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Gazpacho, Crab Cake and Salad

While weeknight dinners in general should be pretty quick and easy, summer versions should be even more so.  Which is why gazpacho is the perfect antidote to the heat (not that we get too much of that here in SF, but I can pretend).  Just as the sun heats up, tomatoes peak – making them the perfect dinner.

The gazpacho that I keep in rotation year after year is from Jose Andrés, a fabulous Spanish chef {with equally great restaurants from D.C. to L.A.), so have seen no reason to deviate.  Sometimes I get a little fancy with the garnish, sometimes I just chop up what ever didn’t make it in the blender.

What’s great is a large batch keeps for a few days, so lunch and tomorrow’s dinner are ready at once, with nary a stove in sight.

Gazpacho & Crabcakes

But seeing that I am not a gal who can be filled on cold tomato soup alone, I need a little something else too.

On a weekend and with friends, paella often fits that bill, but during the week, quick garlic shrimp more often make it to the plate.  Which was the plan here, except when I went to buy some shrimp on my way home Tuesday night, I spied these cute little crab cakes ready to go.  I don’t often buy pre-made items in the butcher/fish case, but I may be rethinking that plan.  A quick little fry (in a non-stick skillet, to reduce the oil) plus a basic green salad added at the end, and my ideal summer dinner was ready in minutes.

If you have the time or inclination to make your own crab cakes, here are two versions I want to try soon.  The ladies of Canal House have one that specifically calls for canned crab, which turns them into an anytime-pantry-basic, and this recipe from Food 52 forgoes the bread crumbs, keeping the emphasis rightly on the crab.

Gazpacho -- dinner on the couch

And in true weeknight fashion, it was enjoyed from the couch and coffee table, catching up on Sunday night’s Newsroom.

Jose Andres’s Gazpacho
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Grilled eggplant and turkey bolognese

Sometimes I want pasta, but without, you know pasta.  I find if there is a meat sauce, it is pretty easy to sub vegetables for noodles with very little complaints.  And then save the spaghetti and penne for veg-only nights.

Along with tomatoes and corn, I try and get eggplant in at every turn come summer.  It is great grilled simply, perhaps with a mash up of other summer squash, finished with just a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and mint or basil.  Or roasted with cherry tomatoes, tossed with some capers and herbs for a simple topping to grilled fish.

But last night I wanted something a bit more hearty, while still pretty healthy.  I made a simple “bolognese” (not the real deal, but delicious none the less), with ground turkey (dark and light), onion and garlic, tomatoes – both a can of whole San Marzanos and some fresh heirlooms on their last leg, grated to easily be rid of the skin – herbs and some time. I was able to throw it together in the afternoon and left it to simmer for hours.  Many of my tomato sauces are the quick kind, but it is nice to remember what happens when things have a chance to really meld together.

Grilling Eggplant

Once the sauce was ready, dinner came together pretty quickly.

  1. Slice and salt eggplant, let it sit for a few minutes and pat dry.
  2. Grill the eggplant (indoors, or out).
  3. Top with meat sauce and add a teeny bit of mozzarella (I used fresh mozzarella, but thought smoked would’ve been ideal, if our market had it).
  4. Broil until cheese is melted, golden brown and bubbly.
  5. Finish with fresh basil, which brings you back to summer.

We had it with some sauteed kale (which I felt I needed after a decadently long 4th week) but a simple summer salad would be great too.

Grilled eggplant and Turkey bolognese ... heading to the broiler

Do you ever have pasta dinners, hold the pasta?  In the fall, spaghetti squash is the perfect sub…

Summer BBQ dinner

A few weekends ago, we had a little backyard BBQ* with our friends Catie and Jimmy.  Played a few games – bocce, backgammon and badminton – sipped some rosé and grilled up a feast.  It was a super simple menu that will be on repeat around here all summer.  Starting with the 4th!

Tri-tip and fresh roasted salsa

Grilled Corn

Grilled Tri-tip with Roasted Tomato Salsa from the Bi-Rite Cookbook
Catie made it so I can’t totally tell you what all went in it, but the basics were red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a few types of hot peppers roasted in a HOT oven, then pureed with cilantro and seasoned to taste.  SO GOOD!

Grilled Corn with Harissa Aioli
The aioli was basically my homemade mayo, with a smidge of smashed garlic and a harissa spice blend (toasted first) added at the end.  A little lime juice squirted on at the end, and this may replace Café Habana’s version (i.e. Mexican street corn) of my favorite summer corn.

Spinach Salad with Apricots, Blueberries and Ricotta
I happen to love a little fruit in salads, and this was no exception.  I had never thought to add ricotta to salad, fearing it wouldn’t hold up, but it gives it a great richness.  And has been repeated many times since. 

Grilled peaches and ice cream

and the plan was to end with a peach cobbler of the sorts, but we ran out of steam (sun and wine’ll do that to a gal!) … the peaches were great the next night grilled and topped with vanilla ice cream.  And would also be the perfect ending to any day at the grill!

What are your favorite summer grilling menus?  Anything good on tap for Wednesday?

*in case you noticed this looks more indoor than out, San Francisco summers days, even when warm, do not necessarily translate to nice summer nights. ;)

100 Vegetable Soup

I’m going to let you in on an embarrassing secret. I will sometimes count vegetables in a meal and if there is a high enough number, I feel like I won a prize. Am I 10?  Am I lame?  Please, don’t answer!  :)

For instance, that spaghetti with roasted vegetables, there were five different veggies. Not bad, I guess, but nothing special.

If you really want to win the lots-o’veg award, soup is a really good way to go.

loads o'veggies

Take this vegetable soup. I think there were 10 different vegetables – all different types and colors – with enough vitamins and minerals to counteract any chocolate cake that could follow.  Serve it with a glass of red wine and a garlicky tapenade (+2 for the antioxidant list) to keep the meal from feeling too ‘diety’ and leaving you unsatisfied.

This counting trick also works particularly well when say adding something (or things) green to macaroni and cheese or pizza.  Almost makes ‘em health food, right? :)

lots-of-veg-for-soup

This soup I guess is minestrone-like, except without the pasta (because I abhor pasta in soup), and because I can make no claims to authentic Italian, I feel silly calling my vegetable soup by a real name.

Again, like many things I cook – there is no real recipe, particularly as the time changes based on the ingredients you have.  I always start with the basics – onion, carrot and celery in olive oil – and from there is really depends.  If I have fennel or leeks, I will add them a bit after the mirepoix, but before other veg. Things like potatoes and cauliflower take longer than zucchini, so they go in next.  I like to add them with the aromatics before any liquids to caramelize a bit and develop more flavor.  Then maybe a big can of whole tomatoes, smushed up a bit and a can or two of water, depending on how much I want to make.  After that, any other veg that take more than a minute or two – I hold the leafy greens until the end so they stay more vibrant. Don’t forget, salt and pepper at each stage – seasoning throughout is important!

Vegetable Soup

1,000 Vegetable Soup

My favorite little trick for a soup like this is to add beans for protein, but using a food processor or even a few forks, mush about half of the beans to add some thickness to the soup.  Here I use canned white beans, but things are always better if you have the time to make your own.  Cranberry beans would be super great here too.

Then, just let it all simmer for 15 minutes to develop the flavors – but not too long as you want all the vegetables to hold up.

Making-Tapanade

Finally serve it with crusty bread, with maybe a quick tapenade or a pesto, a drizzle of olive oil and a few shavings of pecorino.

And of course, give yourself a quick pat on the back for having 1,000 vegetables for dinner!!

Vegetable Soup

Cate'sDinner

I did not cook what you see here.  I wish I did.  Because it was damn good.

This past weekend Catie and Jimmy had a few friends over for a little end of summer dinner.  And to say we feasted on summer’s finest would be an understatment.

Genevieve's-Fresh-Tomato-Sauce

It was one of those lovely dinners that just happened, with everyone helping to get things done, but nothing was so difficult that it required a recipe or couldn’t be made with vino in hand.

Catie and Genevieve brought out all the stops. Fresh tomato sauce made with local heirloom tomatoes and finished with basil and parmigiana served over fresh whole wheat linguine from the farmer’s market. Heaven.

Butter, Olive Oil, Shallots and Peppers

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Tomatoes from the Tahoe City Farmer's Market

Boy – I have really made this linger.  I didn’t mean to, I promise, but sometimes that’s just what happens, ya know?

When we first started thinking about the dinner, I knew that we wanted to have a menu that was super simple.  Things that required little to no cooking so we could really just enjoy being up at the lake for the weekend and not spending the whole day in the kitchen.  Even so, dinner for 20, no matter how simple, takes at least a bit of time.

Thankfully we have awesome friends (who are great in the kitchen & out) and everything came together by committee.

Farmers-Market-Goodies

What I was undoubtedly most excited for were the tomatoes.  I had seen a few fun posts on Style Notes focusing on summer tomatoes (a tomato tasting from Martha Stewart and a tomato bar during cocktail hour at a wedding) and knew right away lots of heirlooms would be key for a low-stress summer dinner.

I thought it would be fun to highlight the different varieties will a plethora of salts and oils. Sometimes cool salts can be pricy, but when purchased in bulk (and without fancy-schmancy packaging) you can get some great finds at even better prices.  We loaded all the salts (plus local crushed chiles and freshly cracked black pepper) in the little dishes from Chinatown and set them out in little grouping among the table for everyone to sample.

Tomatoes-and-Salts

Salts

We had:

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farro salad with tomatoes and brown butter corn

I don’t think I could ever tire of tomato season.  Or corn.  Seriously.  Corn has always been one of my favorites, but growing up, me no likey tomatoes.  And I tried, I tried just about every kind in every manner – I didn’t like not liking things.  But nothing worked – I think it’s a texture thing.  And a kid thing. Tomatoes were the one thing on most kids’ lists of things they did not like to eat.  Except Jennifer, who would bring tomatoes to school with a little ziploc of salt and pepper and eat it like and apple dipped in caramel.  I still can’t do that one – bite in directly – whew, the mess alone…

Corn and Tomatoes

But thankfully I outgrew my childlike aversion to tomatoes and as soon as they come in season, I devour them as often as possible. And why not?  For the other nine/ten months of the year, all I get are the canned version with a few cherry ones thrown in for good measure.

And the combination of tomatoes and corn is so obvious and that it borders on cliché, but it is just too wonderful to change. I decided to spruce up my standard version with some farro – as I love to have grain salads on hand for lunch, dinner, snacks, you name it.

Summer tomatoes for Farro Salad

Aside from the vegetable pairing, I decided to switch the rest of it up a bit.

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gazpacho with shrimp and croutons

I am pretty sure that the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I may say that about Thanksgiving too, but I really mean it about both. Probably because they both involve crazy amounts of good food. But the 4th has sunshine! And fireworks! And summer cocktails! And oodles of friends. And well…lots of lovelies (which may account to why I am just know getting to post about it).

I must say that my first 4th in San Francisco was quite wonderful. We gathered with a big group of friends and spent the day grazing and toasting under the Golden Gate Bridge with almost enough sunshine to keep me happy.

Summer bounty - ready for gazpacho

And I’ve gotta tell you, our friends pulled out all the stops on the food. Everyone brought something(s) and I made sure to sample it all. Farro with corn, avocado and bacon. Panzanella with fresh peas and asparagus. Radish and mint tabbouleh. Out of this world caponata (currently trying to wrangle a copy of this family recipe). Spinach salad with blueberries. Watermelon salad with feta and mint. And burgers and steaks and sausages. And the desserts, whew, flag cake and lemon blueberry cheesecake bars and chocolate fudge cookies with salted caramel ice cream. Hopefully we can get some guest posts on these things because I want them all to reoccur this summer.

gazpacho-ingredients

But to start if off, I brought gazpacho with roasted shrimp and croutons. A little something to sip on while the coals heated up and the salads were still chilling out.

Gazpacho is a summer favorite for a reason – it is cold, quick and makes use of one of the season’s greatest gifts – the tomato!

gazpacho in the blender

And as much as I have always loved the Spanish soup, I didn’t have a go-to receipe on hand.  My friend Audra makes a version that is legendary (from her Basque sister-in-law, I believe), but she was already gone for the weekend, and so I couldn’t get much from her.  Thankfully, I did get a text that said “lots of onion and garlic, not blended too much, better if it can sit overnight.”

And that, plus (more than) a little help from José Andrés, set me off it the right direction.  I am happy to say I now have a go-to gazpacho.

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roasted potato salad

When B and I started dating, one of the first meals I made was a dinner of cowboy steaks and  grilled potato and watercress salad (I think they were on the same page in a magazine).  I haven’t made either much since then, but I loved them both, and I think my dad still makes them often (no, he wasn’t there, but I told him what a hit they were).

Fast forward many years later to earlier this week, I was making dinner with some friends.  We were planning on veggie burgers (these to be exact) and wanted a salad too.  We were originally thinking tomato and corn, but as the heirlooms weren’t looking quite ready and the temperature dropped about 20ºF as I headed into the store, I automatically wanted something a bit heartier, more comforty.

I remembered that “potato salad” and thought that would be the perfect direction.

roasted-potato-salad

We quickly roasted up a few yukon gold, fingerling and red potatoes (just a hodge-podge of what looked good) until they were crispy on the outside.  Combined that with lettuce (spinach from the store and mixed greens from M’s CSA) and some gorgeous cherry tomatoes and we had a slight-step-up-from simple dinner salad.

And for the dressing, it was a buttermilk gorgonzola vinaigrette.  If that even makes sense.  I started with my basic vinaigrette – garlic (or shallot) minced and tossed with a bit of red wine vinegar, but nixed the dijon for a bit of buttermilk (thinking the tang would be a nice counterpart to the forthcoming cheese) and slowly whisked in a drizzle olive oil, and seasoned simply with salt and pepper.  Finished it with some gorgonzola (or blue cheese of your choice) and chives.  I love the creaminess of this dressing – not thick, but just a bit more luscious than what I usually mix up.

The herby lettuces, warm crispy potatoes, candy-like cherry tomatoes and almost decadent dressing were the perfect match for a cool summer evening some (seven) years after the first rendition. Something tells me it will continue being made ’round here for many years to come.

roasted potato salad

lasagnanote

Right now I am heading to California for a few days for work (and then play) and I decided to actually do something I think about doing whenever I travel.

I made B dinner for a few of the nights I will be gone. This is something I have wanted to do before, but as we all know, there is usually more on your list before a trip than can get done, and this one usually ends up getting cut.

Backing up, it not like B can’t feed himself and so I must provide dinner, I just always thought it would be a nice fun little gesture. Plus, to be honest, this way I know that at least a few meals weren’t delivered or poured from a cereal box.

fresh lasagna noodles

I decided on lasagna, figuring it is something he can easily heat up and tastes good after more than one day. And thankfully (and unlike me), B doesn’t bore of the same flavors after a day or two, although I’m really hoping he doesn’t finish the pan.  Maybe I should have rethought this idea.

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ABOUT

Martha Stewart I am not -
I have no intention of
whittling my own table
and can handle a martini
like nobody's business -
but I do have lots of
great ideas on cooking,
entertaining, and living
that I want to share with you.

Together, perhaps we can find
ways to have a bit more fun!

Contact:
info{at}caitlindentino{dot}com

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