"Cook" is for all things savory.

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15-Minute Tomato Sauce. Really.

Lateseasontomatoes

I make this simple tomato sauce throughout the summer when we feel like a light dinner.  It’s so simple I didn’t even think to blog about it, until David brought it up last week.  It’s too easy, I told him.  That’s why you should do it, he said.  It’s simple but fantastic.  Plus, he liked the little trick I do with the tomato pulp, keeping it fresh while reducing the juices to a proper thickness for the sauce.  I should definitely blog this, he insisted.

Well, ok, then.  Coming from chef himself, who’s to argue.  So here it is messieurs-dames, my super easy tomato sauce you can do in less then fifteen minutes, and with no special tools except a knife, a pot, a pan, and your own handy hands.  No fancy ingredients either, but for delicious tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, oh, yes, and a bit of garlic if you like that kind of thing.  Really.  It is that easy.  I usually start the sauce just as I begin to get the pasta ready, and they both are done at just about the same time.

The little trick David mentioned is the way I separate the tomato pulp from the juice after it’s cooked for just a minute or so.  I do it because I love the flavor of fresh, in-season tomatoes, but I hate the watery texture of most fresh tomato sauce.  Often, by the time the tomato is cooked down to the proper sauce consistency, it loses that fresh, zingy bite of fresh tomatoes.  So I imported a little trick I do when I make jam–which I learnt from Our Lady of Confitures Christine Ferber in her fantastic jam book.  I let the tomato pulp cook very quickly in the pan, just until it releases the juices, then I fish out the meaty pulp with a slotted spoon, then let the juices cook down to the consistency I like, then add the pulp back in and season.  This way I get a lovely, thick sauce with a super fresh tomato flavor.  Nice, yeah?

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Panzanella salad, summer’s last hurrah

Summerslasthurrah

Morning fog is creeping in every morning and staying later each day here, a sure sign that summer is departing soon.  David and I went up to the garden yesterday to get some tomatoes.  We had a late start this season for our tomato plants, and Cynthia said we’d have plenty of tomatoes well into October.  So perhaps this is not quite the last hurrah for us, but it might be for a lot of you.  I thought I’d do a classic salad, one of my favorite things to do when I have ripe, juicy tomatoes and some stale bread around.

No, no, this isn’t my usual pan con tomate.  We’re not in Spain tonight, we’re just a bit over to the East in Italy.  Panzanella, the Italian tomato and bread salad, is just as simple as the Spanish pan con tomate, and every bit as good.  Stale bread, juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil, tossed together with a simple vinaigrette, it can hardly get much simpler.

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Corn and tomato salad, fast slow food

Cornandtomatosalad_2

If you’ve been a long time fan of Manresa, you know that corn and tomato salad is one of David’s enduring classics at the restaurant.  So classic that it predates Manresa and traces its roots back to his previous restaurant, Sent Sovi.  So classic that each variation is notated with a version number, say, Corn and Tomato Salad, 4.2–a playful wink, really, at the location of the restaurant right smack in the middle of Silicon Valley.

When he cooks for me at our home, it’s definitely not the food he serves at the restaurant, but it is no less profound.  We both love food that is perfect in its simplicity, like the perfect pairing of corn and tomato in this simple version we do in our kitchen.  Take sublime tomatoes–these are dry-farmed tomatoes from our friend Joe of Dirty Girl–and match them with sweet, sweet corn–passed ever so briefly in a simmering pot of water, just to tame the raw edge yet retain the fresh flavor.  Dress them with a simple vinaigrette, white wine vinegar, mustard, a smidgen of raw honey, perfectly fragrant, smooth, late harvest olive oil, and a happy sprinkle of sea salt.  Perhaps a handful of herbs, basil, hyssop, lemon balm, tarragon, or even some anise-y fennel fonds.  That’s about it.  Make sure you have a big hunk of crusty bread around to sop up the perfectly delicious juices at the bottom of the bowl.  Better yet, pick up the bowl and drink from it.  Your kisses will be even more delicious after that.

This is fast slow food, requiring hardly any time in the preparation, but based on long, slow traditions of making great food and a biding respect for the land.  It’s made quickly, yet best enjoyed ever so slowly, with a few glasses of good wine, on a balmy summer evening, in the company of the one you love.

Meanwhile, if you need a little help in appreciating the art of slow food, mark your calendar for this coming Labor Day weekend in San Francisco, where Slow Food Nation will be throwing down a serious fête, reveling in the art and beauty of food, very slowly.

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Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie

Pennsylvaniadutchpotpie

Also known as Aunt Alice Ann’s pot pie.  Or you might think it’s not a pot pie at all.  And you might even be right.  Pennsylvania Dutch’s “pot pie” is not a normal pot pie as we know it–you know, the kind with chicken stew topped with pie crust and baked?  Uncle John, Aunt Alice Ann’s husband, explained to me that the Pennsylvania Dutch name “pot pie” is actually a bastardized form of the original German term bot boi. It refers to a thickish chicken soup (usually with corn kernels) with homemade noodle (typically cut into squares.)  I’m sure the noodles are there to stretch the soup much farther than it otherwise would be.

Still curious about the term bot boi, I texted Thomas the (real) German boy to see if he knew what it meant.  “Potpourri”, he replied instantly.  Hmm.  Odd.  “How about something regarding food, or perhaps something phonetically similar but not the exact spelling”, I tried again.  “Ah, it’s an antiquated expression for a thick stew, which in modern German is eintopf”, he explained.  Eintopf, according to Thomas, has a starch element from mashed beans, peas, potatoes, or lentils, which are cooked with chunks of meat to make a thick stew.  I suppose when the Pennsylvania Dutch migrated here from Germany they imported the idea but adapted it to the more readily available ingredients, namely flour and corn.  So what they now call pot pie is typically a thickish stew of chicken or other meat, with corn and homemade noodle made with plain flour, eggs, and butter.  Ron, David’s dad, told me when he was growing up they had bot boi with pretty much every meat or game imaginable.

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Do-it-yourself Vietnamese prawn summer rolls

Vietwrapdinner

Now this is the kind of thirty-minute meal even foodies-like-us will love.  Fresh ingredients, nothing pre-cut or pre-cooked, but still you can put it together in less than 30 minutes, ok, 45 with not-so-fast  knife skills.  The ingredients are not all that exotic either: if you can find fish sauce and lemongrass at your local market you’re all set.

As we’re getting deeper into the summer season, I’m always craving something light and refreshing.  This Vietnamese wrap dinner I put together the other day fits the bill perfectly.  And no, Adam, you don’t need an outdoor grill to make this dish.  I grilled my prawn “kebobs” right there on a ridge pan on my kitchen range. It works just as well for this.  It’s also a pretty low-stress dish, you don’t even need to bother rolling each one before serving.  Just put
everything on a big platter and set out some dry rice paper with a bowl
of warm or tepid water.  Your guests can roll their own as they eat.
It’s more fun that way anyway.

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