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Little tomatoes give sauce big flavor

July 24, 2009|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: What's the trick to keeping the fresh flavors of fruits and tomatoes when you heat them? When I top tomato halves with seasonings and bake them or put them on the grill, they taste flat. Peaches are this way, too. What am I doing wrong? -- Alison in Charleston, S.C.

Dear Alison: This mantra will make all the difference: with tomatoes and other fruits, either keep them just about raw or cook them all the way, nothing in between. This doesn't mean cooking to death, but you want to break down enough of the natural structure so the sugars concentrate.

"Just about raw" means cooking with very high heat to caramelize the surfaces while keeping the centers fresh and bright-tasting. Fats and sugar help this happen. Try this recipe as a test drive of fast tomato cookery. I use grape tomatoes, but larger ones --quartered and sliced -- work, too. Small heirloom tomatoes worth trying are Brown Berry, all the currant types, Green Grape, Mexico Midget, Royal Red Cherry, Tiny Tim and Tommy Toe. Ask the produce manager for permission to taste any tomatoes, to see if they're worth investing in.

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CARAMELIZED LITTLE TOMATOES WITH LINGUINE



Serve 3 to 4 as a main dish; 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

When I can't wait for a fresh tomato pasta sauce, little tomatoes are my saviors. They're more likely than big ones to deliver great tomato flavors early in the season and out of season. Squashing the tomatoes in hot oil helps their sugars caramelize, giving them wonderful richness. That said, this pasta has a light touch.

Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 whole dried red chili pepper or 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 to 4 pounds small tomatoes, left whole or halved
16 large fresh basil leaves, torn
1 pound linguine, uncooked
5 quarts boiling salted water in a 6-quart pot
6 to 8 ounces mozzarella, diced small (optional)

Generously coat the bottom of a 12-inch straight-sided saute pan with oil. Add the garlic, chili pepper and water, along with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Set over medium heat and cover. Cook about 5 minutes, adjusting heat so garlic softens but does not burn. Uncover, scoop out garlic and chili pepper with a slotted spoon and reserve (there's no need to remove the red pepper flakes, if using). Stand back as you cook off all the liquid, which will pop in the pan.

Once the liquid is pretty much gone, add the tomatoes. Squash them down with the back of a wooden spoon and cook over high heat until they start to color (about 3 minutes). Stir in the basil and pull the pan off the heat. Return the reserved garlic to the pan; do the same with the whole chili pepper, if using.

Drop the linguine into the boiling water and cook, stirring often, until tender-firm to the bite. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Then immediately drain the pasta in a colander.

Set the saute pan back over medium-high heat, add the reserved pasta water and stir in the drained pasta. Toss to blend, taste for seasoning and then toss in the mozzarella. Serve immediately.

Dear Lynne: Do you have a really spicy and tasty rub for grilled chicken? Store-bought hot sauce didn't do it for me. I'd appreciate it if the ingredients weren't expensive and hard to get. -- Greg from Kalamazoo, Mich.

Dear Greg: See what you think of this. Everything can be found in the supermarket.

CHILIE-SPICE RUB WITH ORANGE



Makes about 1 cup of rub.

This works on vegetables such as split potatoes, sliced eggplant and thickly cut onions, as well as seafood, meats and chicken. Use the food processor to pull the rub together in seconds.

2 to 3 fresh serrano chilies (remove seeds to cut heat), or 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
4 big garlic cloves
1/2 medium onion
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vinegar (any type will do)
Grated zest and juice of a medium orange
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine everything in a food processor or blender and puree. Rub over the surface of your vegetables or other food and slow-grill over medium-low heat.

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