Oven Roasted Tomatoes

These are one of the most versatile things I keep in the freezer.  They can be chopped up for a quick tomato sauce over pasta (see earlier recipe for ravioli), put onto a homemade pizza, or added to a salad.  A few chopped and added to sautéed vegetables truly “elevates” the dish (as the fancy cooks say) and they can even be tucked into a sandwich.  They take a few hours to make, but it is mostly hands off so–as long as you plan to be at home–you can do something else while a pan of tomatoes transforms into something truly heavenly.

Make sure you keep the oil in the pan with the tomatoes–Sarah and Kate used to fight over who got to wipe up the excess with a piece of crusty bread.

This recipe can be increased exponentially depending on your oven size and patience.  It is my adaptation of one that appeared years ago in Saveur.

INGREDIENTS:

5 lbs. of the freshest, tastiest tomatoes you can find (they don’t have to be pretty and this will transform even somewhat lackluster tomatoes, but the better they start out, the better the result)

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced into 4-5 slices each

dried herbs of your choosing (basil and thyme are among my favorites, but this ingredient is up to you and optional)

2 t. salt

1 t. fresh ground pepper

1 – 2 T. sugar

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup of good quality olive oil

PREPARATION:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet (a half sheet pan works well, if you have one, but anything with a rim will do) with aluminum foil.
  3. Wash the tomatoes, remove the stem if needed, and cut in half across the middle (stem end on one end, bottom on the other).
  4. Pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil onto the baking sheet.  Place the tomato halves into the oil and roll the bottom around to coat.
  5. Distribute the slices of garlic on top of the tomato halves.
  6. Sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with herbs (if using), salt, pepper, and sugar.
  7. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes.
  8. Pour the remainder of the olive oil over the tomatoes.
  9. Place in the oven to roast for 2 to 4 hours depending on the size of the individual tomatoes (you can speed this up a bit by raising the temperature of the oven to 375, but then you really have to keep an eye on the tomatoes to make certain that they don’t burn).  At the one hour mark check the tomatoes.  if they are not releasing their juices, press down gently on them with a spatula being careful not to get squirted in the process.  Return to the oven and roast until they look like the picture above.
  10. When they are cool, package in plastic bags or other containers and freeze, keeping the oil with them.  Then sop up the remaining juices with a piece of good bread!

Homemade Ricotta

It is only recently that I found out how ridiculously easy and delicious homemade ricotta cheese is!  Had I known it all these years, many of my dishes–especially pasta ones–would have been made much, much better!

This recipe makes two cups of ricotta and it will last a week or so in the fridge in a tightly closed container.

Three simple pieces of kitchen equipment are helpful: cheese cloth (found in almost any grocery store and required), an instant read thermometer (a real help but you could guess the temp based on bubbles and steam) and a regular mesh strainer.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 gallon (2 quarts) of whole milk (you can substitute light or even heavy cream for up to 1/2 of the milk to make it much richer, you can also substitute 2% for up to half of the milk to make it lighter, but it will also make it grainer because of the reduced fat)

1/3 of a cup of fresh lemon juice (you can substitute a good white wine vinegar or even a flavored vinegar, as long as it is white in color)

3/4 t. kosher salt

PREPARATION:

  1.  Place the milk in a heavy bottomed pan and heat slowly to 200 degrees F.  This is just below a boil but the milk may have some bubbles.  Store the milk periodically as it heats to prevent a skin from forming (if one does just stir it vigorously back into the milk).
  2. When it reaches 200 degrees, remove from heat and add the lemon juice (or vinegar) and the salt.  Give a quick stir and wait 6-10 minutes until curds have formed and separated from the (now yellow) liquid-this is whey, as in curds and whey.
  3. Line a strainer set over a bowl with cheesecloth (at least two single layers thick).
  4. Pour the curds and whey through the cheesecloth and strainer, draining the whey into the bowl.  Allow to drain for 10 to 45 minutes depending on how dry/dense you want the cheese (you can taste along the way).   Discard the whey.
  5. When it has reached the desired consistency, transfer to a container and, when cooled to room temperature, refrigerate.  That’s it!

Zucchini, Lemon and Ricotta Pasta

This recipe has been adapted from one by David Tanis in the New York Times (and was a hit three weeks ago with Kate, Sarah and Jeff!).  It is better made with homemade ricotta (recipe to be posted next) but works fine as long as you buy a good quality supermarket or specialty store ricotta.  it makes four generous servings.

INGREDIENTS:

5 T. good olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

large handful of basil leaves (about 1 cup packed)

1/2 large yellow onion or 1 small onion, diced finely

2 medium zucchini (or more if they are small, try to avoid the ones the size of baseball bats because of their seeds)

1 pound of dried pasta such as penne, ziti or trofie

1 cup of ricotta cheese (or a little but more if, like Sarah, you like everything extra cheesy!)

pinch of red pepper flakes

1 lemon, zested (only zest is needed in this recipe)

1/2 to 3/4 cup of grated parmigian cheese

salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

1.  Heat a large pot of water to a boil adding a good amount (1 -2 t.) of salt to the water.

2.  Meanwhile, wash and cut the zucchini across into thin (1/4″ or so) circular slices and set aside.

3.  In a small food processor or chopper, place the garlic, basil leaves and a large pinch of salt.  Process until a rough paste forms.  Add 3 T. of olive oil and continue processing until combined. Set aside.

3.  In a large fry pan, heat 2 T. of olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent.  Add the zucchini and salt and pepper to taste and cook until done to your liking (3 to 6 minutes, depending on its texture). Turn off the heat.

4.  Add the pasta to the cooking water and cook until just al dente (check package).  Before draining, remove 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the onion and zucchini.  Toss to combine.

5. Add a little of the pasta water to moisten the mixture, then add the ricotta, red pepper, lemon zest.  Turn on the heat to medium again and toss to combine as it cooks just a bit more.  If the mixture isn’t creamy enough add more pasta cooking water until the consistency is just about right.  Turn off the heat.

6.  Add the basil paste and half the parmigian. Mix one last time and check for salt and pepper, adding more if needed.

7.  Serve, passing the remaining parmigiana for topping the dish.