Cherry Tomato Salads ~ Caprese and Tuscan

I'm going to apologize now for yet another tomato recipe.  I have so many from the garden it seems it's all we eat anymore and I'm always looking for new ways to prepare and showcase them.  For some damn reason, I decided to plant 32 tomato plants, 16 of which are cherry tomato varieties.  I mean, really.  Who can eat that many cherry tomatoes?  It seems we can.  You know how babies who eat too much squash get orange skin?  I'm pretty sure we five will turn red any day now.

I sent my almost-7 year old daughter out to pick some "little tomatoes" for me and she came back with a shitload.  There went the old salad topping idea. Instead I was forced to make the tomatoes the base for the salad.  And I'm so glad I did.

I made two different kinds on two different nights.  That's why some of the photos look bad ~ the fact that we were eating it at 9:30 pm really blew for lighting.  I've done my amateur best to make them look presentable but they still look terrible.  Sorry.

I used what my daughter picked, which was a combination of Sungold (the orange ones), Sweet Million, and Sugary.

The two tomato salads I made were a Caprese and a Tuscan salad.  Both delicious but the Tuscan one was particularly yummy with the addition of creamy cannellini beans.  Once you get the basic idea, it's a breeze to come up with new flavors.

Caprese Cherry Tomato Salad
Serves 4 for side ~or~ 2 for a meal
40 minutes

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 t. sugar
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. olive oil
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 c. torn fresh basil

Toss tomatoes, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl.  Let macerate for 30 minutes.  Dump the tomatoes and any juice into a salad spinner and spin to dry tomatoes.  Save that precious liquid though!  Return tomatoes to bowl.  Strain tomato liquid over a small saucepan to remove seeds.

Add vinegar and garlic to tomato liquid and simmer until reduced to 3 or 4 tablespoons.  Cool to room temp.  Whisk in oil.

Add cheese, basil, and vinegar/juice mixture to tomatoes in bowl.  Toss and season.

Tuscan Cherry Tomato Salad
Serves 4 for side ~or~ 2 for a meal
40 minutes

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 t. sugar
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. shaved Parmesan 
1 T. minced fresh rosemary
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Toss tomatoes, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl.  Let macerate for 30 minutes.  Dump the tomatoes and any juice into a salad spinner and spin to dry tomatoes.  Save that precious liquid!  Return tomatoes to bowl.  Strain tomato liquid over a small saucepan to remove seeds.  

Add vinegar and garlic to tomato liquid and simmer until reduced to 3 or 4 tablespoons.  Cool to room temp.  Whisk in oil.

Add cheese, rosemary, beans, and vinegar/juice mixture to tomatoes in bowl.  Toss and season.

**Update: Not wanting to wait to macerate the tomatoes, I shortened the prep time and it turned out even better!  New recipe below...

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. sugar
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. minced fresh rosemary
1 c. cubes of Parmesan (I use small chunks about the size of a nickel)
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Toss tomatoes, rosemary, Parm, and beans in a bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over med-high heat.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.  Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and whisk to dissolve.  Allow to cool.  Add vinegar and whisk to combine.

Pour dressing over tomato mixture and toss to combine.

Adapted from Cook's Country 2009


Cheese Crostini with Anchovy Herb Butter

Let it be known that I hate fish.  I despise the taste of fish, the look of fish with their beady eyes and hard mouths and scales and fins, the smell of fish which makes me gag, the fact that they swim and don't have arms and legs, the nasty water they live in, the tiny bones, and the open gaping mouths.  Don't get me wrong - I think some of them are beautiful and I always feel sorry for them when they have a big hook crammed in their bleeding mouths.

So why the hell am I writing about a fish recipe?  Because I'm an outside-the-box kinda gal.  Oh, and I have been craving anchovies for years now but never had the balls to actually do anything about it.

I've been told that someone who hates anchovies has only had the slimy pizza topping ones.  I was willing to try a new way of eating them as long as I could do it myself.  I couldn't trust my first (as an adult) anchovy experience to be handled by anyone else.  I had to make sure I knew each and every component that went into this food.

Can I say that I was blown away by this appetizer?  I had my doubts but damn, it is good!  The herbs impart a freshness and the cheese is bland enough not to overpower the strong herb and anchovy taste.  Please try this dish, even if you hate fish with a passion like I do.  You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Cheese Crostini with Anchovy Herb Butter
Serves 4 for an appetizer

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
4 T. Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. grated lemon zest
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 baguette, sliced
1 c. grated Provolone

Pre-heat oven to 425*.

Melt the butter in small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the anchovies and stir until they dissolve.  That will take about 3 minutes.  Add the herbs, garlic, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes.

Place baguette slices on a baking sheet.  Spread/brush herb butter over each piece.  Sprinkle with the cheese.  Bake until the cheese is melted and bread edges are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis's recipe


Tomato Pie

Last night, I met a fantastic group of women.  My friend A hosted a slumber party for 6 of her friends.  There were no kids and no men.  And lots of booze.  There was a massage therapist there to work out the kinks and a pool to laze by.  And piña coladas and martinis and margaritas.  Each of us contributed to the meal - a baked potato bar with homemade garden salsa and other fixin's, fresh salad with home-grown tomatoes and hot peppers, luscious desserts, and plenty of alcohol. Have I mentioned that already??

I opted to bring a tomato pie as I have an abundance of the fruit staring me in the face.  It was a hit. In fact, the slice in the photos was the last man standing.  We women - all mothers, all wives, and all who have seen their fair share of tragedy, ate until we could burst.  And then we drank some more.

A big-ass storm came through and interrupted our poolside chatting, but after it left the area, we were given a little gift in the form of a double rainbow.  The lower rainbow got super bright so I had to photograph it.

Tomato Pie is a great way to use up extra tomatoes from the garden or the ones you buy from the old lady at the end of her driveway selling them for $1 a pound. Either way, because tomato is the star ingredient here, don't buy some shitty supermarket tomatoes that are spotty pink on the outside and mealy and flavorless on the inside.  Heirlooms are the best, however I realize they are hard to find.

You could take a spin on the recipe below and change it up a bit to suit your tastes. Instead of cheddar, use Monterey Jack and add some minced jalapeños for a southwestern kick.  Or use shredded mozzarella and fresh basil for an Italian style pie.

The women I laughed and cried with last night (J, A, K, L, T, and of course A) are truly remarkable ladies and I'm happy to have shared time with them.

Tomato Pie
Serves 8
1 hr plus cooling time

2 pie dough rounds (I used 1 package Pillsbury)
2 lbs. tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4" thick
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. mayonnaise
4 t. cornstarch
1-1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar
4 scallions, sliced thin

Roll dough into 12-inch circles.  I rolled the Pillsbury ones out slightly as well.  Place one in a 9-inch pie dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Place the second dough round on plastic wrap and cover with plastic on top.  Refrigerate both for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place sliced tomatoes on a paper towel lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 minutes.  Blot with paper towels until they look pretty dry.

With oven rack on lowest position, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat to 450*.  The hot baking sheet will help seal and brown the bottom crust.

Mix mayo, cornstarch, and 1 cup of cheese.  Sprinkle remaining 1/2-cup cheese on bottom of dough in the pie plate.  Layer 1/3 of the tomatoes on top of the cheese.  Spread half the mayo cheese mixture on top of the tomatoes and top with half the scallions.  Add another 1/3 of tomatoes and top with the mayo cheese mixture, then the rest of the scallions.  Place the remaining tomatoes on top.

Place the other dough round on top of the pie, trim edges, fold, and crimp.  Cut 4 ovals in the top of the pie to allow the steam to vent.  Place pie on hot baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes.  Lower oven temperature to 325* and bake until crust is golden brown, 30 minutes for store-bought dough and 40 minutes for homemade.  Cool for 3 hours on wire rack.  Serve at room temp.

Recipe adapted from Cooks' Country 2009


Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip

As many of you know, I have a garden full of damn tomatoes.  Like totally full.  I planted 32 tomato plants and found many rogue ones sprouting up as well.  It's a jungle in there.  Since I got a late start planting, as many of us did due to heavy rains and cool weather, I didn't have any freshly ripened red tomatoes by mid-July as I normally do.  Seeing these huge tomato tentacles with a million unripe tomatoes on them, screaming na-na-na-na-boo-boo, pissed me off.  What did I do?  I fought back.

I marched my ass out into their territory and, with fists on hips, (silently) said a little, "Screw you.  I'm going to eat you now.  Even though you're not ready, I am."  I plucked a few of those big, hard, green orbs in a huff and turned on my heel and stormed back inside.  And with the acquired enemy material, I set off to make some Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip.

My husband had never eaten fried green tomatoes until that night.  The poor soul grew up in California so had never experienced this southern delight.  Truth be told, we northerners didn't partake either, but I had at least eaten them before.  Each time I had consumed these gems, I liked them but knew they could be better.

The tartness of the unripe tomato comes out warm and silky after frying.  The contrast in textures is unreal - the creamy tomatoes paired with the crunch of the coating is to die for.  Add a spicy chipotle buttermilk dip and you're set for an evening of pure southern deliciousness.

So for those of you who still have green tomatoes mocking you from your garden, or are salivating so greatly at the thought that you're planning on donning a ghillie suit and raiding your neighbor's garden, try this out.  You won't be disappointed.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip
Serves 2 for a meal ~or~ 4 for a side

1-1/2 lbs. green tomatoes (4-5 large)
2/3 c. cornmeal
1/3 c. flour
1-1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
2/3 c. buttermilk
1 egg
2 c. vegetable or peanut oil
3 large chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
1 t. buttermilk
1/2 c. sour cream
pinch Kosher salt

Slice tomatoes 1/4" thick.  Place flat on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Cover with another layer of paper towels and let sit 20 minutes.  Pat dry.

Meanwhile, zip 1/3 cup cornmeal in a food processor until ground finely.  Mix ground cornmeal, cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a shallow dish.  In another shallow dish, whisk 2/3 cup buttermilk and egg.

One at a time, dip a tomato slice in the buttermilk mixture, then in the cornmeal mixture, pressing to adhere.  Place on clean baking sheet as you continue with the rest.

Heat oil in large skillet to 350*.  Fry the tomato slices in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan.  They will fry about 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown.  Place on a rack set inside baking sheet.  Feel free to place in a warm 200* oven while you fry the rest.

Mix the chipotles, buttermilk, sour cream, and pinch of salt in a small bowl.  Thin with additional buttermilk if you'd like.

FGT Recipe adapted from Cook's Country 


Tropical Oatmeal Brulee with Ginger-Orange Cream

I have been craving oatmeal lately and wanted a "summery" way to eat it.  I usually gorge on the good stuff during fall and winter so I thought making a tropical fruit oatmeal would make it seem more appropriate for the season.  Well, it is delicious but it's also heavy and rich. 

As my friend and taste-tester H.G. pointed out, this would also be fabulous as a dessert topped with vanilla bean ice cream or whipped cream. 

In my version, I use dried mango, papaya, raisins, pineapple, and coconut.  And I use fresh mango for the surprise bottom layer.  However, you can sub in whatever fruits you'd like to.  Any sort of fresh berries would be great with dried apricots, cherries, or cranberries.  Go crazy, friends!

Tropical Oatmeal Brulee with Ginger-Orange Cream
Makes 4 servings
Time: 30-40 min.

Ginger-Orange Cream:
1/2 c. heavy cream
1" knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 4 pieces
1 cinnamon stick
1 T. orange zest
3 T. pure maple syrup
1/4 t. ground nutmeg

4 c. water
2 c. old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 c. dried fruit, chopped (I use pineapple, mango, papaya, raisins, and coconut)
1/2 t. salt
3 T. brown sugar, packed
1 c. fresh or frozen fruit, thawed (I use mango)
1/4 c. sugar
butter for ramekins

Bring the cream, ginger, cinnamon, and zest to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 10 minutes.  Strain infused cream and discard solids.  Stir in the maple syrup and nutmeg.

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Turn heat to medium, and add the oats, dried fruit, and salt, stirring for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar and 1/4 c. of the ginger-orange cream.  Cover and let stand 5 minutes. 

Grease four 10-oz. ramekins with butter and add the fresh mango to the bottom.

Pre-heat broiler and place ramekins on baking sheet lined with foil for easy clean up.  Fill ramekins with oatmeal.  Sprinkle tops with sugar.  Broil until sugar is caramelized.  Serve with ginger-orange cream (or ice cream or whipped cream).

If you have any fresh ginger left over, go ahead and make a simple syrup infused with ginger for a delicious Ginger Vodka Tonic.