Monday, August 23, 2010

MID-SUMMER GARDEN PAYOFF

Cathy and I have been tending our little plot of ground pretty vigilantly this summer. it's been very hot and dry so a trip out to Springfield nearly every night allows us to keep the garden from wilting completely.  I've found it to be a calming end to a busy day to wander the garden at dusk while the water dribbles onto the plants.  For our first attempt at this, I think we've done well. 

So far our most abundant harvest has been in the cherry tomato plants at the 4 corners of our little tomato patch. They’re red, gold and deep, dark green. I’m always surprised when people say they don’t think that tomatoes that aren’t red are any good. Balderdash! Look at these sweetie-pies and tell me you don’t think they’d be tasty!

So far I imagine we’ve picked about a gallon of these little gems and they are all sweet and beautiful, not only to just pop into your mouth like gumdrops, but are eye candy to cook with as well.

I used the first few of these as a side tomato salad a couple weeks ago for my Easy Omelet Supper but now that I have these coming on so quickly, my favorite way to eat these so far is my Simple Summer Pasta. This meal takes about 20 minutes to prepare, makes the house smell of tomatoes and garlic and basil (how bad could THAT be?) and is easily scaled up or down to accommodate more people that may float in when they get a whiff of the aromas bursting from your kitchen.

Aside from the cherry tomatoes, you’ll need a few fresh basil leaves, a clove of garlic, some olive oil and some sort of fun pasta from the pantry. And of course, some fresh pecorino or parmesan cheese. Sprinkle in some hot pepper flakes if you like that sort of heat and you’re well on your way to a weeknight meal for one guaranteed to stop you from heading to the local freezer section for dinner.

SIMPLE SUMMER PASTA
Serves one hungry person

3 oz. short-cut pasta (I like farfalle because they’re cute, but penne or oricchietti are fine too)
2 Tbls olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Small handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quartered depending upon size
3-4 basil leaves, sliced in ribbons (chiffonad is the technical term)
Hot pepper flakes to taste
¼ cup freshly grated cheese

In a small sauce pan, bring 4 cups of water to a full boil – salt generously and add pasta. Cook to al dente – be sure not to overcook because you will be adding this to the sauce to cook again briefly.

Once the pasta hits the hot water, begin the sauce. This should make your timing just about right. In a small, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and a pinch or two of hot pepper flakes and sweat the garlic for a minute or two – do not let it brown.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and let them cook over medium heat until the tomatoes burst and are heated completely through. Don’t overcook these or they just become mushy – the idea here is to retain their fresh picked flavor. Add the basil.

Test your pasta for doneness – if it’s not quite done, turn down the heat on your sauce and let it stand warming until your pasta is ready. Hint - Do not pour out your pasta water, rather use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer your pasta to the warm skillet when it’s ready. This lets you leave the hot pasta water for your use if you need to thin the sauce.

Add the hot pasta and about half of your grated cheese to the tomatoes. At this point, the tomatoes will make your ‘sauce’ and the cheese will begin to thicken the mixture - if you need more moisture use some of the pasta water. Let it all heat through, stirring to combine. Transfer to your warmed plate, top with the remaining grated cheese and enjoy.

TWEEKS: I like this just as described above, but here are some other suggestions:
  • Add some fresh oregano to the tomatoes for a little different flavor
  • Rather than serving the sauce with the pasta, consider using it as a bed for a great broiled white fish fillet
  • If you feel like adding some greens to the dish, you can do that by one of two ways: 1) add some fresh baby spinach leaves to the tomatoes as they cook, the spinach will wilt down quickly or 2) add some chopped swiss chard to the oil at the beginning so that the heartier chard leaves can cook a bit longer and get tender, then add the tomatoes and cook as instructed.

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