Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cooking Tomatoes

Some years ago, Gerard accompanied many of our French Chef friends on a truffle hunt in the south of France. One of the highlights of their trip was having lunch at the home of an American cookbook writer living in Provence. He raved about the house, the kitchen, the meal and the woman and proudly handed me a copy of one of her cookbooks autographed with an invitation to her home. When I saw who it was, I smiled, for I had been collecting and cooking recipes from her (Patricia Wells) for years. In one of her books she gives a recipe for an easy, fairly speedy and always wonderful (in tomato season) ratatouille which I have listed below.  If you make it, make a lot of it! People always ask for seconds. It is good hot or cold, and is even better the next day! I am also including a "tomato concassé(pronounced "kon-kah-SAY") a recipe given to me by Christian Delouvrier (La Mangeoire), one of my mentors. Here he teaches me that cooking fresh tomatoes together with canned tomatoes takes the tomato experience to another level. In both of these southern French recipes, fresh thyme is featured, instead of the familiar basil. Try it! Either recipe beautifully accompanies grilled meat or grilled fish. This weekend I will be serving one of them with grilled lamb chops! 

Speedy Ratatouille
(For 6-8 people):
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
10 small very fresh zucchini (washed and cut into very thin slices – do not peel!)
2 lbs of fresh tomatoes (plum are best) cored, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons best quality red wine vinegar
3 plump fresh cloves of garlic (peeled and minced)
Sea Salt to taste

Directions: In a very large skillet over moderately high heat, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the zucchini and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves. Sauté, shaking the pan from time to time until the zucchini is just beginning to brown. (About 5 minutes). Add the salt and garlic, stir and cook for a minute or two. (The salt will cause the zucchini to give off liquid which will prevent the garlic from burning). Add tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar and still over moderate heat continue to sauté, shaking the pan from time to time until all of the ingredients blend well and most of the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Add remaining thyme and serve warm or at room temperature!

Tomates Concassé
(For 6-8 people):
2 lbs of chopped fresh tomatoes
3 chopped shallots
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
a handful of fresh thyme
2 lbs of canned plum tomatoes
salt, pepper,
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest 

Directions: In 2 tablespoons of olive oil sauté chopped shallots until lucid. Add canned plum tomatoes and equal amount of fresh tomatoes. Add the rest of the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and thyme. Cover and bake at 350F for 3 hours. Drain reserving the juice. On the stove reduce the liquid and put tomatoes back in.  Add zests of orange and lemon. Serve with grilled fish or meat.  

Gerard’s Wine Suggestion
With these summer dishes from the south of France, a rose from the same region is the obvious choice. Rona and I recently had the opportunity to entertain Jean-Luc Colombo, one of the best wine producers in Rhone and Provence. Those of you who came to our BBQ in June met him and tasted his excellent rose appropriately named Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue 2010. Soft, delicate pink. Subtle hints of peach, rose petal and pepper on the nose. Subtle round and full of finesse. Surprisingly complex, with intriguing notes of raspberries, fresh cherry, black olive and fennel. Available at Cascade in Amenia bottle ($13.49) or at a bargain in a magnum ($19.99)

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