004: Tomato

It’s been only recently that I’ve started to appreciate tomatoes on their own. When I was a kid, I would eat them in sauces. When I got older I would accept slices in sandwiches or or on pizza, but it took  a long time for me to warm up to them enough to just eat cherry tomatoes or pieces in salad. They’ve got that sour, kind of bitterness to them that always kind of turned me off. Despite my more refined palate, this meal left that old bitter taste in my mouth.

The Menu (Serves 4 [one day I’m going to cook for more than 4 people])

Yellow Caprese
Fried Green Tomatoes with Tomato Marmalade
Sundried Tomato and Veal Ravioli in Tomato Cream Sauce
Tomato Ice Cream

Yellow Caprese

I worried that I would need to get everything exactly right for this to hold together, but even with some rather sloppy cutting it worked great!

-4 yellow tomatoes
-4 red tomatoes (of similar size)
-1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
-8 oz fresh mozzarella
-basil

Heat the vinegar in a saucepan to a boil. Stir occasionally, and keep it boiling until it’s reduced and thickened. Just go for a consistency you like.

Cut a thin slice off the top of a yellow tomato, making sure to keep the stem attached (this photo was the tomato I didn’t think to do this for). Use a serrated knife if possible, as tomato skin is too smooth for traditional blades to catch on easily. Carefully cut out the core of the tomato, and scrape out the rest with a grapefruit spoon or something.


Spoon in a little balsamic reduction and some olive oil. Cut a good slice of red tomato from the bottom, and squeeze it into the yellow shell. Top with a slice of mozzarella, then basil, then salt and pepper. The tomato should be about half full at this point, so make another layer. You’ll probably have to cut the red tomato and cheese to fit. This is fine, but make sure it’s in one piece.
Cap with the top stem slice.

Caprese salad is a classically gorgeous dish, so it doesn’t really need dressing up, but this is an interesting  serving option. What I had in mind was for the salad to fit perfectly into the tomatoes, so it would be a surprise when they were cut open, but it was hard enough to get them fitting horizontally, and there were only so many yellows.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Tomato Marmalade

-4 green tomatoes
-1 cup buttermilk
-1 cup white cornmeal

Marmalade
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
-1/2 onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, whole
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
-dried chili/chili powder/ cayenne

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft. Add the tomatoes and cook soft. Add the balsamic, and pepper. Let it cook down til everything is falling apart. Taste it, and adjust salt and pepper. Notice that it looks like tar instead of the delightfully rustic red-brown stuff in the linked recipe.

Cut the tops and bottoms off each green tomato, and cut them into four slices each. Put them in a wide, shallow bowl and cover them in buttermilk. Let them marinate for a while. When dinner approaches, heat a large pan with a thin layer of canola/corn oil (about a quarter inch). Coat the tomato slices with cornmeal. Lay them in the pan and let them fry golden brown on each side.

For each plate, set down the largest slice you can find, spread the marmalade, then place another slice on top, then marmalade, and so on until there’s four slices in a little tower. Garnish with a basil leaf.

Sundried Tomato and Veal Ravioli in Tomato Cream Sauce

Filling
-1/4 lb ground veal
-1/4 red bell pepper, minced
-1/2 onion, chopped small
-4 T ricotta cheese
-1 T sun-dried tomatoes, minced
-1 egg
-basil
-parmesan

Heat olive oil in a medium pan. Squish the veal into a patty, and mash it apart in the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon. Get the pieces really small. Add the onion, bell pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes. When it’s all cooked up, move it to a mixing bowl. Let it cool for a bit, then add the egg, cheeses, and a handful of chopped basil. Stir it together to make a runny paste.

Pasta
-1 cup flour
-1 egg, beaten
-1/2t salt
-1t tomato paste
-water

Sift together the flour and salt. Make a mound of the mixture on a cutting board or other surface, and scoop a well into it, big enough to fit the egg in. Pour the egg and tomato paste into the well.

Incorporate the flour into the egg mix, starting from the inside. If you need more moisture, add 1-2 T water.  Flour the board, and knead the dough for a few minutes. It’ll get smoother and acquire a somewhat more pillowy texture.
Roll the dough through a pasta machine. When the dough is the right thickness, spoon the filling onto the bottom half of the sheet in evenly-spaced lumps. A teaspoon should be enough. When the filling is in place, fold the pasta sheet over on itself. Press it down between lumps, at the seam, and at the fold. Cut the ravioli to separate them, and press the edges with the tines of a fork.

Sauce
-1/2 onion, chopped
-1 cup tomato sauce
-1/2 cup cream
-1 clove garlic, minced
-sugar

Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Sweat the onion with salt, add the garlic, then the tomato sauce. Add the cream, and mix. Adjust the flavor with salt, pepper, and sugar.

Boil some water, and cook the ravioli. My ravioli were way too big, so I couldn’t do the floats-when-it’s-done thing – I just left them in for a few minutes.

Tomato Ice Cream
You should do this first, or maybe even a day in advance to make sure the ice cream sets correctly.

-1 pint cherry tomatoes
-2T balsamic vinegar
-1/2 cup basil leaves
-1 1/2 cup milk
-1 1/2 cup half and half
-3/4 cup sugar
-1/2t salt
-2T cornstarch
-1/2 vanilla bean or 1t vanilla extract
-1/4 cup ricotta
-12 dark grapes

Preheat the oven to 350. Halve the tomatoes, and toss them in a bowl with balsamic. Lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle lightly with salt, and put them in the oven for a half hour.

While the tomatoes roast, mix 1/4 cup of milk with the cornstarch in a little bowl. Make a smooth slurry. In a medium saucepan, mix the rest of the milk, the half and half, the sugar, the 1/2t salt, and basil. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring enough to keep it from burning. When it’s been boiling for about five minutes, stir in the cornstarch mixture (the recipe I used says to stir constantly when you do this to avoid lumps but it should be free of lumps already? Stir constantly if you want to feel safe). Boil again for five minutes. The mixture should be thickened. Take it off the heat, pour through a sieve into a bowl to remove the basil leaves, and stir in the ricotta.
When the tomatoes are finished roasting, puree them in a blender. Pour the puree into the sieve, over the milk. Use the back of a spoon to squish the puree through. Chill the mixture for at least two hours.
Make the ice cream in your ice cream maker, then MAKE SURE IT SETS. You probably are smarter than I am, and already know, but seriously, make sure you have the time for the ice cream to set before you start making it.
For a garnish, use a skewer to punch holes into the grapes. Soak them in a small bowl of balsamic vinegar for a couple hours. Cut them in half when ready to serve.

GUYS, MAKE SURE IT SETS

Report

I messed up so much on this one. The middle two dishes were kind of disasters. Most notable was the ravioli, which I was really impatient with. They were way, way too big, and I rolled the dough too thick and basically the only thing holding this dish back was me being lazy (and also being bad at making pasta). Anyway, the ravioli came out tough and gummy. As you’ll see in the photo of the flour well, I forgot to beat the egg before pouring it in, and it’s even spilling out because I didn’t make the well big enough. I still haven’t gotten the hang of homemade pasta, at all.

The fried green tomatoes had a pretty good texture; the coating was nice and crunchy and the tomatoes, which I worried were too hard, turned out nicely firm but easy to eat. They had a problem with flavor. The coating was super plain, and simply carried the flavor of cornmeal. The marmalade went together with the tomatoes okay, but I would have preferred something without balsamic. I needed a cleaner sweet and spicy flavor with this, and more vibrant color.

I had big plans for the ice cream! I wanted to make quenelles with the ice cream that obviously would be the perfect consistency for that, cause, hey, fresh ice cream? I wanted to make quenelles and cover them with basil leaves so that each spoonful was basically another caprese, but as a dessert. They were supposed to look like weird leaf porcupines.
The ice cream fell prey to my tendency not to read about how long things have to sit, and as a result never planning for it. It was totally delicious, but it didn’t get an ice-cream-y consistency until the next day. In addition, the ricotta imparted a sort of grainy texture that reminded me of my early days of trying to cream up sauces with yogurt and ending up with a gross milk-pulpy fluid. Even so, the ice cream is totally worth making. The flavor was excellent, and it went well with the balsamic grapes, which were described as “wine bombs.” Just don’t be like me.

The caprese-stuffed tomato was fun. Caprese salad is just classically beautiful, and doesn’t need any dressing up, but this definitely an interesting way to serve it. I’d recommend making these not too long before dinner, as the balsamic will kind of permeate everything and muddy the nice colors if you let it sit too long. It’ll still taste great, though!

Lunchtime prototype vs Dinner messy mess

There was also a lost fifth dish, which turned out so badly I didn’t mention it until now. I tried to make a tomato-watermelon drink. You can see a glass of it at the top of the ice cream photo. Basically it was the tomatoes left over from making the caprese, half a medium seedless watermelon, and some sugar. I mixed it with seltzer, which was “okay.” The tomato was only a bad thing in the drink, imparting the worst parts of its flavor. It was a real recipe! I thought it would have to be good, since it was on the internet…

So, overall this was a big failure. The only dish that really worked was the caprese, and it’s pretty hard to screw that up. Also, when I was designing the menu I told myself I wanted to avoid using basil and balsamic too much, and it ended up with basil being in every single dish and balsamic in three out of four. I mean, if they’d all worked out, I don’t think it would really have been a problem, but it’s still uncreative for all the dishes to use the same set of flavors. Disappointing results, concepts, and vision. Not an absolute failure, but absolutely a failure. If I’d pulled off the menu, or if the menu itself had been more ambitious, and turned out bad, I would feel a lot better about this entry. As it is I’ve just got an obvious menu that I couldn’t handle.

Next Week: Corn

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3 Comments

  1. It always feels great to see someone loving the creation you created – In this case My Tomato ice-cream! And I am happy to hear that you enjoyed it.

    Reply
  2. Julie

     /  June 21, 2012

    I liked the fried green tomatoes and the two sauces very much. Also, the cream sauce and the filling of the ravioli were great. Homemade pasta is hard to make.

    Reply
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