Les’s Veal & Eggplant Parm

When Terrie asked me a couple of months ago what I wanted for my birthday meal this year, I initially asked her for some kind of lobster, a dish she’s made before that I devoured. But the more I thought about it, the more a different idea bubbled in my head.

Five years ago, on Aug. 27, 2017, my mother died at age 91. It was two days before my birthday, and we chose to have her funeral on Aug. 29, largely at my request because it could be a sort of celebration for relatives who had arrived when she took ill.

With my mom on my mind, I told Terrie I wanted to play chef on my birthday weekend as a tribute to one of the few meals Mom made that I actually loved.

Once or twice a year, Mom would make veal parmigiana in an electric skillet (you know the one, square cast aluminum with the little pinwheel vent thing on top of the lid), and from the moment you walked into the apartment after school, the aroma was so distinct you instantly knew what was happening—a respite from the usual overcooked meat, baked potato and canned vegetables. What we smelled was veal parm, which she served with spaghetti with marinara (Ragu) and Parmesan cheese (Kraft, the familiar green container). Still, for me and my sisters, it was sublime.

When I first began cooking, veal parm seemed like a giant challenge, and I stuck to ordering it in restaurants. Around the same time, as an adult, I discovered the joy of eggplant. Then, one night in an Italian restaurant, I chose a dish called “Veal Sorrentino,” which added a slice of prosciutto between a veal cutlet and eggplant slices, and it was cooked in a pan with white wine sauce and a touch of tomato. Henceforth and forevermore, I knew what I was gastronomically bound to do whenever I wanted veal parm. Combine veal and eggplant.

Now as much as I enjoy veal Sorrentino, I don’t make that at home. Rather, I prefer veal and eggplant as a red sauce parmigiana meal, and, being as we still had lots of fresh tomatoes from our first successful garden in years, I spent a few hours cooking up a marinara on Saturday to go with Sunday dinner. This sauce was similar to the Not Quite Pizza Sauce I shared here a few weeks ago, but without the red bell pepper, and with the onions sautéed and blended right into the sauce. I married this sauce with veal and eggplant, and it was excellent.

Layer upon layer of Italian comfort food.

It helps to have the meal and kitchen counter space planned for this dish, because you need room for all the breading and frying. The first step is slicing a good Italian eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds, salting them on paper towels and letting them sweat for 30 minutes or more. Arrange the plates or containers to be used for preparing the eggplant and veal. My first plate held seasoned flour for dredging the eggplant and cutlets; salt and pepper the latter on both sides. The eggplant, of course, after its salting, won’t need more seasoning.


I used a rectangular Pyrex dish to hold four eggs, beaten. A second Pyrex contained a mix of Italian-seasoned bread crumbs (we actually used seasoned panko crumbs, then used an attachment on our immersion blender to grind them finely) and if you’re bold like we are, add some cheese to it; I used our Parm-Romano blend.

After consulting with Terrie, I decided to use our electric skillet (another nod to Mom, though this stainless All-Clad skillet is nothing like Mom’s old cast aluminum), and got that filled with about 1/2-inch deep canola oil, set to 375° F; the temperature may vary, depending on the vessel you use for frying, but whatever you put into the oil should sizzle and bubble as soon as it makes contact. Keep a roll of paper towels nearby; we used a ton of them catching the cutlets and eggplant as they came out.


During the frying phase, I put the marinara on a back burner at low to warm it and preheated the oven to 350° F. We bought fresh, pre-sliced mozzarella (the kind you’d use for Caprese), so I didn’t need to worry about prepping the cheese.

Once the eggplant and cutlets were fried, it was time to assemble. In a 9-by-13 Pyrex, I ladled healthy spoonfuls of marinara on the bottom, then lay down the cutlets. On top of that went marinara, followed by eggplant, followed by more marinara, followed by mozzarella, with a healthy sprinkling of our Parm-Romano Blend as a final touch.


It baked (under foil for half the time) for about 45 minutes (ovens may vary by a few minutes) and what came out was pretty awesome. Homemade sauce on tender veal and fresh eggplant with a crunch of breading and those savory cheeses—oh yes, the cheeses are my favorite part!

This dish is the ultimate comfort to me.

For hours during and after this birthday meal, the kitchen smelled like my old apartment on 80th Street in Jackson Heights, N.Y., on those rare, but wonderful nights when Mom was making veal parm. The leftovers were pretty damn good, too.

Veal & Eggplant Parm

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: average
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When it came to dinner growing up, my sisters and I got a lot of the basics: meat, baked potato, canned vegetable. But oh for the once or twice a year when Mom decided to cook one of her specialty dishes—veal parmigiana. That’s the aroma I tried to re-create with my kicked-up version of it, with eggplant and garden-fresh, homemade marinara.


Ingredients

  • 1 medium Italian eggplant. cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt, for sweating the eggplant slices
  • 1 1/2 lbs. veal cutlets
  • 4 large eggs, beaten (for breading)
  • About 1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper (for dredging)
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (for breading)
  • 1/2 cup Parm-Romano blend or Parmesan (for breading)
  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying (enough to measure 1/2-inch deep in frying skillet)
  • About 4 cups favorite marinara sauce (see ingredient notes, below)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced

Use any marinara sauce you like for this recipe. I made one very similar to this one, omitting the roasted red pepper and blending the onions right into the sauce. https://comfortdujour.com/2022/08/26/not-quite-pizza-sauce/

Directions

  1. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on paper towels sprinkled with kosher salt. Sprinkle salt over the top of the slices as well, and let them stand for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture from the eggplant. Wipe them dry with clean paper towels and set aside for breading.
  2. Heat oil in an electric skillet or over medium heat to approximately 375° F.
  3. While the oil comes up to temperature, set up a breading station with three dishes: one containing seasoned flour, a second containing beaten eggs and a third with a mixture of the Italian breadcrumbs and Parm-Romano blend.
  4. Dredge the veal cutlets lightly in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip in the beaten egg, allowing excess to drip off. Coat both sides in the breadcrumb-cheese mixture. Arrange breaded cutlets on a parchment-lined plate.
  5. Repeat the same dredging steps with the sweated eggplant slices.
  6. Fry the cutlets and eggplant until golden on both sides, and set aside on paper towel-lined baking sheet until all are finished. The paper towels will absorb excess oil.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F, with rack in center position.
  8. Spoon about one cup of the marinara sauce into a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish, and spread it evenly across the bottom. Arrange a single layer of fried veal cutlets over the sauce, and then ladle a generous spoonful of sauce over each cutlet. Arrange the fried eggplant slices over the sauced cutlets, and repeat with another layer of sauce. You should still be able to see the veal and eggplant; don’t try to bury it in sauce. If you have extra marinara, use it to dress some spaghetti or linguine to serve on the side.
  9. Arrange the fresh mozzarella slices evenly over the top of the sauced eggplant. Cover loosely with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 more minutes, until cheese is golden, bubbly and oozing.



All-day Tomato Bisque

It was almost unbelievable to me, when I walked out toward our shriveled-up raised bed garden to begin breaking down the zucchini trellis and found—get this—new tomatoes!!!

It’s true that Southern summers tend to run a bit longer than some other regions, but I didn’t expect a tomato comeback, especially in the last days of September and given that our nighttime temperatures are sinking into the 40s. Mother Nature is something else though, isn’t she?


In addition to the lemon boy heirlooms (ripe and otherwise), we also had a bumper crop of a handful of Romas and though they didn’t look as pretty as the ones we enjoyed earlier in the summer, they were perfectly ripe and had a great flavor. I knew they’d be an excellent ingredient for homemade tomato bisque, which happens to be my husband’s favorite.

To be clear, you don’t literally need all day to make this bisque; I just needed something to do over the weekend, when our area was awash with the remnants of Hurricane Ian. Rather than making soup to freeze for a rainy day, I spent an entire rainy day making the soup we’d enjoy later. If you have half an hour, and don’t need to cook down fresh tomatoes, you could whip up this soup and use the simmering time to make a grilled cheese sandwich (our favorite side for this soup).

This is what a bowlful of comfort looks like.

My plan for the bisque came together in seconds: I’d blanch and shock the tomatoes for easy peeling, then chop them up and add them to my soup pot along with sauteed onions and garlic, plus a large can of Italian tomatoes (San Marzano, of course) and give the mixture a nice, long simmer to marry the flavors.


For a flavor boost, I swished out the tomato can with a few tablespoons of dry vermouth (the same spirit I put in my favorite martini) and dropped into the pot a dried bay leaf, which is always a good bet for a dish that is going in for a long simmer. Two hours later, I removed the bay leaf and brought out the immersion blender to puree the soup into the creamy texture that my hubby loves.


The resulting soup was really good, and I could taste the freshness that my surprise Romas contributed to the pot. It needed a little more depth, though, and definitely a little more color. Maybe you have noticed, as I have, that a homemade tomato soup or sauce tends to come out more orange than red, and it turns out there is a good (and scientific) reason for that, as I learned a few days ago in this article in my news feed. A little bit of tomato paste deepened the color and intensified the tomato flavor, a slight spoonful of sugar balanced the acidity, and a generous splash of cream made it bisque-y.


This was a great use of my encore tomatoes, though this easy homemade soup would be delicious with only canned tomatoes, which are usually packed at their peak of freshness. You might replace my fresh tomatoes with an extra, 15-ounce can, or simply reduce the other ingredients a bit for a smaller batch.

As for us, we are glad for a little extra, as a warm homemade soup will be most welcome at the end of today’s Yom Kippur service (that’s the Jewish holiday that has a 24-hour complete food-and-water fast), and we will undoubtedly devour our leftovers!

All-day Tomato Bisque

  • Servings: 8 cups or 6 bowls
  • Difficulty: Average
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Of course, you don't really need to spend all day making this soup, but the long simmer time makes a world of difference in flavor, especially when using fresh garden tomatoes.


Ingredients

  • 8 fresh, small plum tomatoes (or substitute a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, depending on taste
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes (San Marzano or another type that is packed in puree)
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine, such as pinot grigio)
  • 1 whole dried bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (use less or substitute half and half for reduced fat)

Directions

  1. Put on a pot of water to boil for blanching the fresh tomatoes. Wash and score the bottom (blossom end) with an X for easy peeling. Carefully immerse the tomatoes into the boiling water for a minute or two, just long enough for the skins to split. Transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water, then peel and chop them.
  2. While water is boiling, heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle with salt. Cook until softened and slightly transparent. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
  3. Add the fresh, chopped tomatoes to the pot and stir to heat through. Add the large can of tomatoes (juice and all, but remove basil sprigs) and break them up with your cooking utensil. If you wish, you can squeeze the whole tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pot, and I would recommend this if you’re in a hurry. For long, slow simmering, the heat will break them up just fine.
  4. Add vermouth (or wine) to the tomato can and swirl it to rinse out the leavings. Add this to the soup and bring the pot to a slight boil, then cover and reduce heat. Add the bay leaf and simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours. Check the soup occasionally and stir to keep it from burning on the bottom.
  5. When tomatoes break easily under pressure from your utensil, use an immersion blender to puree it as smooth as you like. Be sure to remove the bay leaf first! If you don’t have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool and puree it in batches in a regular blender. Keep the vent cap open for safety.
  6. Stir in tomato paste and sugar (if using), and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cream just before serving.



Not Quite Pizza Sauce

Now that we’re fortunate enough to have a garden again, thanks to Terrie’s persistence, we have a bounty of summer tomatoes to deal with.

And recently I had the chance to create a pizza sauce. I used to always make my own sauce when I made pizza (pre-Terrie, pre-sourdough) with store-bought dough. But we’ve been using sauce we buy at a market because there’s quite a variety now and they’re way more flavorful than even just a few years ago. But homemade sauce, that’s the good stuff. And we have fresh Roma tomatoes, so why not?

Every day, we’ve come in from the garden with another haul.

As an aside, I should note that I’ve been gardening and canning off-and-on for 25 years, but several years ago conceded gardening to Terrie for two reasons—the persistence of the deer wore me out, and in 2013, I had an allergic reaction to yellow jacket stings and was advised by my doctor that activity in the grass where yellow jackets hung out could be dicey for me. And our raised-bed garden is right in the middle of a lot of grass. Every time I go near it, I always see bees buzzing and I’m on high-alert mode.

I know you mean well, Buddy.

But back to the story. Sauces are a big thing for me. Before Terrie, I would concoct all kinds of sauces for things I grilled. My go-to sauce for grilled chicken, for example, was a combination of five ingredients that I can still name from memory even though I’ve not made it that way for years: a base barbecue sauce such as Sweet Baby Ray’s, Italian dressing, Kraft Catalina dressing, duck sauce (most often Saucy Susan brand), and some splashes of either soy, teriyaki or hot sauce depending on my mood.

Under Terrie’s watch, however, we have eliminated anything containing ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup (bye-bye Sweet Baby Ray’s) and soybean oil (see ya, Kraft Catalina). The result is that we’ve eliminated a lot of my go-to’s, and to be honest, I don’t mind that. When I create a sauce now, it’s with more natural ingredients and usually means I’m investing my own labor, starting with sautéing vegetables and ending by blending. That’s how it was to be when I told Terrie I wanted to make a pizza sauce.

To increase my knowledge, I searched the inter-webs for pizza sauce recipes. I know how to create “Sunday gravy,” but a homemade pizza sauce from scratch is a different animal. Do you know that almost every recipe out there, including in the cookbooks we have at home, all start with one can (28 ounces) of plum tomatoes? So I changed the search to include “pizza sauce using homegrown tomatoes.”

We’ve had so many fresh, meaty Romas. I’ll use canned tomatoes in January.

The problem is I was mostly interested in a recipe by one of Terrie’s favorite chefs, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. And he also used canned tomatoes. I remembered another bit of Terrie’s constant advice—don’t be married to a recipe; use your instinct. As a result, I used the Lopez-Alt recipe as a baseline but was able to embellish it with my own touches, like fresh tomatoes.

This included blanching (and then ice bathing) the tomatoes, sautéing garlic and some seasonings in a combination of olive oil and butter, roasting and dicing a sweet red bell pepper, and then adding an onion cut in half for the cooking (but removing at the end), then whizzing it up smooth with an immersion blender. The end result was amazing!

Use an immersion blender to puree it nice and smooth.

There was just one teeny problem. It’s not quite pizza sauce.

Rather, the sweetness of the red bell pepper and spice of the red pepper flakes meant it read uniquely, a cross between roasted red pepper sauce (like the one linked here that I made last summer) and something akin to vodka sauce (but without vodka, go figure). It was more complex than I wanted for pizza, which to me is a more tomato-forward and simple taste. We wound up using this sauce instead for turkey meatball subs. The subs had a tangy, bright pop thanks to our garden ingredients, and Terrie promises to share her recipe for the meatballs soon. The rest of the sauce (and meatballs) found its way into a stuffed zucchini boat, thanks to inspiration from a recent post on Dorothy’s New Vintage Kitchen.


As for my desire to make pizza sauce, well, we still have plenty of Roma tomatoes coming in. Stay tuned.


Not Quite Pizza Sauce

  • Servings: 6 to 8, depending on use
  • Difficulty: average
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My intention for pizza sauce turned into something more interesting and complex, perfect for topping pasta, Italian meatball subs or even lasagna. I used fresh Roma tomatoes from our garden, rather than canned tomatoes. If you use canned tomatoes, choose a 28 oz. can of Italian plum tomatoes and reduce the simmering time by half.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes, cleaned
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roasted (instructions below)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves (or 2 good-sized sprigs fresh basil)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 generous pinches red pepper flakes
  • 1 large sweet or yellow onion, peeled and cut in half from stem to root end
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese (or the Parm-Romano blend that we are so fond of at our house)
  • 1 or 2 tsp. sugar, to taste

Directions

  1. Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil for blanching the tomatoes. Score the blossom end of the tomatoes to make it easy to peel them. Plunge the tomatoes into the water and let sit until you can see clear signs of the skin splitting. Have a good-size pot or bowl filled with ice water to chill the hot tomatoes and keep them from cooking once they are blanched. Then peel the tomatoes, give them a rough chop and set aside.
  2. Quarter the bell pepper and press the pieces to flatten them, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Set the oven to broil setting and roast peppers for about 10 minutes, until charred but not burned. Transfer the pepper pieces to a bowl and cover to steam, which will allow easier peeling. Dice the pepper.
  3. In a large non-reactive pot on a low flame, heat the oil and butter until the butter melts. Add the garlic, oregano and pepper flakes. If using dry basil, add it now, too. Continue cooking on low for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, and salt generously. Add the onion halves, Parmesan cheese, fresh sprigs of basil (if using that) and roasted red pepper. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and cook on low until volume is reduced by up to half (about two hours).
  4. Remove the onions (and basil sprigs if you used fresh), and then process the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. Continue to simmer on low, and taste and season it from that point to suit your palate.
  5. Serve immediately over pasta or whatever dish needs a bright Italian sauce. This also can be refrigerated (the flavors really shine after a couple days in the fridge), but probably should be used within a couple of weeks. Or you can freeze it.


Ratatouille Shakshuka

How is it possible that the simplest combination of ripe-at-the-same-time ingredients turns out to be such a mouthwatering flavor explosion, no matter how you put it together?

Any way you plate it, this is a great combo!

I never get tired of rearranging ratatouille—eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions and tomatoes—and this time, I married the classic Provencal stew with a classic Jewish breakfast dish, shakshuka.

The first time I heard of shakshuka was during a pre-wedding meeting with Rabbi Mark, who formerly led Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, where my then-fiancé, Les, is a member. When our ceremony-planning conversation took a detour toward food and cooking (as literally every conversation with me eventually does), Mark asked if I’d ever made shakshuka, the Middle Eastern dish that is a breakfast staple in many Jewish households. I was stumped because I had never even heard of this dish, let alone made it. But that changed quickly, and it has become an occasional favorite at our house.

Shakshuka is a humble and hearty, tomato-based skillet meal, and a great way to use up whatever other vegetables you have on hand, with eggs simmered right into the sauce. It is very similar to a dish the Italians call “eggs in purgatory.” I especially appreciate how simple it is to pull together when I have had a busy week with little time to plan a menu. Up until now, I have made it only with the spicy flavors that are traditional to the northern African region, where shakshuka originated—cumin, paprika, hot pepper, garlic and oregano.

But this time, I took the concept of shakshuka northward across the Mediterranean Sea, into the south of France, using Herbs de Provence alongside all the beloved vegetables of ratatouille. The result, as you can see, was awesome!

Served with a light sprinkle of Parm-Romano blend cheese at the table.

There was so much nourishing comfort in the stewed vegetables, which simmered long enough to become soft and melded, and the delicate herbs were just right. I’m already craving it again!

As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients chopped and ready before you begin. For any stew, I like to cut up the vegetables into roughly similar size. This ensures more even cooking, and also makes it possible to get a little bit of everything in each delicious bite. I used a large zucchini, a large “millionaire” eggplant (the slender, Japanese variety), half of a large onion, half of a huge red bell pepper and three fresh, red tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the fresh ingredients, you’ll need a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce, a splash of dry white wine (I used dry French vermouth), a pinch or two of Herbs de Provence, and up to six eggs.

We’re going to need a bigger pot!

That’s a lot of veggies! I made this version of shakshuka in a larger pot than usual because I knew that tossing all of these fresh vegetables in my go-to cast iron would be a serious challenge, and I wanted to avoid making a big mess. The ratatouille also needs to be stirred as it cooks, so be sure your cooking vessel can handle the volume of ingredients as well as the mixing requirement. Choose a pot that has a snug-fitting lid, as this will be important for simmering.

The width of the pot is what matters, so you’ll have plenty of room to place the eggs.

Begin by heating the pan over medium flame. Add oil and start sautéing the vegetables. Eggplant soaks up oil fast so I held that back until the peppers, onions and zucchini had a chance to soften. Remember to season each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper, not only for flavor, but also because salt helps to draw excess moisture from the vegetables as they cook. During this stage, also add a few pinches of Herbs de Provence, a French blend that includes any combination of thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram and lavender. These are delicate herbs, but they do pack a fragrant punch, so start with a small amount and inch up to taste.


When the vegetables are visibly softened, add the fresh garden tomatoes and give it a stir. Add the tomato sauce and dry white wine. If I have used a canned ingredient, I usually swish the wine around in the empty can to rinse out the last bit of flavor. Another quick pinch of salt and pepper, and then reduce the heat, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The vegetables will continue to soften, melding the flavors together, but the sauce should not reduce too much. While it simmers, take the eggs out of the fridge; they will set in the shakshuka better if they are closer to room temperature.


When the ratatouille stew has become very soft, crack each egg into a ramekin dish for easy transfer to the shakshuka. This may seem unnecessary, but trust me when I tell you that it is no fun at all trying to fish out itty-bitty pieces of egg shell that went astray into a big saucy mixture. If anything goes sideways with your cracked eggs, you want it to happen in the ramekin, not in your beautiful recipe!

Give the stew a gentle stir, and then use the back of a large serving spoon to create a slight depression for each egg to rest. This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you only need a spot about 3 inches across for each egg. I had room for six eggs in my large pot, but I only used four because I knew the extras would not warm up well without overcooking. Better to add fresh eggs when you heat up the leftovers.

Cook as many eggs as you plan to serve initially. Make more eggs when you reheat the leftovers.

Slip an egg into each depression and give the shakshuka one final pinch of salt and pepper before covering the pot. Keep the flame set on low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks still have a bit of jiggle to them.

I wish you could smell this! 😋

Scatter fresh, chopped herbs over the dish (I used fresh basil from the garden, but flat-leaf parsley would be nice, too), and serve immediately with a slice of crusty French bread. The best way to serve this dish is to use a wide, somewhat flat spoon to scoop underneath an egg, grabbing as much of the surrounding stew as possible at the same time. Sprinkle on a teaspoon or so of grated Parmesan for a big burst of umami flavor.


Ratatouille Shakshuka

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
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Choose a wide, covered pot for making your ratatouille, and prepare your workstation by chopping all vegetables before you begin.

Ingredients

  • 1 large zucchini, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 large (or 1 medium) red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large Japanese eggplant, chopped (or about 2 cups of alternate variety)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Up to 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning, if preferred)
  • 3 small, fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. can low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
  • 6 large eggs* (see recipe note below)
  • Fresh basil or Italian parsley, for garnish

Note: If you wish, cook only the number of eggs you intend to serve initially. When you use the leftovers, fresh eggs will yield a better result at that time.

Directions

  1. Heat large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute vegetables, beginning with only zucchini, onion and bell pepper. When the first vegetables begin to soften, add the eggplant and saute until all veggies are tender. Season with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence.
  2. Add fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce and dry wine, stirring to combine evenly. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove eggs from fridge during the simmer time.
  3. When vegetables are fulley softened, crack each egg into a ramekin cup for easy transfer into the pot. Use the back or a large serving spoon to make a depression for each egg. Slip the eggs into the depressions, season with salt and pepper and cover the pan.
  4. Cook over low heat about 8 minutes, until egg whites are set and yolks are still slightly jiggly. Serve immediately.


Summer Tomato Water Martini

The truth is, I have been fiddling with this martini since before my own garden-fresh tomatoes came to fruition. My first effort was accidental, right after my husband and I had returned from a vacation at the end of last summer. It was good, but kind of a one-off thing and I didn’t give it much thought. Months later, it popped up in my news feed—on Epicurious or Food 52 or, honestly, I don’t know where—and it sucked because it was February or March and I had to improvise because there were no garden fresh tomatoes available. So let me get this out of the way early: do not try this with grocery store tomatoes. Trust me on this.

Fast forward to mid-August, when fresh, homegrown tomatoes are available everywhere, from your own garden or the farmers’ market, and that makes a world of difference. The flavorful liquid that seeps out of those freshly sliced, vine-ripened tomatoes is absolutely begging to be part of a cocktail. If you love summer tomatoes and you are up for a fun martini experiment, this is for you!

I’ve made this cocktail with red heirloom variety tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, vodka and gin.
Try them all to find your favorite!

When the local growers started selling a few heirloom tomatoes at their market stands, I tried this idea again, and it was so much better. The red heirlooms are so juicy and sweet, and the success of this martini twist gave me even more reason to be excited about my own harvest of heirloom and yellow tomatoes. And here we are. 🙂

Regardless of the type of tomato you use, the unique sweetness and acidity will add an exceptional brightness to a martini. I have tried this with both gin and vodka, and a variety of spirit-to-vermouth ratios. It’s good many different ways, so my recommendation is to try it yourself to find the balance that is perfect for you. My personal favorite (at least this week) is made with top-shelf vodka, in a 4-to-1 ratio with dry vermouth, no bitters and at least 1 part seasoned “tomato water.” A full description with amounts is at the end of the post, in a click-to-print recipe card.

But for now, watch to learn:

Wash and slice a ripe, room-temperature tomato (or several, depending on what you need them for) and arrange the slices on a plate. Sprinkle with a fair amount of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper (don’t skip this!) and walk away for about 15 minutes. What you’ll find when you return is a plate full of beautifully seasoned tomato water underneath the slices. Use the tomatoes for whatever you wish—a tomato sandwich, perhaps—but don’t toss that tomato water! Carefully pour it off into a shot glass or small bowl, grab your martini fixins and chill down your glass with ice and water.


Measure your vodka (or gin) and vermouth into a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Add the tomato water to taste. I have discovered that you need at least a tablespoon to really savor the flavor it adds to the drink. If you see excess moisture on top of your tomato slices, drain that off into the mixing container as well. Add a generous cup of ice cubes and shake or stir to chill the cocktail.


Empty the ice water from your chilled glass, and immediately strain the martini into the glass. Garnish with a pickled cocktail onion or olive, and a small piece of tomato if you wish.

Cheers to summer!

Summer Tomato Water Martini

  • Servings: 1 cocktail
  • Difficulty: average
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This super-simple twist adds a bright, fresh, summery flair to an otherwise classic martini cocktail, and I have found myself slicing up tomatoes just so I can make another one.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe, garden fresh tomato (any variety, but heirloom is best)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz. good vodka (I have used Grey Goose and Ketel One with terrific results)
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth (my fave here is Dolin)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz. seasoned tomato water
  • 1 cup ice (for mixing)
  • Pickled cocktail onion, olive and/or piece of tomato (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Slice tomato and arrange the slices on a plate or shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and let rest about 15 minutes. Chill martini glass with ice and cold water.
  2. Add vodka and vermouth to a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Transfer the tomato slices to another plate, or use them in a salad or sandwich. Drain the remaining tomato water into a small bowl or shot glass. Measure at least one tablespoon of it into the cocktail glass. Add ice and shake or stir until chilled.
  3. Empty ice water from the chilled glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish as desired.
  4. Repeat at least twice per week until all the tomatoes are gone.


Zucchini & Yellow Tomato Pizza

We are turning a corner on our side-yard vegetable garden, and I am finding myself a bit flummoxed because for the first time in years, we actually have a tomato harvest! When I made the decision to plant this year—and it was definitely my decision, given that I’m the one who is home more during the day to tend to it—I swore that I would pull out all the stops in repelling the deer that reside in the woods behind us. Nothing I had tried in the past worked for more than a week, and dammit, I wanted tomatoes this year! If you have a similar problem, stop playing around with sprays and wind chimes (they don’t work anyway) and stop scattering human hair and soap shavings and whatever else you’ve tried, and just go get one of these—order it now, I’ll wait.

Here’s me, pretending to be a deer approaching from the woods…

The yard enforcer motion-activated sprinkler is by far the smartest thing I’ve bought this year, and friends, we are about to reap the benefit of so many tomatoes!

I planted an heirloom variety this year, called “Brandywine,” and they are large, sweet and juicy—perfect for tomato sandwiches and caprese salads. I am fond of the color of the Brandywine tomato—it’s sort of a blushy pink-red color, rather than the orange-red that is typical. They have a pleated sort of appearance, and a few wrinkly lines on the skin, but I don’t mind it and it certainly doesn’t affect the quality.

There’s nothing better than a simple tomato sandwich for a summer lunch!

Right next to those is a grouping of four Roma tomato plants, and I have been astonished to see how many fruits developed on these plants. They are extra-long fruits, compared to the wimpy Romas at the grocery store, and we are planning on canning a few things with those when they are ready—mainly homemade pizza sauce, I suspect. The Roma tomato is a determinate plant, which means they will likely overwhelm me by ripening all at once. I hope we’re ready!

Our sunbathing beauties!

Finally, the luscious, yellow “Lemon Boy” tomatoes, which were the first ones to ripen, and I love the slight tang they bring to my plate, despite being lower acidity than many other tomatoes. Lemon Boy is a hybrid variety, and it is indeterminate, so I’ll have plenty of fruit to harvest for a few weeks, which I love.

These Lemon Boys are the tomatoes I’m excited to share today, and of all the dishes I’ve made with them recently, this pizza stands out as a favorite because it really speaks to the transition of my garden. To date, I had struggled to keep up with the zucchini yield, and you can bet I won’t ever plant four of those again! It was about three weeks ago that I noticed vine borers had attacked my vibrant squash plant, and you know what that means—game over. I hate those things!

But we had a few squash that were near-ready, so I let them mature before I yanked the infested plants out of the garden. And just about the time I did so, I spotted this perfectly ripe, ready-to-enjoy Lemon Boy.

Hello, handsome! 🙂

I wanted to slice it on the spot and savor it with nothing but a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, but I restrained myself and made it a co-star with one of the last zucchini of the season on this summer pie. This dish felt like a passing of the baton in my garden. As my summer squash takes its final bow, the tomatoes are right on cue for center stage, and they were terrific companions on this fresh pizza. I just love this part of summer!


This is a thin crust pizza and it begins with my favorite sourdough base. The sourdough starter and the long, slow ferment in the refrigerator gives my dough a deep, complex flavor and the texture is always just right, thanks to our beloved pizza steel. If you want to level up your pizza game with only one move, this is the thing, right here. It takes the hottest temperature your home oven can put out and intensifies it to make the most beautifully blistered crust that is crisp on the bottom and chewy on top. It’s the closest you can get to brick oven at home.


The zucchini was cut up into bite-sized bits and lightly sautéed in a bit of olive oil, and I salted the yellow tomato slices a few minutes ahead, giving the juice and flavor plenty of time to bloom. I didn’t bother taking pictures of these steps because it’s simple enough to figure out. The rest of the pizza is also straightforward, including a store-bought sauce that we love (at least until our Romas are ready), plenty of freshly shredded hard mozzarella, some thinly sliced spring onions that I picked up at the farmers’ market and a scattering of basil leaves, which have also been good to us in this year’s home garden.

Here’s how it goes, beginning with shaping the ball of sourdough. As always, thanks to my dear husband for his photography skills for this part of the show.


Zucchini & Yellow Tomato Pizza

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

This dish felt like a passing of the baton in my garden. As my summer squash takes its final bow, the tomatoes are right on cue for center stage, and they were terrific companions on this fresh pizza. I just love this part of summer!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into small wedges
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling onto pizza
  • 1 large yellow tomato, sliced and salted to release excess moisture
  • 1 small spring onion (or sweet onion), thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup favorite pizza sauce
  • 1 cup shredded, low-moisture mozzarella
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan or parm-romano blend
  • Small handful of fresh, small basil leaves

Note that my method uses a heavy pizza steel, preheated at 550° F for one hour. If you don’t have a steel, use a pizza stone at the highest temperature recommended for your product. At lower temperature, baking time will require adjustment.

Directions

  1. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute zucchini until tender. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Use a paper towel to blot excess moisture from the tomato slices.
  2. Shape pizza dough into 14″ round, and place on a flour and cornmeal-dusted peel for easy transfer to the oven. Drizzle on a small amount of olive oil and season the dough with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread on the sauce, keeping it at least 1/2″ inch from the edges of the dough. Scatter shredded mozzarella over the sauce
  4. Arrange the vegetables on the pizza, beginning with the fresh tomato slices. Follow with the zucchini bits, sliced onions and garlic.
  5. Finally, tuck in the basil leaves for a fragrant bite of summer. Sprinkle the parm-romano blend over the pizza and finish it with a quick zig-zag of olive oil.
  6. Slide onto the preheated pizza steel and bake for 6 minutes, until crust is golden and blistered and cheese is bubbly all over.
  7. Transfer to serving pan, slice and enjoy!


As a side note, it looks like I will be purchasing a second yard enforcer for next year, to keep the squirrels out of the low parts of the garden!

At least the squirrels have smaller mouths! 🙂


Green Gazpacho Shooters

It isn’t easy being green—unless you happen to be this gazpacho! I know, you’ve probably only seen gazpacho in shades of red, and perhaps with a few green bits of pepper or scallion on top. But when I visited our farmers’ market last weekend, I discovered that most of the tomato vendors had sold out. That is, until I spotted these beauties at a booth near the back.

In the end, I was glad that all the red ones were sold out!

The grower assured me that these little gems were indeed ripe, and as sweet as any other baby tomatoes. I don’t remember the variety of the tomato (artisan-something-or-other), but I figured it would be, at the very least, a fun twist on the chilled summer soup I planned to serve at our 3rd of July shindig. I picked up some fresh spring onions and a few yellow tomatoes, too, figuring they would help supplement my gazpacho with garden-fresh goods. The soup wouldn’t be red, but it would be interesting, and I was committed to using farmers’ market ingredients as much as possible.

That raises an important point about shopping local and eating with the seasons—it puts you at the mercy of the harvest, and you either go with the flow or go hungry!

I consider every trip to the farmers’ market to be a treasure hunt!

Fortunately, nobody went hungry at our house that evening, and this easy appetizer was the first thing we shared to get the party started. My instinct was to serve the gazpacho as “shooters,” a quick and simple starter that could be prepped ahead and served, sans silverware, as guests arrived. And I could have served them that way, if I had left off the delicate cubes of yellow tomato, cucumber and avocado, but those made the cups so much prettier, even if we did need to hand out spoons! An additional “garnish” of roasted paprika-dusted shrimp made the shooters substantial enough to hold everyone over for the feast that would come off the grill later.

This was a fun way to welcome guests with a fresh taste of summer!

This recipe was very easy to make (gazpacho always is), and I prepped everything but the shrimp a day ahead, which worked well because gazpacho flavors really develop overnight. Step one was to strip the skins off the tiny tomatoes—you don’t want to put those in the processor, unless you like little bits of peel sticking to your teeth. For this task, I did a quick blanch-and-shock treatment. Bring water to a boil in a pot, and prepare a separate bowl filled with ice water. Cut an “x” on the bottom of each tomato to give the peel an easy place to break. Gently lower the tomatoes into the boiling water, a few at a time, and only for about a minute, and then immediately scoop and transfer them into the ice water. This immediately stops the cooking process, shocking the tomatoes so that the peels can be easily stripped away.


I repeated the process with the larger, yellow tomatoes, which I took time to de-seed first (I kept the seeds for another purpose). I held back the flesh of about half a yellow tomato to use later for garnish, and the rest went into the large bowl of my food processor with the little green tomatoes. A few of them had tougher stems, which I cut off, but most of them were tender enough to toss into the mix.

I haven’t shared much about my processor yet, as I’m still learning all the bells and whistles, but I promise I’ll give it a proper introduction soon. For now, I’ll say that it is quite large (14-cup capacity) and it has a cool “Blendermix” ring that is designed to keep the bowl contents in check when you puree ingredients. I love this because it eliminates the need to stop and scrape down the bowl during mixing. Less work for me is never a bad thing!


When I was satisfied with the smoothness of the tomatoes, I tossed in most of a peeled and seeded, cut-up cucumber (I reserved part of it for a topping), a chopped spring onion and about half of a chopped jalapeno. If you like heat, you can leave the seeds in the jalapeno for a bigger bite. I stripped them out to accommodate guests who may not enjoy heat as much. It’s always easier to add spice than to take it away! Depending on how much texture you want in your gazpacho, you could either pulse in these extra goodies or puree the dickens out of them. I went with plan B and whizzed it up nice and smooth, then transferred the soup to a pitcher bowl and stirred in a splash of red wine vinegar and a quick swirl of good, extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course).


Gazpacho is best when it has had some time to “relax” in the refrigerator, so at that point, I covered the pitcher bowl and chilled it overnight. Remember the yellow tomato I set aside earlier, and the last bit of cucumber that didn’t get pureed? My intention was to use them as a garnish/topper on the gazpacho at serving time, so I sprinkled them with salt and combined them in a small bowl that also went into the refrigerator. A little bit of texture on top of the gazpacho would add visual interest and something to tantalize the taste buds on those first few bites.

Even the yellow tomato was so juicy! I reserved the seeds and excess juice for another purpose.

To serve the gazpacho, divvy it up into cute little cups or glasses. We did this an hour or so ahead of our friends’ arrival to save time and last-minute fussing, then tucked them back into the fridge. Top each cup with a few cubes of the reserved tomato-cucumber mixture, and a few cubes of fresh avocado. If you wish to garnish with the roasted shrimp, check out my previous post for Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail—the process was the same, but for this gazpacho recipe, I tossed the shrimp with a little bit of salt, garlic powder and sweet Spanish paprika.


This green gazpacho was a perfect starter for the summer meal to come from the grill. It was light, flavorful and very refreshing, and though it was a simple course—from its short list of ingredients to its ease of preparation—everyone loved it so much, they were still talking about it as we hugged our goodbyes.

It doesn’t get much sweeter than that!

Green Gazpacho Shooters

  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

This easy green gazpacho can be made ahead in half an hour and is terrific as a starter course for a summer meal off the grill! This recipe requires a food processor, or it can be made in a blender, though you may need to process the tomatoes in batches.

Ingredients

  • 2 dry pints of ripe baby tomatoes (green or otherwise)
  • 3 smallish yellow tomatoes (one will be reserved to chop for topping gazpacho)
  • 1 spring onion or small sweet onion, rough chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and quartered with seeds removed (reserve a chunk of this for topping)
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno, rough chopped (use the seeds if you like it hot)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. good quality, extra virgin olive oil (preferably a Spanish, fruity variety)
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, cubed (this will be a garnish at serving time; do not add it to the blended gazpacho)
  • Roasted paprika-dusted shrimp, optional for garnish (cooking instructions included in note below)

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and fill a separate, large bowl with ice water.
  2. Wash all tomatoes and use a paring knife to cut a small “x” on the bottom of each.
  3. Carefully lower the tomatoes (a few at a time) into boiling water, and turn them a few times until the peels begin to loosen. This will only take about one minute, unless the tomatoes are less ripe. Scoop them out and immediately transfer them to the ice water bowl, taking care to fully submerge them. Repeat until all tomatoes have been blanched and shocked.
  4. Drain the tomatoes of excess water and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the large blade. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to break up the large pieces, and then process continuously until the tomatoes are pureed to a smooth consistency.
  5. Add the cut-up onion, cucumber, and jalapeno to the processor. Pulse, then puree continuously to desired consistency.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer gazpacho to a pitcher bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  7. Dice the reserved yellow tomato and cucumber into bite-sized bits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine these in a bowl and refrigerate to use as a garnish on the soup.
  8. To serve, divide the gazpacho into cups and top with reserved tomato and cuke bits, plus roasted and chilled paprika shrimp (below).

These paprika-spiced shrimp are very simple to make, and you may prep these up to a day ahead. Be sure to give them enough time to chill completely in the fridge before serving time.

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 shrimp (enough for two shrimp per gazpacho serving)
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Spanish sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • several twists freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Peel and de-vein shrimp, keeping tails intact for presentation. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add shrimp to a zip-top freezer bag. Drizzle in olive oil and add seasonings. Seal and shake to evenly coat the shrimp with seasonings.
  4. Arrange shrimp on baking sheet. Roast for about 6 minutes, or until shrimp are just barely opaque. Remove from oven and arrange in one layer on a plate. Place the plate directly into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to stop the cooking process. Transfer to a covered container and keep chilled until ready to serve.



“It Takes Two” Spaghetti & Meatballs with Sausage

Terrie asked me to write about our adventures in cooking in the new kitchen, what it’s like to share space with her now that our renovation makes that less difficult, and specifically this fabulous Italian meal that we made together on a recent Sunday.


But as a starting point, I want to share a little about how this came to be our house. I actually moved into this house on Sept. 30, 2006. It was amid divorce—and I’d found the house, a three-bed, two-bath ranch with a bonus “loft” room—while searching with my daughter as we looked for a place zoned for the high school she wanted to attend two years hence. This was my fifth house as an adult. I’d lived in each of the others for about five years. When I moved into this one, I was thinking it would be the shortest of all, two or three years before I figured out what I wanted to do long term and would be on the move again.

Yet here I stayed, largely because I liked Winston-Salem and when my newspaper job went away in early 2011, I didn’t feel like chasing journalism anymore. I guess I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to, and I didn’t need the disruption of uprooting to find a job in a profession that was constantly shedding jobs, especially of veteran editors like myself who were paid more. So I left journalism and wound up taking communications/marketing jobs, and through two of those, as well as graduate school for my new chosen profession (clinical mental health counseling), I stayed.

Through the growing relationship with Terrie, who moved in Thanksgiving 2016, I stayed.

We began to look for an “our house,” but everything we looked at was either too expensive or didn’t have the yard or neighborhood that would allow our pets the freedom to be outside. Once we decided this is the home where we would make our stand, the decision to fix the major things was easy. First, last spring, was a new roof. Next up was the kitchen, and, having built a house and having remodeled another house (including, principally, the kitchen), I felt confident that we would get what we both desired—more confident, perhaps, than Terrie was at first.

So now it’s done. And it is, indeed, beautiful, as you have seen in some of Terrie’s posts to date. If you missed it, you’ll want to circle back and check out the big reveal of our new kitchen. Although we have frequently been in the kitchen together (that was the point, after all, behind much of the work), this meal was the first collaborative dish we’ve made in the new kitchen. And I had the “lead” role for this meal, doing something I love to do—cook Italian food. I suggested this meal to Terrie because I knew we had a good amount of leftover Italian sausage in the refrigerator from the Sausage and Cherry Pepper Pizza we’d recently made (it has been in hot rotation since our trip to New Haven).

One of the things I’ve learned to do during my seven years total with Terrie is pick up techniques that make a meal better. I love how she can elevate a meal, and though I am sometimes timid to try some of the more advanced techniques, I don’t mind an occasional foray into the unknown (for me). So the main thing I did differently this time was to use Terrie’s immersion blender (I guess by now I should call that “our” immersion blender) to smooth the sauce. But you can get all the details below in the recipe portion. My big share is about how the new kitchen works as a shared space during a meal we prepare together. My point of view is that the day went swimmingly.

I had the primary two stations on either side of the stove as I went from prepping vegetables and sauté work on the right of the stove to prepping and cooking the sausages and meatballs on the left. All the while I was working, and it was about 90 minutes, Terrie was at her new baking station in the bistro section of the room, preparing the homemade pasta, using tools of her trade that worked better in the new space (especially a larger overhanging ledge to clamp her pasta machine, as well as the maple surface).


We didn’t get in each other’s way once! Now, I will say that as we keep working, we’ll be closer together, but the new kitchen takes care of that, too. If Terrie works the two stations on either side of the stove, I have a nice new long station on the left side of our kitchen sink, available thanks to some minor re-arranging of space in the room. With taller, roomier cabinets, we’ve been able to de-clutter the countertops, thus creating the three clearly defined workspaces, which doesn’t even include the baking station, in effect a fourth workspace.

I’m looking forward to many other dual-prepared meals, as well as my typical role of sous chef, aide and kibitzer-in-chief; I now fulfill the latter role from my perch at our new bistro table next to the baking station.

Next up in transforming this house I’ve lived in since 2006 into “our house?” The master bath remodel, on tap for a March start. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the post about us cooking together there. But trust me, we will.

We’re staying.


Les’s Italian Sauce with Sausage and Meatballs

The ingredients and steps are all listed in the PDF Terrie has attached at the end of the post, but we hope you enjoy seeing our adventure.

I’ve seen Terrie use an immersion blender on everything from soups to mac and cheese sauces. I decided to try it here, and processed my Italian sauce until smooth. I had vegetable stock on hand to help with blending the thick sauce. Then, I added the cooked meatballs and sausage to the pot and simmered until the pasta was ready.

Any kind of long pasta would be great with this sauce, but we enjoyed it on Terrie’s handmade pasta. This was her first experience with making pasta in the new baking station. The rest of this story is hers.


Terrie’s Roasted Garlic Pasta Dough

Welcome to my happy place. ❤

Of all the foods I make from scratch, handmade pasta is one of the most rewarding. As with so many things that once seemed intimidating to me, this is all about practice and repetition, and once you develop a feel for it, store-bought pasta loses its appeal. Besides the cool factor of DIY-ing this versatile food, I find it deeply therapeutic to transform flour, water and egg into a dough that can be stretched so thin and turned into noodles, all under my own hand. It’s awesome, and having a dedicated space in our new kitchen makes it even better.

I like to add fun flavors to my standard pasta dough, and this time I went for roasted garlic, blended right into the dough to complement Les’s rich Italian sauce. If you are already making your own pasta, I hope you find the roasted garlic a tasty addition. If you aren’t, or if you’re new to the process of pasta making, I encourage you to check out my posts for lemon-herb pasta or spinach-ricotta ravioli, as I offer more in-depth instruction there for making and working the dough. This time, I’m focusing mainly on the flavor and formula.

To infuse the roasted garlic into the dough, I pureed it together with egg and water, then pressed it through a small mesh strainer to keep the chunky solids from messing up the dough. I strengthened the dough by rolling it through my pasta machine, as usual, but used a chitarra for the first time to cut the dough into strands. Here’s how it went!


Putting it all together

Time for dinner! The sauce was quietly simmering on the stove, so the timing was dependent on the pasta. Fresh, handmade pasta cooks much more quickly than dried, store-bought, so it’s best to have everything you need for serving lined up and ready to go before you begin.


It takes two, Baby, me and you! ❤


New Haven-style Fresh Tomato Pizza

Right here in the middle of gray, dull, Dry January, I think we could all enjoy a warm-weather trip down memory lane, and a taste of sweet summer tomatoes like the ones on this pizza. I’ve been waiting many months to share this story with you, and because this month is such a drag, I’m actually thankful that it took me so long to get to it. Life has been busy since we wrapped up our kitchen remodel, but now that the holidays are behind us, I’ve been looking at these pictures again and remembering the sweet time my husband, Les, and I had on our vacation through New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Our road trip presented a unique opportunity for me to do one of my favorite things—research of famous local foods—and this time, I was studying different but not necessarily opposed pizza styles. And after my extensive research (which was essentially just eating a lot of pizza), I have a confession. More of an announcement, really. For all the times I have claimed victory in the challenge to make homemade pizza that rivals my husband’s memory of his beloved N.Y.-style pizza, I stand corrected. My pizza at home does not at all rival the pizza of New York. It rivals a completely different style of pizza.

New York pizza is, of course, known for its gigantic slices and an ultra-thin and crispy crust that is easy to fold for eating on the run as you dash off to catch the subway or, if you’re lucky, a Broadway show. We had a taste of this N.Y. pie on our day trip into the city last August, as we stopped at one of the more acclaimed pizzerias, Bleecker Street Pizza. A friend of ours who is a native New Yorker (like my hubby) swears it is the best, so we put it on our “must do” list.

Legendary pizza slices, served up daily!

Notice their media props outside? Those are well-deserved, and the pies looked great, with the seasoned tomato sauce swirled out onto the dough (as I’m still learning to do at home, with hubby’s coaching) and, of course, all that cheese. It was good, but the crust didn’t feel or taste like the one I have developed at home—the crust that Les says is “just right.”

I can’t say for sure, but I suspect the Bleecker Street dough was dusted with rice flour. This is a simple trick that puts a crackling-crisp texture on the bottom crust and it’s good for reheating the slices, as they do to order, but it does not add flavor. Our research into pizza excellence would continue the next day, because we had plans to visit another legendary pizza town—New Haven, Connecticut. And that’s where I had my epiphany.

Greetings from New Haven, home of a whole different kind of pizza.

Les spent 19 years in the New Haven area, and I have heard plenty from him about various food joints he loved there, and especially about the white clam pizza, which we have worked to perfect over the past few years and now serve at home every New Year’s Eve. A random internet search for this unusual seafood pizza will lead you directly to New Haven, and particularly to Frank Pepe Pizzeria, which has been making white clam pizza since 1925. My mouth was watering from the time we arrived just before noon, and for the entire 30-minute wait, as there was a line of hungry pizza lovers wrapped all the way around the restaurant. We had waited so long for me to have a taste of real Frank Pepe’s pizza, we ordered three of them!

The crust on the first pizza—roasted red pepper with pepperoni—seemed instantly familiar, with more of the character I had been making at home, and Les agreed it was superior to the pie we had enjoyed the day before on Bleecker St. And there was something different about the flavor of the dough as well, something more complex, and we supposed it had to do with the higher heat ovens than what is used in the N.Y. pizzerias.

Frank Pepe’s uses an enormous coal-fired oven with a brick floor, and the pizzaolo has a pizza peel with a handle that is about 7 feet long—giving him access to load and spin the pizzas in the oven, but at a safe distance from the intense heat.

The coal-fired oven at Frank Pepe’s must be enormous inside, because they are churning out pizzas every few seconds.

My interest was piqued when the other two pizzas arrived at our table. First, there was a fresh tomato pizza, which is a limited-season thing and quite a big deal in New Haven, and it was very fresh and bright, exactly like summer. Finally, the legendary white clam pizza, and I was certain it would be pure nirvana for my taste buds.

Sometimes your imagination (or even your memory) of something can outrank the real thing and maybe that’s what happened, but it wasn’t until I finally dared to lean across the table and whisper the words, “I think ours at home is better,” and Les instantly agreed, that the reason occurred to me. As quickly as they were churning out specialty pizzas at Frank Pepe Pizzeria, there is no way they can manage using freshly shucked clams, as we do at home every New Year’s Eve. Nope, these clams had to be from a can. Still, the crust was very good and more like the one that Les has encouraged me to emulate. What I didn’t like was the dusty black char that was prevalent across the bottom of the pizzas, and even a bit on top of my white clam slice—it was the stuff we avoid at home by scraping off the hot steel before sliding another pizza into the oven. But I get it, they are slammed busy with a line out the door even as we left. Overall, it was still a great experience, and we boxed up our leftover slices to continue our journey through New Haven.

We had one more pizza joint to experience and it turned out to be the best of the bunch, not only for the pizza but for the overall experience. So much so, in fact, that it deserves its own post—tomorrow!

Until then, please enjoy this recipe—my own—for fresh tomato pizza, which I created at home the first weekend after we returned from our trip!

We don’t have a huge, coal-fired oven, but we are still getting it done at home!

My version used farmers’ market, late-season heirloom tomatoes and some fresh basil I plucked from a plant that was growing on my kitchen counter. It was post-Labor Day, but we were technically still in the final days of summer, and this pizza captured all the beautiful freshness of that.

The base, of course, is what I have long called My Real N.Y. Pizza Dough, but obviously I will have to update that because my careful, ahem, “research” proved my dough more closely resembles what the locals in New Haven call “apizza.”


Ingredients

2 heirloom tomatoes, cut in 1/4’’ slices

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ball of pizza dough at close to room temperature

1/3 cup simple tomato sauce

2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend cheese

About 3/4 cup freshly shredded whole milk mozzarella

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

As always, the oven should be as hot as a home oven goes—550°F.  and heated for an hour with a heavy pizza steel for the best-ever, crispy texture. If you do not have a steel, use a pizza stone and preheat to the hottest temperature possible for your particular stone. This combination of steel or stone and very high heat will emulate the brick oven baking that makes this style of pizza so special.


Instructions

Spread the tomato slices out onto a large plate and sprinkle kosher salt over them. Be generous with the salt, as it will draw out excess moisture, concentrating the flavor of the tomatoes. Let this rest 20 minutes while you enjoy a cocktail (or whatever you do before dinner). Transfer the tomatoes to layered paper towels and pat dry. I actually poured the salted tomato juice from the plate right into my martini for a savory twist. When Dry January is over, I may do that again! 😉

Shape the dough into a 14” round and place it on a flour and cornmeal-dusted peel. Swirl on sauce, then sprinkle parm-romano evenly, not minding if some of it lands on the dough edges. Scatter the mozzarella on top, give it a few quick twists of freshly cracked black pepper, and arrange the drained tomato slices and basil leaves. Lightly drizzle the top of the pizza with olive oil and dash it off into the screaming-hot oven for about six minutes.



Ratatouille Lasagna Roll-ups

The summer season brings all the garden-fresh vegetables I love, including zucchini and eggplant, which I would definitely be growing in our little garden plot if it weren’t for the deer. Year after year, I have tried in vain to grow my own veggies, and the increase of deer activity on our property and that of our neighbors has been almost humorous. Almost.

Gardening, for me, started as a fun, nature-loving adventure but has rapidly declined into a frustrating drama, and now we have this elevated box in our yard, where we cannot grow anything but marigolds and basil, which have proven to be the only things our local deer detest. Last year’s garden was demolished, right down to the flowers and budding fruit of the eggplants and even the jalapeno pepper plants (which I had been told deer would never eat). We have tried all the folk remedies on the internet—human hair, shavings of bar soap, peppermint oil, so-called deer repellent, and even a weird concoction I made from rotten eggs, cayenne and dish soap. That last remedy had near-catastrophic results, but I won’t embarrass my husband again with that story (you can read it here, if you’d like). This year, we didn’t even bother planting a garden, and I’m contemplating turning the raised bed into some kind of wildflower bed. I get exasperated just thinking about it.

To make up for a lack of homegrown veggies, we are regularly visiting our weekly Cobblestone farmers’ market, which features a variety of vendors offering fresh produce as well as pastured meat, eggs, organic mushrooms, jams and preserves, and even handmade alpaca wool products. It’s a fun way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning, and this past weekend, we came home with everything I needed for a new batch of ratatouille. Ah, my favorite veggie-centered summer meal!

Classic ratatouille ingredients = zucchini, eggplant, pepper, onions (leeks this time), tomato and herbs de Provence!

Me being me, though, I cannot simply chop up these ingredients and make a “traditional” ratatouille, which would be a rustic casserole-meets-stew kind of thing. I have to twist it up! My culinary muse inspired me this time to combine the French classic dish with another favorite comfort food—lasagna. I figured that I could infuse my herbs de Provence seasoning into a ricotta mixture with lemon zest and some grated cheese and that it would be the “glue” to hold the other ingredients together inside a rolled-up lasagna noodle. The eggplant and zucchini would be sliced and roasted, and the red pepper would be worked into the sauce. This is how my mind sees a pile of ingredients, and the end result was exactly as I had imagined, both visually and in perfect summer flavor. Delicious!

Inside, you can see and taste all the flavors of a summer ratatouille!

This reimagined one-dish meal took mostly time to put together; it was not at all difficult. I cannot say definitively how much time is needed because I was cooking all day, in between work emails and other home tasks. I will say that it was mostly passive time; I was either waiting for things to lose moisture or to finish roasting or to boil or bake. The rest was just slicing, chopping and stirring, and there’s no particular order that must be followed. You could even make everything a day ahead and just assemble and bake it the next day.


The entire ratatouille-meets-lasagna project weaved itself nicely into my busy day, and because each ingredient received its own treatment, the simplest way I can describe it is to share the process of each component. I’ll share a PDF version of the recipe at the end if you want to try it, but I’ll let the pictures tell the story in today’s post. Here we go! 🙂


The Ricotta Filling


The Eggplant


The Zucchini


The Red Bell Pepper


The Onions


The Tomatoes

The only classic ratatouille ingredient remaining is tomato, and though my ingredients photo displays a big, lovely heirloom tomato from the farmers’ market, I thought better of it when I began cooking my ratatouille. The heirloom tomato would have been full of seeds and too juicy for this dish, so I cast it aside and used half a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead to produce a fusion sauce, together with the roasted red pepper and a healthy dose of garlic. This sauce was similar to the roasted red pepper sauce that my husband, Les, discovered last year, but it leans more toward tomato than pepper. It was exactly what this recipe needed.


Putting it all together

Assembling and finishing my ratatouille lasagna roll-ups was a cinch! I par-cooked the lasagna noodles until they were soft and flexible, spread the ricotta mixture onto them, layered the eggplant, zucchini and leeks and rolled them up!


First ratatouille of the summer! 🙂

Oh, and that plump, juicy heirloom tomato I mentioned found its way instead to a BLT, which we enjoyed as a separate meal on freshly baked sourdough bread with local greens and some pastured pork bacon (also from the farmers’ market).

Who needs a garden, anyway? 😉