil in the beginning. More basil was added at the end, when I noticed that they turned a sickly shade of green partway through.
The big questions -- did Bug like it? Was it worth preparing and cooking for 3 hours? Bug liked the tomatoes, squash, and the addition of the kielbasa, but would have preferred a more substantial binder.
It was very easy and not very time consuming, despite the 3 hours needed to prepare and cook, since the recipe didn't require me to be in the kitchen for the duration. The tomatoes didn't caramelize as I expected.
The entree cost $5.39 for 2-1/2 servings, so this was inexpensive to make. We'll likely alter it to suit Bug's penchant for meat and heartier fare.
But wait, there's more...
Just as a goofy thing to do, I looked online for a tomato dessert. My first thought was a sorbet. The recipes I found were either not what I intended - a savory sorbet - or required me to have an ice cream maker, which I do not.
I rummaged around for a cake recipe and found a Green Tomato Cake recipe on Allrecipes.
4 cups chopped green tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1. Place chopped tomatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Place in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.
3. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until creamy.
4. Sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add raisins and nuts to dry mixture; add dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Dough will be very stiff. Mix well.
5. Add drained tomatoes and mix well. Pour into the prepared 9 x 13 inch pan.
6. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.
Now for the deviations...
1. 2-1/2 [hydroponic] tomatoes ($2.52) were used, since we weren't able to get green tomatoes.
2. Pureed 2 c of tomatoes instead of chopping 4 c tomatoes.
3. Omitted 1 T salt, rinsing and draining the tomatoes.
4. The amount of butter was reduced.
5. Used slivered almonds ($0.61)-- Bug prefers almonds over walnuts.
6. Added 1/2 tsp of lime juice.
7. Instead of a 9 x 13" pan, I used a narrow, rectangular casserole dish. As a result, I adjusted for the density by baking the cake at 275 for 70 minutes.
The edges formed a perfectly textured and colored crust, and the cake was moist. There is a mysterious savory essence that, once told, the flavor of the tomato becomes evident. The predominant flavor of the cake is similar to a spice or carrot cake.
As for the frosting, I made a standard cream cheese frosting and added cinnamon.
1 8 oz package of cream cheese ($0.89)
1/2 c butter
2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1. Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy.
2. Slowly add sugar, then vanilla and cinnamon.
3. Refrigerate the frosting so it firms up.
I became impatient waiting to take a picture of the cake. Despite Bug's warning, I was a moron and put the frosting on the cake 30 minutes after pulling the cake out of the oven. This was the first time I made a cake with frosting from scratch.
The frosting oozed everywhere, so I ate more cake and frosting than I really wanted to get the perfect slice, which I ultimately didn't acquire, just so I could take a picture. I threw the cake in the refrigerator to speed things up.
Bug loved the cake and the frosting. I was quite surprised with the outcome of the cake, but it'll be a while before I make this again having had my fill of the frosting. It is a good cake to make for a funky party, and for $4.02, quite affordable.