Category Archives: seasonal

Fresh Tomato Soup Two Ways: Clean and spicy or Creamy and comforting

no grilled cheese required 

Not Your Famous Pop Arist’s Tomato Soup

I love Campbell’s classic condensed tomato soup. I know, me and half the rest of the Western world, right? There’s a reason it’s an icon. I’m not saying it makes me special or anything. But I really, really love it. My freshman year of high school, I made a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can costume for Halloween out of two giant macramé rings and some red, white, and mustard-yellow felt. That was before everyone had cell phones and all cell phones were cameras, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was a decent facsimile. I wore it again on Halloween my sophomore year of college, and my roommate went as Andy Warhol. No one got it. We didn’t care.

I’ve mostly abandoned the other processed foods I loved as a kid, like Kraft Mac & Cheese, Nissin Cup O’Noodles, and the generic versions of Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks. But I always have tomato soup in my cupboard. I had never even thought about making fresh tomato soup before, because why bother? Campbell’s is so good.

And then, this summer, I just kept finding myself stuck with mountains of too-ripe tomatoes (and a lot of rotting ones that ended up in the trash bin). I did the fresh tomato pasta sauce thing. I did the fresh salsa thing. But eventually, all I could think about when I looked at the endlessly-refilling pile was the tomato juice I made a couple weeks ago for the tomato bars. There were a few ounces left over, and as I drank them, I regretted the fact that I didn’t have gallons of it. It reminded me of a velvety, chilled version of Campbell’s soup.

You Can Never Go Home Again

Looking back, I feel like that juice was my first tentative bite of a forbidden apple. Now that I’ve fallen to temptation and made fresh tomato soup not once, but twice, I’m a little afraid that I won’t be able to go back my old canned stand-by. What if I don’t like it as much anymore? What if I’ve spoiled myself?

this version is rich enough to be a satisfying dinner with a salad and some breadIt would be one thing if it was entirely different—the way baked macaroni and cheese is so unlike Kraft, the two don’t even really compete. Apples and oranges. But it turns out that if you cut up some really ripe tomatoes and then simmer them for 15-20 minutes, maybe with some sautéed onion and a dash of sugar and salt, maybe with some jalapeno and/or ginger, and then you strain out all the solids…it’s almost exactly like Campbell’s, except better. Transcendent. It’s the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted, permeated by sweet onion and spice. It feels like a warm hug in a bowl, like a last gift from Summer delivering you gently into the Fall.

I didn’t even want to put crackers in it because they just would have diluted it. I might eat it alongside a grilled cheese sandwich someday, perhaps something snooty like port salut with mango chutney, or raclette with ham and pickle slices…but there will be no dipping. This soup is the platonic ideal of cooked tomato all by itself. 

However, I guess since I figured I’d already ruined myself for Campbell’s, I decided: why not make a creamy version? Same process, but I cooked the tomato down a little more before straining it and then made a quick roux to thicken the milk before whisking the tomato back in. This time, I garnished it with a few parmesan curls and some chopped fresh parsley. As I was eating it, I got to thinking that what would really put it over the top is some grilled cheese croutons: sharp cheddar or gruyere melted between two thin slices of bread and then cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed in a little oil or melted butter and sprinkled with dried parsley, garlic powder, and maybe some grated parmesan and then toasted for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven until golden brown and crisp all over. Of course, that’s really just gilding the lily

Both ways, it’s fantastic and deceptively comforting, given that it may be robbing you of one of your most enduring childhood pleasures. I just hope I don’t find myself tomato soup-less when the first cold front hits and I’m out of fresh tomatoes. When I have to go running sheepishly back to Campbell’s, which I inevitably will, I hope its familiarity will overwhelm the inevitable disappointment. And maybe that will be the time to break out the grilled cheese croutons.

just over 2 lbsRecipe: Fresh Tomato Soup
makes approximately 16 oz, or 2 bowls and 4 small cups

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total 
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, including seeds (optional)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular)

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion. Slice the jalapeno (seeds and all if you like) and the ginger, and add them, too. Sweat them until the onion is cooked through and golden.

I didn't have any fresh ginger, and can't even imagine how awesome it would have been with it will look nothing like soup to start off

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar and salt and cook over medium to medium high heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down.

a little hard to tell because of all the steam, but it looks kind of like a very soupy pasta sauceI ended up with about 1/2 cup solids to discard

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Don’t forget to scrape the solids off the bottom of the sieve. Stir well, taste and adjust seasoning.

about 2 1/2 lbs--it looks like a lot more, but these were much smallerRecipe: Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup (adapted from Allrecipes)
makes approximately 30 oz—2-3 big servings or 5-6 small ones

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total
  • 1 T. cooking oil (olive, peanut, canola, etc.)
  • 1 small onion, or half of a large one
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2-3 T. fresh or 2-3 t. dried herbs like parsley, oregano, basil, sage, tarragon, and/or rosemary
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • more salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion and crush the garlic. Sweat them in the hot oil until the onion is cooked through and golden.

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar, salt, and herbs and cook over medium to medium high heat for 30-40 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down and beginning to get thick and saucy.

everything in the pot after 30 minutes of simmering

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a separate bowl.

5. Melt the butter in an empty saucepan. Whisk in the flour until no lumps remain and then gradually add the milk, whisking after each addition until smooth—add just a few tablespoons at a time for about the first cup, and then add the rest in a steady stream. Heat until steaming, and beginning to bubble gently at the edges but not yet boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

flour whisked into the butter a few additions of milk, roux will be very thick

6. Whisk the strained tomato into the milk, taste and adjust seasoning.

still swirling together

The Case for Tomatoes as Dessert and Four Recipes: Fresh Tomato Juice, Tomato Curd, Shortbread Squares, and Candied Basil

not quite enough basil to go around, but that way the squares were basil-optional

The Legal Exception: Green Tomato Pie

When the Supreme Court decided in Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes couldn’t be legally considered a fruit because  they weren’t customarily eaten for dessert, there was only one real exception: green tomato pie.Paula Deen's green tomato pie, which includes raisins; click for the recipe The green tomatoes left on the vine at the end of the growing season aren’t especially palatable, at least when they’re raw. They’re hard, and contain substantially less of the sugar, acids, and aromatic compounds that give ripe tomatoes their distinctive flavor. Thanks in part to the 1991 Academy Award-nominated film based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe, many people are familiar with the idea that green tomatoes can be eaten breaded and fried. Fewer people know that green tomatoes are such a blank slate that they can just as easily be used in sweet preparations. Sliced or minced and cooked in a pastry crust with lots sugar and some cinnamon or other spices, tomatoes make a sweet-tart fruit filling reminiscent of apples. The dessert was common in the American South by the mid-19th C.

However, it specifically relies on tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes. While it might seem like ripe tomatoes would be the more obvious choice for desserts because they’re so much sweeter, the savory meatiness imparted by the high glutamate content makes the flavor seem inappropriate for sweet applications.

At Least It’s Not Raw Trout

Still, if there’s anything the age of salted caramel and bacon chocolate should have taught us, it’s the fact that sugar plays well with salty, meaty flavors traditionally confined primarily to savory appetizers and main dishes. Indeed, dessert ice cream made with traditionally-savory flavors has become one of the hallmarks of avant-garde cuisine. Smoked bacon and egg ice cream is one of Heston Blumenthal’s most celebrated creations—and, notably, served with a sweet tomato jam as part of the breakfast-themed dessert that’s a fixture on the menu of his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. A San Francisco ice creamery named Humphry Slocombe recently profiled in The New York Times offers many savory-sweet flavors including foie gras, “government cheese,” and salted licorice. And the competitors on Iron Chef America have presented the judges with ice cream desserts using secret ingredients ranging from abalone to the infamous raw trout.

a tomato ice cream written about a couple of years ago in the NYTimes, click for the recipe Tomato ice cream may sound like just another novelty or oddball flavor, but in fact, it may have preceded all this recent nouveau frippery, possibly even dating back to the very origins of ice cream in America. In the 18th C., when ice cream was still a relatively new invention and hadn’t yet become common in England or America, Benjamin Franklin got his first taste of the churned, frozen custard while visiting Paris. He liked it so much that he wrote in a letter home: “I am making an effort to acquire the formula so we may sample this lovely fare upon my return to Philadelphia.” French and American cookbooks from the era suggest that the most popular flavors back then were apricot, raspberry, rose, chocolate, and cinnamon, but it has been rumored that the flavor Ben Franklin liked best was tomato.

Given the lack of documentary evidence for the existence of tomato ice cream in the 18th C. and in light of the Nix v. Hedden decision, the Franklin rumor is improbable. However, after making something very akin to tomato ice cream last year for Battle Tomato, I feel like it’s not entirely impossible. Prepared with enough sugar, tomato is a perfectly plausible dessert flavor—like strawberry’s slightly funky cousin or a less-tart gooseberry. It’s a tiny bit peculiar, perhaps, but also really alluring, a savory-sweet combination reminiscent of salt-water taffy or yogurt-covered pretzels or anything else that simultaneously hits sour, salty, and sweet tastes. It can be really delicious.

Tomato Squares

When I was trying to figure out what kind of dessert to make for the housewarming party—something I hadn’t made in a while, something I’d only make for company—Brian suggested lemon squares. I’d just been thinking that basically any dessert you can make with lemons should also work with tomato, so I decided to put that to the test. Tomato juice may not be quite as acidic as lemon juice, but I thought it would be tart enough to set off the buttery richness of a shortbread crust and eggy curd filling, but I also hoped the bars might get a little extra something from the savory-ness of the tomato.

I started by making some fresh tomato juice using heirlooms from the garden, which turned out insanely good—perhaps the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted. I used about a cup of that in place of most of the lemon juice in my standard lemon curd recipe, which uses a basic cake-mixing technique to obviate the need for straining by coating the egg proteins in fat before adding the acid. That also turned out totally delicious—the first time I tasted it to see if I needed to adjust the level of sugar or acidity, I just kept going back for more. Just as I had hoped, the tomato added a totally new dimension to the curd, giving it a little oomph and intrigue. I put most of it in the refrigerator and then licked the pan clean. I used the curd to top the shortbread crust that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends for lemon bars, which I like because it stays crisp even after being topped with a wet filling, cooked it until the curd was just barely set. The curd was more of a golden color, but as it cooked, the red pigments started to come through more. And voila: tomato squares!

although I hadn't thought of it before, you could probably make bar cookies like this with any fruit or vegetable flavor...guava squares, mango squares, ginger-lime squares, cranberry squares, etc.

Candied Basil Leaves

Thinking they looked a little plain on their own, I decided to garnish them with some candied basil leaves—like a sweet take on caprese salad. First, I tried the method suggested by a cookbook called Wine Mondays, which involved poaching the leaves in a sugar syrup with a high ratio of sugar : water and then baking them at a low temperature until they crystallize. Unfortunately, they discolored, probably because there was a hot baking stone still in the oven and I’m an idiot.

So I improvised a second batch by simply poaching the leaves in a 1:1 simple syrup, dredging them in some extra sugar to crystallize them, and drying them at room temperature on wax paper. That worked pretty well, although once I put them on the bars, they absorbed a little moisture from them and ended up soggier than I would have liked. If I ever decide to candy leaves again, I’ll probably use another method I’ve read about that involves brushing the leaves with raw egg white, dredging them in sugar, and then baking them at a very low temp (~150F) until they’re hard and dry.

Very similar to candied mint leaves—intensely sweet and herbal.

first, unsuccessful attempt--not only did they discolor, they didn't get anything approximating crisp. maybe another 15-20 min. would have crystalized them?

second, better attempt; still not as crisp as I'd like

Please, Try This At Home

I’ve included all the recipes I used below, separated in case all you’re looking for is a good recipe for fresh tomato juice. If you want to try making tomato bars but this seems intimidating or tedious, there are lots of ways to simplify the process. You could use store-bought tomato juice instead of making your own, and probably should if you can’t get vine-ripened tomatoes from a garden or farmer’s market because at least canned and bottled tomato products are made with vine-ripened tomatoes at their peak, unlike the tomatoes you get at most supermarkets. If you don’t want to bother with a cooked tomato curd, I’ve included a recipe for an uncooked bar cookie filling below which you could use fresh or store-bought tomato juice in. Obviously, the candied basil leaves are optional. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.

You could also use tomato juice in place of citrus juice or fresh, ripe tomatoes in place of fresh fruit in any other dessert recipe. If using fresh tomatoes, you probably want to peel and seed them first to prevent them from watering down the recipe too much. I can imagine fresh tomatoes in place of peaches or cherries in a pie, or sweet cherry tomatoes caramelized on top of a tarte tatin. You could whisk tomato sauce or tomato paste into a standard cake, custard, or icing recipe or use slightly cooked-down tomato puree in place of applesauce or pumpkin puree in a muffin or spice cake. If you think the people you’re serving might be wary of tomatoes for dessert, you can always use the strategy Campbell’s used to sell its Tomato Soup Cake recipe to thousands of housewives during the Great Depression: call it “Mystery Cake” (or pie, or ice cream or whatever) and make people guess at the key ingredient. They’ll come to the realization that it’s delicious before they ever figure out that it’s tomato. 

it separates a little after sitting, but stir or shake before serving and just see if it doesn't beat out every tomato juice you've ever triedRecipe: Fresh Tomato Juice (from Simply Recipes)
(makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 T. lemon juice

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes roughly.

2. Place in a medium saucepan with as much of juice as you can get off the cutting board, and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the flesh is mostly broken down and very liquid.

4. Force through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth and discard the solids.

Recipe: Tomato Curd (adapted from Fine Cooking
(makes about 4 cups, more than enough to fill a 6-layer cake, two 9” pies, or a 9×13 pan of bar cookies; halve to thickened just enough to coat a spoon so that your finger leaves a trailfill a two-layer cake, one 9” pie, or an 8×8 pan of bar cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. (12 Tbs.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Method

1. Using a stand or hand mixer or food processor, cream together the butter and sugar for at least 1 min or until the mixture is smooth and begins to lighten in color.

butter and sugar creamed together eggs beaten in well

2. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition and for 2 minutes after all the eggs have been added.

3. Add the tomato juice and lemon juice and beat until smooth. Mixture will likely look curdled or uneven.

4. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to look smooth.

5. Raise the heat to medium and cook, still stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat a spoon or spatula thickly enough that you can run your finger through it and see a trail. 170F on a candy thermometer—the mixture should not boil, but may begin to bubble gently at the edges and steam a little bit.

6. Chill until ready to use.

Recipe: Shortbread Squares (adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum)
(fills a 9×13 pan; halve for 8×8)

butter cut, wrapped, and ready to chillIngredients:

For the crust:

  • 20 T. (12 oz) butter
  • 4 T. powdered sugar
  • 4 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 3 cups cake/pastry flour
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the filling:

  • approximately 4 cups of fruit curd, pastry cream, or cheesecake batter

OR

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 2/3 c. fresh lemon juice (or substitute 1/3 cup of any other juice, like guava or cranberry)
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen fruit (optional; omit for lemon bars; however, blueberries and lemon make a great combination)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

For the crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and chill.

3. In a food processor, process the granulated sugar for 1 minute or until very fine—sugar dust will probably rise from the food processor like smoke, that’s normal. Add the flour, powdered sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk the dry ingredients together.

sugar "smoke" You should be able to press the crumbs against the side of the bowl and have them stay.

4. Add the chilled pieces of butter and pulse until it’s just a lot of moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives.

5. Dump the crumbs directly into an ungreased 9×13 pan and gently press all over to make it a solid layer of shortbread dough.

Beranbaum suggests kneading it together before pressing into a pan; I think pressing it against the bottom works just as well gently pricked with a fork, it's fine if that pulls a few crumbs up--they'll melt back in as it bakes

6. Prick the dough all over with a fork—the dough may want to come away with the tines, I just use two fingers to hold the dough down on either side of the fork tines as I quickly pierce the crust.

7. Bake 30-40 min or just until barely browning at the edges.

flaky and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread

For the filling:

If using a prepared filling, simply spread it over the top of the crust and then return to the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the filling just barely jiggles in the center when the pan is shaken.

If using the filling recipe above:

1. Whisk together the sugar and baking powder and then combine with the eggs and whisk until they are beaten well and the mixture is smooth.

2. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

3. Stir in the fruit, if using and pour the egg mixture over the shortbread crust.

4. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just firm and does not move when the pan is gently nudged, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar.

fresh basil leaves, just picked from the garden, washed and dried wellRecipe: Candied Basil

  • whole basil leaves (about 20 large or 40 small)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1. Combine 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool to lukewarm (the bottom of the pan should be cool enough to touch).

3. Place clean, dry basil leaves in the syrup and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

poached in simple syrup tossed in sugar

4. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a baking sheet. Toss the leaves in the sugar.

5. Place the leaves on wax paper and let them dry overnight or for at least 4 hrs.

the finished product, at a slightly different, but no less wonky angle. whee.

Curried Squash Fritters with Ranch Raita

I guess this is like South Indian-Southern American fusion?

This is basically a South Asian-inspired summer squash fritter redux. Instead of an egg and whole wheat flour batter seasoned with Old Bay, I used a chickpea (or gram) flour batter seasoned with homemade curry powder, similar to pakoras or bhaji. That incidentally makes this recipe vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free, for anyone who cares about things like that. You could prepare them just like the first version—shaped into patties and griddled until cooked through. However, this time, since I was making them for a party, it seemed like an appropriate occasion for deep-frying.

My primary goal when I’m deep-frying anything, batter-coated or not, is crispness. I want the outside to be crunchy, not soggy or greasy, and I want the inside to be cooked through without any chewy or mushy parts. The trick is getting the temperature of the cooking oil right for the size of the object being fried.

bonus: deep-frying really repairs the season on your wok if it's getting a little torn up

Small fritters (about 2 tablespoons of batter) cook through in about 4-5 minutes, so the goal is for the outside to be golden-brown on the outside by that point but not before. If the oil is too hot, they’ll get too dark too fast and to keep them from burning, you may have to pull them out before the inside is done. That means that even if they’re crispy when you pull them out of the oil, by the time they’re cool enough to eat they’ll be soggy and the insides will still be mushy. If the oil isn’t hot enough, they’ll either fall apart or absorb too much oil, becoming greasy and leaden by the time they’re brown.

Generally, you want the temperature of the oil to be between 345-375F, although that varies somewhat based on the type of fat, what you’re cooking, and your altitude. I usually don’t bother with a thermometer and just try to figure it out through trial and error. Typically, you want the oil to be bubbling but not smoking, and whatever you’re frying should sizzle when you put it in. If something is browning too fast for the inside to cook through, turn the heat down. If there’s no sizzle, or it takes too long to brown, turn the heat up. Just like with griddle cakes, the first one (or two) might not be perfect, but you should be able to figure it out within a few tries. I suppose with no garlic, ginger, or cilantro, and cream instead of yogurt, this really isn't a raita at all...except for the cucumber and onion

Since the batter had some heat to it already (although that ended up being less discernable after frying), I decided I should make some kind of cooling condiment, and ended up deciding on something similar to a classic raita that I hoped would evoke classic Ranch dressing. I started by thickening some cream by letting it sit in a jar overnight with about 1 T. buttermilk, which turned out the consistency of a thin yogurt, just like Alton Brown said it would. I combined that with some grated and drained cucumber and onion and seasoned it with dill, a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, white pepper, and just a pinch of MSG. If I’d known how mild the fritters would be after deep frying, I probably would have added a diced jalapeno or chipotle in adobo as well, but it was pretty good even without any heat.

giant pattypan squash from my garden, which was so big I had to scoop out the seeds like a pumpkin, and an assortment of squash from Needle Lane Farms

Just like the first version of squash fritters I posted, this is a great way to use up summer squash. Salting and draining the squash not only prevents the batter from getting watery, it also really reduces the volume of vegetable matter. I managed to turn all the squash pictured above into about 5-6 cups of shredded squash, which I was able to use up in a single batch of fritters. Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you may want to halve the recipe, but it’s still a pretty good way to get rid of a lot of summer squash at once, and turn it into a main attraction.

Recipe: Curried Zucchini Squash Fritters (adapted from Pakora (Bhaji) Recipe: Spicy, Deep-fried Chickpea Flour Dumplings’>Indian Vegetarian Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium-to-large summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, yellow squash, etc.)
  • 3 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 small to medium onion (or half of a large one)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 T. chopped cilantro or parsley
  • 2 1/4 cups chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • curry powder: 1 dried hot chili pepper, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. coriander seeds, 1 t. whole fenugreek, 6 cloves (bud only), 6 peppercorns, 1/2” cinnamon stick (or 1/8 t. ground), 1 t. ground turmeric
  • a pinch of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 2-4 T. oil for griddling OR about a quart of canola, peanut, or vegetable oil for deep frying (or lard, clarified butter, or coconut oil if preferred)

1. Grate the squash—much faster in a food processor, but especially if you’re halving the recipe, I guess it wouldn’t take that long with a mandoline or box grater.

before draining, probably ~12 cups of squash

after draining, barely 6 cups

2. Put the shredded squash in a colander (or two), sprinkle the salt over it and toss to coat evenly. Let drain for at least 10-15 minutes and then press out as much moisture as possible. (You can do this a day or two in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to make the fritters.)

3. Toast the cumin, coriander, and fenugreek in a small skillet until fragrant and beginning to brown. Grind along with the chili pepper, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and turmeric in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until fine.

toasting the seeds blending with chili, cloves, cinnamon and turmeric; this is basically the same curry powder I make when I make dal

4. Mince the garlic, and jalapeno (if using) in a blender, food processor, or with a knife. Add the onion and puree (or grate).

in a classic pakora, onion is usually cut in larger pieces and serves the role the zucchini plays in this recipe, more like onion rings; however, in this recipe the onion becomes part of the batterall the batter ingredients

5. Add the chickpea flour, rice flour, curry powder, baking powder, and water and blend or stir until smooth. Add more water if necessary until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter, or a very thick cream.

5. Add the drained squash and chopped cilantro. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to let the chickpea flour absorb as much water as possible. (You can also refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before frying, but take it out of cold storage 30 minutes to an hour before cooking to let it return to room temperature.)

 will be grainy, especially before resting  squash shreds all incombined

6. If griddling, pre-heat the pan over medium-high heat and add about 1 T. oil and turn the pan to coat evenly. Shape the batter into small patties and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and done throughout. Add more oil as necessary to keep the pan lubricated.

If deep frying, heat the oil in a large pot or wok until bubbling but not smoking. Test a small amount of batter—it should sizzle when it hits the oil, and may sink initially, but should rise to the surface of the oil and bubble vigorously. If it doesn’t sizzle or rise, the oil isn’t hot enough. If it gets too dark too fast, the oil is too hot. Adjust as necessary and then fry the fritters in batches, turning so they brown evenly. Don’t add too many to the pan at the same time or they’ll cause a rapid drop in the temperature of the oil.

7. Drain on paper towels. To keep warm before serving, place the fritters on oven racks set on baking sheets in a 200F oven.

Recipe: Ranch Raita (adapted from Alton Brown)

a jar full of slightly-cultured cream; there's a bit of a skin on the top but that mixed in easily. comparable to creme fraiche, but way cheaper.Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 T. buttermilk
  • 1 small cucumber (or a half of a large one)
  • 1 small onion (or half of a large one)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 1 t. dried dill or 1 T. fresh
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of MSG or nutritional yeast (optional)
  • jalapeno or cayenne (optional)

1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan or for about 30 seconds in a microwave on high until it’s just under 100F.

2. Stir in the buttermilk, pour into a glass jar and let sit in a dark, warm place for 24 hrs.

3. Grate the cucumber and onion, salt all over and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Press to remove as much moistures as possible. Combine with the cultured cream.

I grated both the cucumber and onion with a "ribbon" microplane salted and draining; I saved the juice, but then couldn't think of anything to do with it. might be good combined with tomato juice like homemade V8?

4. Add the lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper, and MSG or nutritional yeast if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you want it spicy, add a diced jalapeno and/or cayenne pepper.

Spiced Tomato Jam: Celebrating the sweetness of the tomato

these three largish tomatoes produced about a cup and a half of jam

The Official Verdict in the Fruit v. Vegetable Debate

In 1883, the U.S. Congress passed a Tariff Act imposing a 10% tax on imported vegetables to protect American farmers from foreign competition. Although that may sound like a fairly straightforward piece of legislation, one New York family took issue with a single word in the law: “vegetable.” The Nixes—John, John, George and Frank—imported a shipment of tomatoes from the West Indies in 1886, and were outraged to have to pay a “vegetable” tax on what scientists had for years agreed was technically a fruit. They forked over the 10%, but then they turned around and sued Edward Hedden, the Collector of the Port of New York, to recover the duties they thought they had been made to pay unfairly.

Somehow, none of the lower courts managed to satisfactorily sort out this semantic debate, so by 1893, the case had made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyer for the plaintiff read definitions from Webster’s and Worcester’s for potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrot to prove that the tomato was of an entirely different ilk than those edible roots, leaves, and flowers. The defendant parried back with Webster’s definition of “vegetable”: “cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,” and called in multiple witnesses to testify that tomatoes were commonly understood to be covered by those crucial last three words.

The court sided unanimously with the defendant. As Justice Horace Gray wrote in the decision:

The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word “fruit” as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are “fruit,” as distinguished from “vegetables,” in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.

Gray went on to explain that regardless of the scientific definition, in “common parlance” tomatoes were considered a vegetable and most commonly eaten as part of the main course, as opposed to fruits, which the court agreed were more commonly eaten for dessert. And so, to this day, the tomato is legally considered a vegetable even though, as even the court acknowledged, it is botanically classified as a fruit.

the tomato's no more alone in there than pears and apricots are the only fruits; image from the Wikipedia article on "Fruit" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit

More Than a Technicality

I suspect that the reason the debate about whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable lives on while other culinary “vegetables” that contain the seeds of flowering plants (like cucumbers, peppers, squash, peas, and beans) remain relatively uncontroversial is because tomatoes walk the line between savory and sweet. As the Supreme Court noted, they’re too savory—and in particular, contain too much glutamate, which makes them rich or even “meaty”—to be routinely eaten for dessert, but at the peak of their season, they can be almost as sweet as strawberries and far sweeter than other berries that do regularly appear in desserts, like cranberries or currants.

paired with aged gouda on whole wheat baguetteWhile I’m a big fan of tomato-flavored desserts, too—more on that later this week when I post about my tomato curd shortbread squares—what’s great about the tomato jam that Mark Bittman wrote about two years ago is that it reflects the tomato’s ambivalent nature. A cup of sugar enhances the natural sweetness of late summer tomatoes and gives it the thick, gooey consistency of any other fruit jam, but an hour or more of simmering also intensifies the savory umami flavor imparted by tomatoes’ high glutamate content. It also gets a spicy kick from the jalapeno and tartness from both the natural acidity of the tomatoes and the addition of some lime juice. Cloves and cinnamon give it just a hint of bitterness, so it actually hits basically all the major taste categories. Pair it with something fatty like cheese or softly-scrambled eggs, and you activate all the taste sensations typically associated with food (missing only metallic and alkaline, which are generally far less appetizing).  

Bittman says it’s great on tuna, meat, or white fish. Given its similarity to ketchup or tomato chutney, I can also imagine it being served with any form of fried potato—from French fries to samosas. It would also make sense as a burger topping or sandwich spread with any number of fillings—grilled eggplant, ham, or a thick slice of cheddar or a smear of goat cheese. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could exploit and enhance its sweetness by using it the way you might use strawberry or raspberry preserves—as a filling for a cookie or cake, a topping for cheesecake or ice cream, or a mix-in for cake batter, icing, or a custard base. With this jam, you could make anything from tomato rugelach to tomato cupcakes with tomato cream cheese frosting or tomato ice cream.

The possibilities are basically endless, but the window of opportunity is probably limited—I can’t imagine getting satisfactory results with the kind of supermarket tomatoes that are picked and shipped when they’re green and stay hard and relatively flavorless even after ripened with ethylene gas. I suppose it’s possible that canned tomatoes could work, since they’re generally preserved at their peak ripeness, but no guarantees. If I get a hankering for it in February, maybe I’ll try it and let you know.

Recipe: Tomato Jam (from Mark Bittman)

housewarming 148Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes  
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 T. lime juice (from about 1/2 a large lime)
  • 1 T. minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno (or other hot pepper) or a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • a pinch of ground cloves

1. Core and dice the tomatoes. If you don’t want the skins in the final product, blanche them before chopping in boiling water for 60 seconds and then dunk them in an ice bath or run them under cool water—the skins will slip right off.

2. Stem the jalapeno, and remove the seeds if you’re wary of the heat—you can always add the seeds back in later if you want more of a bite.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

housewarming 149 housewarming 164

4. Turn the heat down until the mixture is just simmering gently, and cook for at least an hour until the texture is thick and jammy, stirring occasionally (it took me about an hour and a half). You’ll have to stir it more frequently towards the end of the cooking time to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pan. It will thicken more after it cools, but it should be thicker than a sauce before you take it off the heat.

5. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Then, cool completely and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Summer Squash Fritters and Chili-yogurt Sauce

you know it's August when your dinner consists substantially of zucchini and tomato

I meant to make this recipe and post it on Monday in honor of Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, but we were in the process of moving to a new apartment. So a bit belatedly, here’s my take on the classic zucchini fritter, which is a great way to make any kind of summer squash into something entree-worthy. As a seasonal bonus, it pairs beautifully with the tomatoes that are just nowa tiny bit green, because it got knocked off the plant in the move well before I would have picked it, but after a couple of days in a brown paper bag it was just about perfect, if not quite tomato sandwich material getting ripe enough to harvest in Michigan. The one I sliced up for last night’s dinner was our first German Queen, which is some kind of “heirloom” variety, whatever heirloom means when you’re buying it at a big box store.

There are dozens of ways to fritter your squash. I tend to prefer a high ratio of vegetable matter : batter, so I use just enough egg and whole wheat flour to bind the shredded squash. To keep them light despite the whole wheat flour, I separate the eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks before folding them in (hat tip: Mark Bittman). For flavor, I add a minced onion, some garlic, a handful of sharp cheese and a generous sprinkling of Old Bay, the latter inspired by a mock “crab” cake recipe. For the sake of convenience, I prefer pan-frying to deep-frying, although if you have a deep fryer, I’m sure they’re crisper and more delicious that way.

I don’t think they taste a thing like crab cakes, but they can certainly serve the same role—they work as an appetizer or small plate on their own, as a sandwich on a bun with some coleslaw, or as the centerpiece of a more substantial meal accompanied by a salad or cup of soup or some other side dish. 

if I'd been thinking, I'd have put a cup of the chili-yogurt sauce in the middle. alas.

Although they’re tasty plain, they really want to be served with something creamy and tangy, possibly with a little (or a lot) of heat. If you plan ahead at least 24 hrs, Alton Brown’s chipotle crema would be perfect. On shorter notice, some canned or re-hydrated dried peppers blended with some Greek yogurt and a little mayonnaise does the trick. Other options: some avocado slices and black bean salsa, ranch dressing (especially combined 1:1 with a good salsa), crème fraiche or sour cream, or just plain mayonnaise perked up a bit with some fresh lemon or lime juice and minced or powdered garlic.

I’ll be back to fretting about calorie counts on menus and Food, Inc. and things that won’t kill you soon. But first, I have a lot of books to unpack.

Recipe: Summer squash fritters

  • 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan, or crookneck (between 1 1/2 and 2 lbs)the zucchini I used are the ones cut up in the back, but any of the ones in the foreground would have worked just as well
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled sharp cheese (cheddar, feta, gouda, etc., about 2 oz )
  • a small onion, or half of a larger one
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. Old Bay seasoning 
  • 2-3 T. canola or peanut oil

1. Shred the squash—this would be extremely tedious without a food processor or a sous chef, although you might be able to get away with a fine dice. Place the grated or diced squash in a colander, sprinkle the salt all over and toss to distribute the salt evenly throughout. Let it sit in the sink for at least 10 minutes.

 salted, before draining after as much moisture as possible is squeezed out, about 1/2 the previous volume

2. Meanwhile, dice the onion, mince the garlic, and combine with the cheese in a large bowl.

3. Separate the eggs—you can throw the yolks directly in with the onion, garlic, and cheese. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

 stiff peaks. again, a pain in the ass without electric tools or a very energetic sous chefbefore combining, vegetable matter and egg yolks in the big bowl, egg whites in the medium bowl, dry ingredients in the small bowl

4. Whisk together the whole wheat flour, baking powder, and Old Bay.

5. Press the squash against the sides of the colander to wring out as much moisture as you can. Add the well-drained squash to the onion and egg yolks. Mix to coat everything lightly in egg.

6. Preheat a large skillet on medium-high.

7. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the zucchini-egg-onion mixture and stir until just combined. Don’t overwork it—you don’t want much gluten to form or the pancakes will get tough, although the bran in the whole wheat will actually help prevent that too.

8. Add the beaten egg whites to the zucchini mixture and fold in gently until just combined. You want to preserve as much of the air suspended in the egg whites as possible.

resorting to flash. new kitchen doesn't have a lot of natural light. it does, however, have a dishwasher and a garbage disposal, so it's hard to be too displeased no pictures of the shaping process, because it's messy

10. Test the pan for heat by flicking a few droplets of water at it. They should jump and sizzle. If they don’t, turn the heat up. Add 1-2 t. oil to the pan and tilt to coat the surface evenly.

11. Form the mixture into patties with your hands and drop into the pan. My fritters usually end up about the size of my palms, so I imagine bigger hands = bigger patties. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook through—about 1/2” at the most. Smaller is always an option.

12. Cook until the underside is very brown—about 4-5 minutes—and then flip very gently. Cook for another 4-5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Continue until all of the mixture has been cooked. If they seem to be getting very dark in less than 4-5 minutes, turn the heat down.

Recipe: Chili-yogurt sauce

  • 2-3 dried chilis (I used one small habanero, one small cascabel, and one small red chile) or 1 canned  chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or more)
  • 2 T. mayonnaise (optional)
  • salt to taste

1. If using dried chilis, immerse them in boiling water and soak them for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.dried chiles, just after I added the water after soaking about 8 hours

2. Drain and remove the stems and seeds (you can add the seeds later if you want more heat, but it doesn’t really work the other way around). Alternately, remove the chipotle from the can.

3. Blend the chilis with the yogurt and mayonnaise, if using, in a food processor or blender. Add enough reserved seeds to make it as hot as you want it and salt to taste.

in the blender I accidentally bought fat-free Greek yogurt (curses to the people who create a demand for that nonsense) so the mayonnaise was my way of coping

Morel Time in Michigan: Foraging in the Front Yard

35 of them this year! 5.5. oz! Plus a few so small that I left them in hopes that they'll get bigger, but I'll still get to them before someone or something else.

Her lawn looks like a meadow
          And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
          And the Queen Anne’s Lace!
                                                                                       —Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Portrait By a Neighbor”

Recipe(s) later. This is just a quick PSA to let you know that morel season has started in Michigan, and if you have a yard, you may have some growing right outside your door.

They only grow in the part of of our yard that’s as much patchy dirt and moss as grass, so apparently free wild mushrooms are another of the many perks of completely neglecting your lawn and letting it revert to something closer to its natural state. No guarantees, of course. There are lots of other arguments for giving up the peculiar tradition of pouring gallons of water into the ground and spending hours manicuring a bunch of grass that doesn’t even produce anything edible (some of which are mentioned by the 2008 NYTimes article on moss lawns). But I think the movement for no-maintenance lawns and landscaping with native species should start talking up the possibility of Free Morels. Maybe the possibility of free, annual harvests of delicious mushrooms that cost $30/lb+ would outweigh the potential social opprobrium incurred by dead grass and dandelions.

like a bone with the marrow sucked out with a hollow brain on top. there's a Sarah Palin joke in here somewhere, but I can't quite find itAbout a half dozen of them appeared last year. I’d never picked wild mushrooms before and was leery at first, but the descriptions in the guide books seemed pretty straightforward. They’re even in the “recommended for beginners” part of one of my guides. Edible morels are hollow all the way through, both stems and caps. Also, although there’s a little lip where the cap attaches to the stem, there’s no real overhang—they’re like lollipops, not umbrellas.

False morels are not completely hollow—one kind, the Gyromitra species, is fleshy all the way through. It has  small air pockets and chambers, but nothing you could mistake for hollowness. The other, the Verpa species, has wispy, cotton candy-like fibers inside the stem. And both feature an overhang—in the Gyromitra it’s sometimes slight, but they have other giveaways—they tend to have a different color and look wavy or lobed, not pitted and ridged like edible morels. The Verpa species has a distinct overhang. They somtimes look like empty walnut shells balanced atop thick, white fingers or like a wig on a wig stand. 

Gyromitra--another diffrence is the reddish-brown color and lack of differentiation between the color of the ridges and pits from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Giftlorchel.jpg  inside, note that although there are pockets, it's definitely not hollow http://www.morelmushroomhunting.com/morel_finds_archives_june_9th.htm

Verpa. There's a sidekick in the Bill & Ted sequel who says, "I made the wigs" in a hilarious accent which has become a catchphrase in our house and that's what the little ripped one reminds me of. I made the weegs! http://www.morelmushroomhunting.com/morel_finds_archives_june_9th.htm unmistakable overhang and cottony insides http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Verpa-bohemica-Xsection.jpg 

Not morels. Consumption not advised.

Also, except in extraordinarily rare circumstances, false morels aren’t deadly. Some people actually consider them edible if prepared correctly. Drying and boiling leaches out most of the toxin in the Gyromitra species. Most guides still recommend not eating them for multiple meals or on consecutive days, but if you do accidentally eat one, the worst that happens is you’ll suffer some gastrointestinal distress. The Verpa species can also cause vomiting and diarrhea, but are still eaten by many people. According to 100 Edible Mushrooms, which is by a guy who’s written an entire book about Morels, Verpa mushrooms are even counted as “morels” in some morel-hunting competitions. 

The ones that grown in our yard are hollow and have no overhang. I’m pretty sure they’re yellow morels, but it’s hard to get more specific than that because although there are seven genetically distinct species of yellow morels, they aren’t morphologically distinct. However, they’re all delicious, so unless you’re a mycologist, who really cares? Last year, I cooked them in a cream sauce and tossed them with linguine, which we ate with the particular satisfaction of having gotten something very decadent for free and suffered no unfortunate side effects.

the coloring in black morels almost seems inverted--dark raised edges and lighter pits