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…]

raw tuscan vegetables and olive oil

Pinzimonio might be the epitome of simple Tuscan-style eating. It’s just fresh vegetables, served raw, with nothing else but olive oil, salt and pepper.

Are you thinking about those raw “veggie” arrangements that show up at book readings, potlucks and professional meet and greets? Because I was.  [Read more…]

tuscan kale, ricotta and mushroom pizza

tuscan kale, ricotta and mushroom pizza www.familystylefood.com
I laughed through “The Celery Incident“, a teaser episode from the new season of Portlandia; Steve Buscemi plays a sad sack salesman at Produce Sales Headquarters, taken to task for the sorry state of his account – celery – on the vegetable totem pole.

It’s pretty funny; in the episode,  heirloom tomatoes, kale and brussels sprouts are the hot, sexy IT foods (bacon and corn play some parts, too), while celery struggles for some love.  It did make me wonder if in reality kale has its own marketing board; no question kale (and healthy, green food in general) has gone viral over the past few years. But as far as I know kale ads aren’t taking the place of huge displays of Victoria’s Secret models in Times Square.

I’ve been trying to give celery a second chance in my kitchen. I use it as part of a flavor base – the soffritto - when I start cooking certain soups or sauces, but other than that I find its flavor can be overpowering when used raw or else it goes completely benign and unpleasantly mushy when cooked.

tuscan kale, mushroom and ricotta pizza www.familystylefood.com

But to get back to kale, the co-star in this pizza recipe: I couldn’t be happier everybody wants some. I kind of hope it’s not just a fad that every restaurant in the land has some version of a kale salad on the menu (not so in France: The Kale Project is attempting to stir the pot).  [Read more…]