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swirl and savor

Tomato Season in the South

Beth Ribblett

It's one of my favorite times of the year here in New Orleans.  No, it's not Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, it's tomato season, when my most favorite food is in abundant supply in all shapes, forms, sizes and colors.  Our friend Mary gave us a bag full of big, ripe Creole Tomatoes this weekend and Kerry has our little garden overflowing with cherry tomatoes.

We were having a little get together last night for our group that is coming with us to Positano this year, so I decided to make use of all this beautiful fruit and make a few tomato dishes.  Both of these are so simple yet amazingly delicious. 

The first is classic tomato bruschetta, and when I say classic I mean the way the Italians make it in Italy.  There is no vinegar or onions just five simple, fresh ingredients assembled and served with good, grilled crusty bread.

Bruschetta al Pomidoro (Tomato Bruschetta)

This is a summer staple on the Amalfi coast since Campania is also the DOP of San Marzano tomatoes.  You know, those delicious, deeply flavored plum tomatoes that we are only fortunate enough to get in cans.  But a quick lesson on bruschetta; it is pronounced bru-SKE-ta and bruschetta refers to the bread, not the topping.  The best bread for bruschetta is a stale, dense loaf like a sour dough or country style bread. The bread is cut into slices, grilled, and brushed with good quality olive oil then rubbed with fresh garlic cloves.  There are many recipes you can make to top your bruschetta, but the pomidoro is a classic.

To make the topping:
-4 medium sized ripe tomatoes cut into 1/4" dice
-2 cloves of garlic minced
-10 fresh basil leaves torn into small pieces
-1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarse salt
-few turns of the pepper grinder
-a pinch or two of peperoncino
-2 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil

For the bruschetta:
-12 slices of dense, stale bread, no more than 1" thick, and about 3-4" long
-olive oil  
-1 clove of garlic cut in half

Mix the topping ingredients, stir to combine and set aside.  Using indirect heat on a grill quickly toast the bread slices until the edges get slightly dark.  Remove from heat, brush on some olive oil and rub with the clove of garlic.  Add the topping and consume immediately!

Now what to do with all of those tomatoes Kerry has been so proudly attending to?  Cherry tomatoes always make my mouth water for a classic Sicilian dish and Lidia Bastianich's recipe is tried and true. Delicious, light, fresh and very unique, this is the perfect summer pasta dish. I've fallen in love with this brand of dried pasta called Cipriana that is sold at the Fresh Market on St. Charles and now use it anytime I'm not making fresh

Pesto Trapanese 
From Lidia's Italy

Serves 4 to 6

¾ pound (about 2-1/2 cups) cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 large fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup of whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 plump garlic clove, crushed and peeled
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino or to taste
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for the pasta
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

Recommended equipment:
A blender (my preference) or a food processor
A pot for cooking the spaghetti

Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.

Drop the tomatoes into the blender jar or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, the almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and ½ tsp salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.

With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you’re going dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate if for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.

To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt, to the boil in the large pot. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.

Cook the spaghetti al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.