fresh tomato, basil and bread soup

A tomato grown in New Jersey just tastes like a Jersey tomato. ~ tomato grower David Shepherd

What’s so special about a Jersey tomato? I’m not sure. I’m now on my second season of Jersey tomatoes, and I have to admit when I first tasted one late last summer, a memory revived with a tiny shock.

It reminded me of another lifetime ago; maybe the time I tasted my first garden tomato from my friend Jeanne’s grandfather’s backyard, or when I lived in the very southern part of Florida where tomatoes were abundant and at their prime in December, when I’d last cut into a heavy, ripe tomato that was still warm from the sun, deeply red all the way through. There was that taste of TOMATO that I can’t find the exact words to describe – somehow sweetly meaty and delicately tart, fruity and savory all at once. That flavor has nothing to do with the greenhouse-grown tomatoes I buy – we all do – all year round, that look red and perfect and lovely but taste like … not much.

Could be it’s marketing and hype at work  -  yes, the term  “The Jersey Tomato” has been trademarked – and also the fact that my attempts at growing tomatoes tend to end badly.

The cute and beautifully colored cherry tomatoes I cultivated by the back deck became snacks for hungry squirrels, and the fancy heirlooms I planted in a raised bed produced more sprawling foliage than fruit. It’s been a while since I’ve had a super-fresh, home grown tomato that actually made me pause. [Read more...]

clams in crazy water

“What’s crazy water got to do with cooking and anyway, who wants to eat fish in water?” ~ Marcella Hazan, Marcella Cucina

From where I’m sitting at my desk, I can hear the sound of water streaming in the room below me. It’s pleasant; Zen-like. It’s a gurgling fountain sound you’d hear while reclining on a heated, padded table with eye pillows on your face, in a dark room while aromatic oils are being soothed onto your stressed out body. SNAP! 

Actually, the sound is coming from my basement, which is not an organic spa retreat; just an ordinary partially finished one with a brand-spanking-new-just-installed-this-morning four-hundred-dollar sump pump. Hot and stone and massage are way nicer to say than sump. Or pump.

Isn’t it crazy that water is at once the beautiful blue sea or babbling brook, the very thing we want to escape to, and also a monstrous enemy when it’s flowing like a river into your house and you need it to be gone?

My heart goes out to you and anyone you know suffering from the effects of stormy flood waters. It’s happened to me before, in another house and it’s awful. This time - thank god – there was no flooding in our home; just an overwhelmed drain system that threatened to cause trouble into the wee hours last night. The trickling sound is the water table getting restored to normal. Thank you, sump pump. French drain – you too.

Anyway, there is the coincidence of my planning to write about these clams in Neapolitan crazy water – acqua pazza, as they say – and all the watery weather in my life today.

Marcella writes “water is what brings together all the seasoning ingredients, the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, chili pepper, salt and olive oil.” So simple. It’s the beauty of a brodo, or Italian broth.


Since the clams and crazy water come together to make a beautiful soupy-zuppa, I decided to fortify it with fregola (sometimes spelled fregula), a special type of pasta from Sardinia. I love the artisanal pasta produced by Rustichella D’Abruzzo; the fregola sarda they make is made from semolina. It’s much like large grains of couscous, only toasted. It’s got this great, toothy texture and sweet, nutty flavor, perfect for rustic broths like this one.

Recipe inspired by Fish in Crazy Water in Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan

clams in crazy water

clams in crazy water

Ingredients

  1. 20-24 littleneck clams or cockles, rinsed
  2. 1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  3. 3 whole garlic cloves, lightly smashed the side of a large knife
  4. 1 handful flat leaf parsley leaves plus 2 tablespoons chopped
  5. 1 fresh red chili pepper, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. Pinch saffron threads
  8. Extra virgin olive oil
  9. 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  10. 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  11. Juice of 1 lemon
  12. 1 cup fregola sarda

Instructions

  1. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add a teaspoon sea salt and add the clams. Swish them around a little then let them soak one hour. Lift the clams out of the water, leaving any sand or grit that settled on the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Set aside 1 cup of the tomatoes; put the rest in a saucepan with the garlic, parsley leaves, chili, salt, saffron and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow bubbling simmer and cook 30 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer set over a bowl of small saucepan, (discard the vegetables).
  3. Cook the fregola sarda in boiling salted water - in my experience it can take longer to cook than other types of small pasta before becoming tender – about 20 minutes. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon oil; cover and keep warm
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a saute pan large enough to hold all the clams (12 inches diameter should do it); add the garlic and shallot and cook until fragrant and sizzling. Toss in the clams, reserved tomatoes, broth and lemon juice. Cover the pan and turn up the heat to high and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Discard any clams that haven't opened. Taste the broth to see if it needs salt (or more chili).
  5. Spoon the fregola sarda into individual bowls and ladle with the clams and broth. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
http://familystylefood.com/2014/05/clams-in-crazy-water/

everyday green lentils

I can’t remember the last time I missed the sight of brown dirt in the winter. It’s been over a month since a few major storms covered my part of the Northeast with snow, immediately becoming frozen in place. We literally have boulder-sized piles on the street made of solid ice and a thick layer of white on the ground you can walk on without making a dent.

All this icy whiteness is making me think about what spring will look like – one season I haven’t seen here in New Jersey yet – and what plants I’ll plant as soon as it thaws.

I always try to grow my favorite perennial herb plants like thyme, lavender and rosemary. Depending on what kind of winter blast Mother Nature sends, they can survive a few seasons, the lavender plants spreading out with fragrant flowers all summer.

Why did I start out writing about dirt?  It must be a sign of deprivation. Lentils taste nothing like earth or dirt to me, but their humbleness never fails to make a comforting, simple meal especially suited for eating while things go Arctic outside.  [Read more...]