The tomato, in its many sizes, colors and variations is ubiquitous and available year-round — fresh, on the vine, sun-dried and canned. But in August, the fresh local tomato takes on an added dimension of flavor and aroma. This is the time to enjoy the tomato in its purest (and simplest) preparations, whether raw or cooked. The following recipes are intended to help you enjoy the essence of the tomato.
This recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s book “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.” Marcella was the Julia Child of Italian cooking, who introduced so many Italian recipes to us Americans. This recipe is so simple that you wonder how it can be good — but try it and you will enjoy the pure flavor of the cooked tomato.
Start with 2 pounds of ripe plum tomatoes (or other variety). For reach tomato, cut off the stem end and make an X with a paring knife in the other end. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Remove, cool and peel off the skins.
Dice the tomatoes with a chef’s knife and place them, along with any juice, in a saucepan. Add to this 5 tablespoons of cold butter and half of a peeled onion (do not chop). Simmer for one hour or a little more for a thicker sauce. Remove the onion, season with coarse salt and serve over pasta.
For a slightly smoother sauce, process in a food processor after cooking.
I served this sauce over fettuccine with slow-roasted plum tomatoes on the side for one meal and with lobster fra diavolo for another. Both versions follow.
Slow-Roasted Plum Tomatoes
Cut the stem end off 12 plum tomatoes and split them in half lengthwise. Place them on a foil-lined sheet pan. Brush tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt and pepper.
Cut the top off of a head of unpeeled garlic and put it on the pan with the tomatoes. Peel a red onion, cut it in half and also place it on the pan. Brush the garlic and onion with olive oil. Roast in a 250-degree oven for 3 hours and remove.
Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and spread it on the tomatoes. Chop or mash the onion and spread it on the tomatoes. Open a can of flat anchovies and put half an anchovy on each tomato.
Sprinkle the tomatoes with fresh basil before serving. (They can be served hot or at room temperature alongside the pasta.
Lobster Fra Diavolo
Plunge four 1 1/4-pound live lobsters in boiling water and cook for only 5 minutes to blanch. Pull them out, cool and remove all the meat, reserving the shells and bodies (the meat will not be fully cooked.)
Heat a large soup pot and add 1/4 cup olive oil. Place all the lobster bodies and shells in the pot and cook at high heat for 5 minutes before turning down the heat. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped fennel bulb and 1 cup chopped celery. Cook another 5 minutes and add 3 garlic cloves and a chopped tomato. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours.
Strain the stock, place it in a saucepan and reduce it by half. At service time, heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1/2 cup chopped shallots, 1 cup diced red pepper and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Cook briefly and season with a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour in 2 cups of the tomato sauce above and 1 cup of the lobster stock. Cut up the reserved lobster meat into bite-sized pieces and add to the sauce. Simmer until lobster is fully cooked and flavors are melded. Stir in chopped fresh basil and serve over fettuccine.
Tomato and Eggplant Stacks
Purchase 1 large eggplant and 2 beefsteak tomatoes. Slice the eggplant into half-inch-thick rounds (skin on), sprinkle liberally with coarse salt and place on a rack set over a sheet pan.
Slice the tomatoes into quarter-inch-thick rounds. Slice 1/2 pound of fresh mozzarella into quarter-inch-thick slices.
In a large sauté pan, cook 1/4 pound of thinly sliced pancetta and set aside.
Rinse the salted eggplant under cold water and dry with paper towels. Dip the slices in flour and sauté in olive oil.
Assemble the stacks by placing a slice of eggplant on the bottom, then a slice of tomato, a piece of pancetta and a leaf of basil. Put a slice of mozzarella next with another round of eggplant on top. Repeat until all ingredients are used.
Place the stacks on a lined sheet pan and cook in a 400-degree oven for 5 minutes and serve.
If desired, make a sauce by sautéeing 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 3 chopped anchovies and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Pour this mixture over the stacks at service time.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]