Over the last few years, I’ve grown out of my delusions of I’m-young-and-can-eat-whatever-I-want and now do boring things like pack salads for lunch and box up half of my pasta when we go out for Italian. Le sigh. But there continues to be one thing that, when placed in front of me, I have absolutely no control or willpower to stop myself from eating.
Chips and salsa.
Whenever I dine at a Mexican restaurant, it’s a sure bet that I’ll eat my weight in free chips and salsa before my meal arrives. I know that I’m gonna feel like I’m dying within a few hours, but I just can’t help it. Too spicy? Doesn’t matter, I’ll cry through the pain. Not hungry? That’s literally not a thing.
Typically, when I make salsa at home, they are collections of diced vegetables and herbs. But sometimes I just want a nice, runny, completely blended, restaurant-style salsa.
This particular recipe includes a crap-ton of cilantro and a couple of chipotles en adobo. The combination of bright, herb-y flavor from the cilantro and the deep, smoky spice of the chiles creates a unique spin on the classic restaurant salsa.
Perhaps the best part of this salsa is that it’s SO FAST to put together. Once the onion and cilantro are chopped, everything else gets tossed in a food processor and whirled into salsa in just a few seconds flat.
I eat rather a lot of pasta. When I started writing this post, I had to go back to see what stories I’ve already told you about my lifelong noodle-y obsession, just to make sure I wasn’t repeating something.
I’ve already mentioned that as a kid, I loved spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese above all other things, and in fact I rarely tolerated the annoying hindrance of spaghetti sauce. It was sloppy, acidic, and mostly just not my thing. I still remember the first time I actually enjoyed a smear of red sauce atop a mound of pasta. Bizarrely, it was on a camping trip. In our open-air kitchen of two camp stoves and a picnic table, Dad carefully cooked a pot of pasta in one pot and in another, he combined a can of basic tomato sauce with a seasoning mix. I don’t know why I opted to try the sauce that time, but I suddenly realized this red sauce thing wasn’t necessarily so bad after all. To this day, however, I’m still pretty picky about my red sauces and rarely order them at a restaurant as a result.
There are a few brands and varieties I’ve discovered at the grocery over the years that I like rather well, but once I began canning my own basic tomato sauce, I felt it was time to finally find the homemade version I was seeking.
Since there are approximately one gazillion recipes for spaghetti sauce out there, each one claiming to be better than the last, it was a bit intimidating to know where to begin. Some swore by the addition of carrots and peppers, others piled on the sugar, and still others demanded the tomatoes be practically raw to achieve pure spaghetti sauce bliss. Fresh herbs, dried herbs, lots of spice, none at all – there really are so many ways to do this. How was I to know what I liked the most?
Two years ago, I wrote a rather desperate post about my first experience in bulk tomato canning. I scarcely realized the task I had undertaken, did not have pots quite large enough or a food mill worth its weight in feathers, and I had unwittingly committed to waaaaay to many products for a two-day stint. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort, and there are least a few moments that tears dripped down my tomato-flecked face.
But over the course of that year, I grew quite fond of the sauces I had made and became rather dependent on them in my cooking. When tomato season rolled around again, I decided to tackle the project a second time with a few changes. I reduced the variety of products, but I also added about 25% more tomatoes since I had run out of many favorites in the weeks previous. However, the project still produced a vast amount of stress. I had to do my canning at a friend’s apartment (I didn’t have the right kind of stove to manage it), which meant packing up all my supplies and commandeering a kitchen that was not my own. More tomato-stained tears were had.
They say third time is the charm, and in this case I agree: I tackled my tomatoes this year with some MAJOR upgrades that turned this somewhat dreaded experience into an exciting one.
I know many of you are completely uninterested in large-scale canning. Even with upgraded equipment and a few years of experience, putting up 120 pounds of tomatoes (!!!) is a massive amount of work. However, if you are interested but have not approached the craft because it seems too daunting, I want to share with you a few of the things I’ve learned that I wish so much I had known the first time around.
I wish I could say that I’ve been harboring this recipe for years, that I’m embarrassed to be posting it only now after summers and summers of enjoyment. I wish I could say that I’ve been adding it to my menu every week of every tomato season for as long as I can remember. I wish that the glut of tomatoes that I harvested this year, the glut that caused me to try this experiment, had happened years ago.
Well. I can say none of those things. The truth is I’ve never been a big fan of fresh tomatoes, and as such, I’ve spent my life picking them off of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. But I’ve vigilantly planted at least a couple of varieties each of the last few years in an effort to force myself into using them, and this year, the strategy paid off handsomely. It seemed wrong to take such ripe, beautiful fruits at their peak and cook them down into sauce, and the internet seemed to agree that bruschetta is a great way to feature them raw.
I have a little garden plot in a rooftop garden at my job in Columbus. It’s a challenging thing, really, to grow food on a cement slab 30 feet above the ground, but for one reason or another, my tomato plants are thriving. In an effort to keep up with the continuous supply of plump, crimson tomatoes I’ve enjoyed for the last few weeks, I’m trying to expand my repertoire of fresh tomato recipes. With the first breaths of autumn already trying to make their way into Ohio, I just can’t quite stand the idea of peeling these tomatoes and cooking them into a slurry of marinara or bolognese. I started with this, a common salsa where fresh tomatoes are the stars of the show.
I attended a wedding a couple weeks ago for two good friends I’ve developed since moving to North Carolina. A fairly significant portion of our friendship is based on a love of and fascination with food: we’ve explored North Carolina farms together, swapped recipes, and enjoyed a wide variety of Triangle restaurants. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that their wedding included not one, but two meals, the first an Indian buffet to celebrate Varsha’s culture, and the second an elegant array of quintessential American cuisine to celebrate Eric’s.
I’ve heard people say that no one will remember the food at a wedding, that people have simply come to expect a good meal when they attend a reception. The food at this wedding, however, was anything BUT forgettable. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, and then after a few minutes, everyone squeezed in just a little bit more because the food was so. dang. good.
And my favorite treat was not an entreé, not a dessert, but one of the passed hors d’oeuvres for the second meal: a fried green tomato dressed up with a bit of pimento cheese and mint jelly. I was so impressed that after seeing a large pile of green tomatoes at the farmers market the next week, I snatched up a couple to re-create them at home.
Now work with me on this one. I was really, really skeptical when this tray came around. For one thing, I had never eaten a regular fried green tomato before. I don’t particularly like red tomatoes, so I guess I’ve never felt inclined to try a green one. Don’t worry, I now know I’ve been MISSING OUT for years. I guess I’ll just have to compensate for all that lost time by making these all the time.
It hardly seems real to me that the summer, which seemingly only just began, is now drawing to a close. What once looked like a vast expanse of time in which to accomplish projects and execute plans that I’ve had on my list for some time now is now behind me, with very few of those items marked off.
I suppose that’s the way it goes, isn’t it? Perhaps there’s a reason those projects are still on the list: they simply don’t take priority when other things come up. Sometimes it’s dinner with friends, sometimes a movie, sometimes it’s work.
This time, it was a MASSIVE harvest of tiny tomatoes that would be heartbreaking to waste.
Up until a couple of years ago, I only ate cherry tomatoes raw, usually in salads or from the veggie tray at parties. And as someone who is not a particularly big fan of raw tomatoes, I typically only ate one or two.
Now that I am growing my own, however, I must find other ways to use them up. I actually dried most of this batch, but I’ve been curious about what a tomato sauce made from these tiny, sweet tomatoes would taste like, so I decided to give it a shot. And while it is certainly more labor-intensive than pulling a jar of Ragu from the pantry, it’s quite a delightful way to make the most of the tomato-harvest of August.
Last year, I planted tomatoes in my little community garden plot. They were… unsuccessful. Extremely. I think I harvested two,maybe three tomatoes before they were attacked by bugs or rotted rather than ripened on the vine. Needless to say, I was distressed, but also determined to do better this year.
So I planted more tomatoes. Six plants, actually. And on the big tomato front, guess what? I still did not succeed. Dozens of green globes filled me with anticipation alllll summer. And then? Kaput. Like seriously, five tomatoes. It appears that I am doing something terribly wrong with my large tomatoes.
But the little guys! For the last six weeks, I’ve been harvesting dozens and dozens of both Sungolds, tiny orange spheres, generally considered the most flavorful cherry tomatoes, and Juliets, slightly larger egg-shaped tomatoes that ripen to a classic tomato red. A couple weeks ago, the harvests became so immense that even my tomato-loving beau couldn’t keep up with them. So what does one do with a couple pints of tiny tomatoes before they meet their maker?
This recipe features the tomatoes about as close to their natural form as is possible to get in a pasta “sauce”. To start, the tomatoes are simply sliced, squashed into a baking dish, and sprinkled with bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, and olive oil.
There are things I daydream about. Sometimes, they are kitchen things.
In these kitchen daydreams, the sauce pan I need is never at the back of the cabinet. All my spice bottles are the same shape, same size, same color, and they’re all labeled in the same font. Sunshine floods across my countertops and splashes to the floor, filling the room with light. My knives are always sharp, but I never cut my fingers. Avocados grow locally. Also cashews and cocoa beans and grapefruits.
Some dreams stay that way. But other dreams? Pasta-and-mushrooms-tossed-in-sun-dried-tomato-cream-sauce dreams? Oh yeah. They’re COMING TRUE.