Sunday, August 28, 2011

OMG! MORE Tomatoes!!!!

Tangled but very prolific tomato vines
My little garden is a pathetic sight.  Weeds have overgrown everywhere except in the row and a half of tomato vines I'm randomly tending.  I went a little overboard with the plants this summer and I have about 20 vines producing my very favorite little baby tomatoes.

Although I'm completely in love with the big beefsteak (as you could tell from my last blog), I'm equally infatuated with these little tiny tomatoes.  Cherry, currant, teardrop, red, yellow, orange, whatever - these tiny wonders are another of the very best things summer has to offer.  Many of these plucked in evening treks to the garden don't make it all the way home because they're eaten on the way.  Early in the season when only a handful are ripe, that's generally their fate.  This time of summer, however, the vines are so prolific that there are pints of these little tomatoes riding home each evening.

So many beautiful little tomato gems!
Beefsteaks are sweet, juicy, and meaty with a real tomato flavor.  In contrast, these little tomatoes taste a little like candy.  Pop one or two in your mouth and they burst with intense sweetness.  The tiny red ones have a tart sweetness due to their acid content.  The yellow ones have less acid and have a totally different taste. 

Combined, they're perfect for cooking in a little olive oil to top off a quick pasta, which is the plan for tonight's dinner.  As they cook whole, they burst open in the heat and leak wonderful tomato goodness into the fragrant olive oil. A few crushed red pepper flakes add a slight heat to the dish.  This dish is simple, quick, healthy and delicious.  If you venture into a gardening adventure for next summer, two or three vines of these gem-like tomatoes would be a terrific choice for any beginner.

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 ingredients for a delicious meal
Serves one hungry person
It may seem as if I'm asking for a lot of oil here but remember this is the main ingredient in your sauce.  There has to be enough to create a sauce with the tomato juice to coat the pasta.  Believe me, this works!

3 oz. short-cut pasta (I like farfalle because they’re cute, but penne or orecchietti 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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