Tag Archives: garlic

Attack of the Tomatoes, Part 1

This is just one day's worth of tomatoes from my little urban garden.

It’s the middle of July and my vegetable garden is beginning to overflow with tomatoes. I’ve also got some cucumbers that went from cute little green pups to slightly obscene 14-inch-long two-pounders overnight, but that’s another story. Right now I am focusing each day on what to do with the tomatoes while they are perfect and fresh, so that I can enjoy the memories in January when I am over the winter euphoria.

Because it’s July, it’s also bloody hot, so we are mostly eating a lot of raw tomatoes: in salad with a nice vinaigrette, on bruschetta, or just munching on them like apples or cherries, depending on the size. As usual, I’m growing several varieties this year, including Grape, Strawberry, Roma, Better Boy, Big Beef, and, of course, a wonderful heirloom tomato called Old German, which I plant each year in honor of my in-laws (and maybe now my husband, since he’s turned 50).

But sometimes you just wanna cook, so I opted last night to make a Tomato and Basil Bread Soup, which is delicious served hot, but also is terrific cold if you can chill it for about three hours before serving. I really hadn’t thought before to make a bread soup during the summer, but I recently had an amazing version of this soup at Acqua Al 2, a wonderful new Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill (a real favorite of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle), and it reminded me that it would be a great recipe for using up some of the tomatoes taking up real estate on my kitchen counter.

Even though I actually had to turn on the stove to make this beauty, the cooking time is pretty quick, so your kitchen shouldn’t get too overheated. We had this as a main course, so I included garbanzo beans for a little extra protein, because that’s what I had on hand, but it would work great with cannelini beans or even chunks of Italian sausage (make sure it’s already cooked when you add it to the soup). Whether you grow your own tomatoes or pick them up at the farmer’s market, this soup is a great way to enjoy summer’s bounty, and is particularly good when followed by a glass of chilled Limoncello. Buon appetito!

Tomato and Basil Bread Soup

1 baguette, slightly stale and sliced into 1-inch slices

4 cups vegetable stock

3 cups fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped

1/2 cup packed basil leaves, finely sliced into a chiffonade

2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (canned is fine — just rinse in cold water)

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 TB balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Toasted baguette slices and fresh basil for garnish (optional)

In a large stockpot, heat 3 TB olive oil over medium-low heat, then add baguette slices and stir them around to coat in the olive oil. Allow them to brown lightly, turning down heat to low if they are cooking quickly and drizzling with a little more olive oil. Add the tomatoes, stock, and garlic and stir all the ingredients together; the bread will start to break apart, thickening the soup into something akin to a stew.

Let the soup come to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Add the chick peas, basil, vinegar, and salt and pepper and allow to simmer for a further 5 minutes. Serves 4.

To serve hot: Ladle into bowls and garnish each, if you wish, with 2 toasted baguette slices, a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, some fresh basil, and a little drizzle of olive oil.

To serve cold: Allow the soup to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 – 3 hours before serving. Garnish as above, or just top with a dollop of mascarpone.

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Feeding a Broken Heart

The antidote to the break-up at our house was the anti-boyfriend meal, featuring all of his least favorite foods, and, of course, an assortment of classic love stories.

My daughter is nursing her first broken heart. It is a terrible thing to watch, since I am helpless to heal the pain of “Why?” and “What went wrong?” — that endless litany of unanswered questions that tend to fill an overanxious brain in the small hours of the night. The only tiny perk that comes of the whole sad situation is that I get a rare opportunity to comfort my increasingly independent girl; I always remember a friend saying years ago that she perversely enjoyed her daughter’s break-ups because it resulted in her daughter wanting to snuggle up with her mom for hours on end, strewing the bed with damp Kleenex and wailing over the cruelty of boys.

I had to pick Madison up from a class at 7 o’clock last night and I asked her beforehand if there was anything special she wanted me to get for dinner. Her answer: “Comfort food.” This seemed like a reasonable request, except that my child does not care for what I would consider traditional comfort food such as mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, unless I mix in copious amounts of salsa, blue cheese, and wasabi. So, I stood in the middle of a crowded Whole Foods grocery store at 6:30 p.m., without even a clue of what to get. I finally ended up perusing the hot food and salad bars, hoping for inspiration, especially because the clock was ticking and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get home at 7:30 and still have to cook a complete meal. Suddenly, two things caught my eye and I knew what to get.

For the purposes of this next paragraph or two, we’ll call my daughter’s former love “Connor”.

I grabbed the eco-friendly food containers and loaded them up, before slipping into a line that ran halfway around the salad bar so that I could pay for my comfort food and speed down the street to my next destination. As soon as Madison jumped into the car, she said “So what did you find for dinner?” Clearly, comfort food was on her mind. I told her “Spicy Buffalo tofu, blue cheese dressing, and olives stuffed with feta cheese.” She looked at me archly before replying “That doesn’t exactly sound like comfort food” — and then the choice of foods suddenly dawned upon her. She smiled broadly — for the first time in 24 hours, actually — and said “It’s an anti-Connor meal!”

Let me say, I actually think Connor is a lovely young man, and I have often said that I wish he and Madison would meet up again in ten years, because they are perfectly suited to each other in many ways. But, my first priority is my daughter, and the goal last night was to get her to lighten up, if only for a few minutes. An anti-Connor meal was just the ticket. He gravitates towards burgers and pizza (in fact, I was specifically told not to get pizza because “that’s what HE likes”) and doesn’t like spicy food or olives — two things my daughter adores — and I just took a shot in the dark that he probably has no love for blue cheese either. It was a welcome respite in a difficult day, even if it didn’t last for long.

This whole experience got me thinking about breaking up and food. I don’t remember eating much after a break-up, as alcohol tended to take center stage (I will never forget weeping in a wine-induced haze, stretched out on the floor in front of the stereo listening to “Purple Rain” set on repeat. My roommates were extraordinarily tolerant.). I think that my break-up food was really hangover food — greasy fries, cheese omelettes, and big stacks of pancakes, generally eaten at the all-night diner at 4 a.m.

I asked a few of my readers to tell me if they had any break-up foods that they craved in the aftermath of a failed romance. Margaritas pretty much took top billing, but after that, the actual food centered on chili and cheese Tater Tots (love that one), Cadbury’s Caramello bars, and waffles. One friend mentioned “Folks intuitively head for carbs and they are right to do so. Low carb diets have been associated with low mood.” It’s true — several studies have shown that carbohydrate intake boosts serotonin production, which then acts as a natural tranquilizer on the nervous system.  I knew it was good to love pasta and bread!

Now I have decided that the next meal needs to center on keeping my child out of romance for a while, mostly because I can’t take the emotional upheaval anymore. I’m thinking garlic could do the trick.

Linguine with Brie and Garlic

This is actually a great break-up dish — perfect comfort food. It has the carbohydrates to boost your mood, some fat to coat your bruised soul, and plenty of garlic to keep would-be lotharios at bay until you are ready to get back into the game.

One pound linguine

One good-sized wedge of brie, cut into chunks

2 cups of grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

3 – 6 cloves of garlic, crushed (how many you use depends on how bad your break-up was)

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the linguine according to package directions. Reserve a cup of the hot pasta water, then drain and dump the pasta immediately back into the pot; drizzle with a little olive oil and toss quickly to coat. Then throw in the brie chunks and toss them with the pasta until they begin to melt and form a creamy coating on the pasta; add hot pasta water as needed to help aid the melting process if the pasta becomes too sticky. Add the tomatoes, garlic, basil, and salt and pepper, tossing together until all the ingredients are well-incorporated. Serve immediately.

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