Heirloom tomatoes come in an array of colors and flavor profiles, and while they are often typecast as a summer cold salad ingredient, they also cook down into a wonderful homemade marinara that bursts with rich juicy flavors. The pale yellow and striped bright orange heirlooms in particular have a low-acid, mildly sweet flavor with a soft meaty texture and when pureed with tiny sweet orange cherry tomatoes along with the humble sweet onion you get this golden rich and creamy tomato sauce that is totally addictive. If you are growing your own heirloom tomato garden in the summer this is a perfect recipe to show off your beautiful bounty. Fortunately even here in the Midwest you can get your hands on a multitude of tomato varieties even in the winter. Interlace your gold tomato sauce with spicy red pepper flakes and fresh cherry tomatoes and basil leaves for an elegant yet simple pasta dish.
2 lb golden heirloom tomatoes, diced into large wedges
1 pint orange cherry tomatoes, whole
1 pint red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 sweet yellow onion, slivered
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pinch chili flakes
2 fresh basil leaves
3/4 lb spaghetti
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat a large sauce pan over medium heat and sauté the onion with olive oil until translucent. Add the minced garlic then mix in your heirloom tomato variety and your orange cherry tomatoes. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not be tempted to add liquid as these tomatoes will collapse and release sweet concentrated tomato juice for an incredible sauce. Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to directions. When tomatoes are cooked down, use a hand blender to puree into a hot soup or ladle into a blender to process. Toss your pasts to coat with sauce then garnish with your fresh basil, red pepper flakes and cherry tomatoes.
The New York Times featured an article recently titled “7 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed How We Shop for Food”. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Americans are spending more money at the supermarket today than at restaurants where other people prepare their food. Amidst this rise in home cooking, people are also moving to more complex ways of cooking, which includes a variety of grains, a staggering 600% increase in sales of yeast, and an uptick in demand for dried beans which has remained through the summer even after the initial “stock the pantry” craze of the spring. I admit, I purchased a 10 lb bag of rice that I’m stilling working on.
There is no downside to having a 10 lb bag of rice in the pantry. We love experimenting with deconstructed and mixed rice and grain bowls in our house. And my favorite kitchen gadget HANDS DOWN is my Instant Zest Rice and Grain Cooker. This little love has multiple settings that adjust timings for the types of rice or grain you are cooking. I literally switch it on to help the kids with remote learning or finish up a work Zoom or lock myself alone in the bathroom and cry and it makes perfectly hot, fluffy rice every time.
This week I thought I’d try a short-cut version of a paella swapping out the meat for a variety of Mediterranean vegetables. Traditional paella requires cooking the rice directly in a cast iron skillet and simmering it for a long period of time without turning it creating a thick, crunchy rice crust. This quick version infuses the rice with smoky and salty flavors directly in the rice cooker, and highlights all the complex flavors of smoky Spanish saffron, briny olives, sweet fennel, roasted peppers and hearty artichokes but with much less effort. So while this Vegetable Spanish Rice is not a traditional paella, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the results.
2 cups brown rice
4 cups vegetable broth
3 cups jarred or whole artichokes packed in water, quartered, rinsed and patted dry
1 yellow and 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, stalks removed and cut into thin slivers
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
4 TB olive oil
2 TB lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
Salt and pepper
In the rice cooker add rice, vegetable broth, tomatoes, paprika, and saffron. Stir to combine then close lid and turn on cooker. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss artichokes, peppers and olives with 2 TB olive oil on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast about 20 -25 minutes, or until vegetables are browned around the edges. In a large skillet or dutch oven (I used my Staub), add 2 TB olive oil and minced garlic with fennel and onion and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off heat, add the roasted vegetables and peas to that same dutch oven and combine. Stir in the hot cooked rice and top with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Serve hot.
My son and I both recently celebrated our birthdays and enjoyed the tail end of summer with beautiful views, great food, and home cooked meals.
It’s been the start of another busy school year – 1st and 3rd grade. Hard believe it when the Facebook memories pop up and I see my little beanie babies in their diaper butts. It’s all so bittersweet. After years of loving on mommy my 9 year-old is all into daddy now. They play Roblox and Minecraft on separate computers with headsets on talking to each other, even though they are merely feet apart. My husband’s avatar is aptly named “dinkydorkdad” or something along those lines so as not to be the misunderstood adult creeping around the kids online gaming worlds. They play Pokemon and trade Magic the Gathering cards all hours of the day. My younger son is learning from his elders and follows suit. I hear the boys in our basement right now laughing and screaming “I broke my penis! Penis! Penis!”.
So I’m grateful for the extra time in the day where nobody is waiting outside the bathroom door anymore. Or screaming to play tag at the park. Or begging me to divide myself in two. But still. My husband gets the full frontal hugs. And now, I get the back hugs. Asher looks at me only when it’s meal time or to ask “Where’s dad?” and when I say “Not here.” he desperately says “Why? What happened??” And I’m heartbroken! Because I’m MOM. I used to be mommy. But call me mom now. Or, as my older son has named me “Worms”. Yep, that’s what was on my birthday card two weeks ago.
In any case, I’m still good for one thing and that’s cooking. Tonight’s menu was a vegan Chickpea Chile Verde mixed in with brown rice and it was DAMN GOOD. Tomatillos are native to Mexico and while they resemble tomatoes they are actually more closely related to gooseberries and come from the nightshade family. Fascinating stuff! They are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and are packed with vitamins. This recipe is much lighter, tangier and summery than a traditional smoky chili with heavier beans, and had a lovely crunch factor with sweet whole corn kernels and tortilla strips. It’s also easy to make because you can rely on the oven to do the bulk of the cooking.
CHICKPEA CHILE VERDE
3 TB olive oil
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped into large chunks
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
3 cups vegetable broth
2 TB cumin
2 14 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn kernels
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Tortilla strips for topping
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatillos, poblano peppers and garlic with olive oil and spread out on baking sheet, then bake for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare brown rice according to packing – typically 2 cups water per 1 cup rice – simmering for 45 minutes. I use a rice cooker which steams the rice and tends to have a faster and fluffier cook. Remove banking sheet from oven and scoop tomatillos and poblanos into large pot, then add the vegetable broth. Use hand blender to puree your soup base to a smooth consistency, then stir in the chickpeas, corn and cilantro. Serve in a bowl over brown rice and top with tortilla strips.
10 Things You Should Know about Being a Working Mom:
1. Coming home from work is actually when the hard work begins
2. Your Kate Spade will soon become affectionately known as the “snack bag”
3. There may come a day when you steal a roll of toilet paper from work because you’re down to half a roll between 3 adults and 2 kids and you just need to get through the night
4. What’s the point in a manicure since they only last a day?
5. You will frequently be getting into bed for a “nap” at 4am before getting up for work an hour later
6. Waist-high shared lukewarm baths with your toddler every night does not constitute a proper adult shampoo
7. Rewards cards now seem magical, especially since you will be buying new shoes every 4 months and no they are not for you
8. You now have “at home” clothes and “outside world approved” clothes. If you know people that have seen you in both then they are indeed a true and beloved friend.
9. You will be buying odd tomatoes that have been thrown in your grocery cart on Saturday mornings that you’re too embarrassed to put back
10. You can never have too many Goldfish crackers. Ever.
This week I was in the mood for a traditional hot ratatouille, but with a nontraditional twist of protein. This Lentil Ratatouille features a creamy braised eggplant and an earthy bite from the lentils. It can be eaten as a hearty stew or served atop any variety of pasta for a delicious dinner entree!
1 large firm eggplant, stem removed and diced into small 1/2” cubes
4 zucchini, stems removed and diced into small 1/2” cubes
1 bunch of basil, stems discarded with leaves torn into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 jar of marinara
1/4 cup olive Oil
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
1 cup brown lentils
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium pot, boil 2 cups of water then add the lentils, bay leaves, and thyme. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer then cook uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes. In large pot, cook olive oil, onion and garlic on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Toss in the eggplant and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook with cover on pot for additional 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add marinara and fresh basil and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove bay leaves from the lentil mixture, then add the lentils to the ratatouille mixture and serve hot.