Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but today my life changed forever and it’s all thanks to a sauce. Or rather this specific oven-roasted tomato sauce, which is unspeakably good – so fresh, so vibrant, I’m convinced I will never be the same as no other tomato sauce could possibly live up to this one.

What makes it so good, you ask? I think it has to be the slow-roasted fresh tomatoes. Or maybe it’s the simplicity of the ingredients – there aren’t many (so unlike me, I know). Or maybe… I don’t know, just take my word that it’s damn good!

I made this version with striped Roma tomatoes I picked up at the farmers’ market, but regular Roma tomatoes would also be great.

I’ll admit I upped the ante a bit by making fresh pasta, but dried is fine, and is in fact what I’ll probably use next time. As much as I love fresh pasta and as simple as it is to make (see video), some nights I just don’t have the energy.

Try this recipe and let me know if it changes your life, too!

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Pretending It’s Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

I’m over winter. Quite frankly, I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore.

Now I get that this is what happens when one chooses to live in the Midwest. And generally I can accept it. What I get sick of is the tease. Yes, Weather, I said it. You’re a tease and I don’t appreciate it. You give us two gorgeous days when I was able to leave the house in jeans and a sweater MINUS a coat and scarf, then it snows. Snow! And wind! Lots and lots of wind.

I’m over it. I just am.

So in protest I made a summer quinoa dish with avocado, tomatoes and black beans. It was delicious and even made me temporarily forget that my winter boots are still sitting by the front door because, you know, just in case… (we don’t like to jinx things here in Cubs land).

If you’re anything like me and aching for Spring to start in reality and not just on the calendar, then make this dish. It’s easy, is great as leftovers, and can be served cold or heated if you really need to ward off the winter’s chill.

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Here’s the recipe:

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Transitioning to Fall with Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Spinach

Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Spinach

As sad as I am to say goodbye to summer, I’m equally excited to welcome the flavors of fall, my all-time favorite food season. This is the time of year when summer produce still lingers at the farmer’s markets (tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.) while the bounty of fall is just ripening: hearty root vegetables, dark leafy greens and best of all winter squash.

Spaghetti squash0007 Spaghetti squash0013 Spaghetti squash0010

My favorite varieties of winter squash are the delicatas and buttercups which are small and sweet, but it’s during this transitional time of the year that I crave spaghetti squash. I find it to be the perfect crossover vegetable providing a canvas for combining summer and fall flavors.

Spaghetti squash0014 Spaghetti squash0011 Spaghetti squash0012

In this case I mixed cooked spaghetti squash with sauteed garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach, making for a hearty, delicious and super healthy meal. The entire dish takes less than 20 minutes to make and the microwave does half the work. And it’s a fantastic as a vegetarian entree or side dish to chicken or fish.

Spaghetti squash0015

Here’s the recipe:

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Heirloom Tomato Tart

Heirloom Tomato Tart 2

As fresh as can be, this rustic tart highlighting the vibrant flavors of summer heirloom tomatoes is easy to assemble and lets the oven do most of the work. It is essentially a collaboration of smaller recipes that can be made in advance and some even stored in the freezer, such as the pastry dough and pesto sauce.

For the tart, the tomatoes are lightly roasted to remove some of their moisture without changing the flavors. On the other hand, the garlic is also roasted in the oven but for a longer period of time, which completely changes it’s flavor and I think makes it a bit sweeter. For the record, I’ve been known to eat whole heads of roasted garlic by itself. Yes, it’s that good.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Pâte brisée comes together in mere minutes but also freezes very well, so the last time I prepared it I made a double batch and froze the leftover ball of dough. To use, place the dough in the refrigerator the evening before you plan on working with it and it will be ready to go by morning.

I also like to make a large batch of pesto sauce every summer when fresh basil is cheap and abundant and store it in the freezer. Pour the fresh pesto into a freezer bag and smooth it into a 1/2-inch thick layer, squeeze out the air, and freeze. Break off a small chunk when you want to you use it and it’ll last through the winter.

Heirloom Tomato Tar: tomatoes ready for roasting Heirloom Tomato Tart: cooked pastry shell Heirloom Tomato Tart: assembly

The heirloom tomatoes are the true highlight of the tart with the other flavors intended to compliment their effervescent summeriness (today that’s a word). Of course you could use more cheese or even add mozzarella, but I think that would turn the tart into a pizza and the beautiful tomatoes would get lost.

Also, the tart is best served at room temperature and gets better as it sits and the flavors have a chance to meld together a bit. It truly puts leftover pizza to shame.

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Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad Revisited

Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad

Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad: a simple celebration of summer flavors

August: Traditionally hot and humid, it’s the month I used to fill with doctors appointments before heading back to school. Of course, that was many years ago and since that time I’ve added a few new associations: the air and water show, which I dread because it takes place mere blocks from my apartment; and heirloom tomatoes, which I love and dream about throughout July. Dread and a dream, a reassuring balance knowing those two events will occur every year.

And with heirloom tomatoes I always want avocado. It started the very first time I worked with heirloom tomatoes during culinary school when I was charged with creating a southwest-style side dish for a banquet. I scrounged through notes and books until I discovered an heirloom tomato and avocado salad with a cumin vinaigrette. There were no words to describe how good it was except to say it blew me away. Not only did I ace that assignment, but one of the toughest instructors took home the leftovers. Granted, I’d wanted them but was in no position to fight her.

Heirloom Tomato

Now every August when heirloom tomatoes are at their pinnacle, the first dish I make is indubitably a combination of heirloom tomatoes and avocado. It’s a beautiful collaboration of rich, creamy avocado that cuts into the sweet and acidic tomatoes, which in and of themselves burst with flavor.

While by no means complex, last year’s salad was a bit busy with chicken, champagne vinaigrette and toasted almonds. This year I wanted to create a simple celebration of flavors to enhance the tomatoes with peppery arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and a bit of chiffonade basil. Simple and delicious and a highlight of the season.

Heirloom Tomatoes Halved tomato Diced avocado

Here’s the recipe:

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