Making the Most of Summer Tomatoes & Basil

Wow was this ever simple and delicious. Roasting tomatoes is marvelously simple and so good I just want to eat the whole pan with a spoon. But I didn’t. I plan to make these tomatoes all summer long with bushels of Farmer’s Market tomatoes. I will spoon them over bread, spread them on sandwiches, sprinkle them over roast pork and serve them with fresh cheese. Yum!

I also highly recommend making a vat of basil oil to keep in the fridge. If you are swimming in fresh basil, this is a great way to use it up. Drizzle the oil over cheese and tomatoes, on omelets, fresh fish … you name it.

BASIL OIL:

Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Place 2 to 3 cups fresh basil in the boiling water and blanch for 15 seconds. Remove with a skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Drain and squeeze out excess water, then place on a clean dish towel and again squeeze out as much water as you can. Place the basil in a blender with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Blend one to two minutes until the olive oil is green and tinged with flecks of basil. Transfer to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate. (Recipe adapted from the NYT)

I served the chicken with a side of caponata full of fresh eggplant, green peppers and onions. The addition of capers, green olives, raisins and pine-nuts makes this incredibly flavorful.

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

Adapted from “Vietnamese Home Cooking,” by Charles Phan.

  • 2 pounds light brown palm sugar, chopped into pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups fish sauce

Instructions: In a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot, gently melt the sugar over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. This will take 10 to 12 minutes. Do not be tempted to rush the process or you may scorch the sugar.

When the sugar is lump free, completely melted and just beginning to boil, remove the pan from the heat and very slowly pour in the fish sauce while stirring constantly. Be careful, as it will bubble furiously.

Use the sauce right away or let cool completely, transfer to an airtight container, and store in a cool cupboard for up to 3 months.

Lesson Learned

Sunday was muggy, sticky and sweltering — the perfect afternoon to stay inside and play in my kitchen. I decided to make  a full batch of Vietnamese Caramel Sauce (this is for savory dishes like caramel shrimp, not for dessert) to prep for Monday night’s dinner and store some in the pantry for quick Vietnamese dishes all summer long.

A wise woman would have followed the directions, particularly since this un-wise woman had never made the sauce before.

A wise woman would NOT have tried to save calories by substituting some of the sugar with Splenda. Apparently, Splenda does not melt.  This is a handy little fact to know if you are stirring nearly 2 pounds of it over a hot stove waiting for it to liquefy. Basically, I had been stirring what amounted to a pot of sand for over 45 minutes before googling, “does Splenda melt?” That’s a big fat no.

So, out goes the whole mess and in goes the real deal. I now have two gorgeous jars of beautiful Vietnamese caramel sauce, which I look forward to testing out tonight in my Vietnamese caramelized shrimp dish.

Stirring the caramel sauce

Stirring the caramel sauce

Finished Product

Finished Product

 

RECIPE:

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

Adapted from “Vietnamese Home Cooking,” by Charles Phan.

  • 2 pounds light brown palm sugar, chopped into pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups fish sauce

Instructions: In a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot, gently melt the sugar over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. This will take 10 to 12 minutes. Do not be tempted to rush the process or you may scorch the sugar.

When the sugar is lump free, completely melted and just beginning to boil, remove the pan from the heat and very slowly pour in the fish sauce while stirring constantly. Be careful, as it will bubble furiously.

Use the sauce right away or let cool completely, transfer to an airtight container, and store in a cool cupboard for up to 3 months.

Slow-Roasted “Melted” Tomatoes (Pomodori al Forno)

This is one of those recipes that people ask me for over and over again. It’s incredibly simple and the finished dish is so versatile. The tomatoes are wonderful simply with chunks of bread or paired with fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese.  You can also toss the tomatoes with greens for a salad or with pasta for a spectacular main course. If you’re making this outside of tomato season, use the best quality canned tomatoes you can find.

DDtomatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup (or more) olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved length-wise and seeded
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp minced Italian parsley or basil

DIRECTIONS

  • 1

    Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Pour 1/2 cup olive oil into 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar and salt. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over and bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over again. Bake until deep red and very tender, transferring tomatoes to plate when soft, about 15 to 45 minutes longer.

  • 2

    Layer tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkling garlic, parsley and or basil over each layer, reserving oil in baking dish. Drizzle tomatoes with reserved oil, adding more if necessary to cover. Let stand at room temp 2 hours. Cover and chill up to 5 days. Bring to room temp before serving.

    Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

Horseradish Dressing

Whisk all of the following ingredients together:

1 to 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more if you prefer a high voltage kick).

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

A squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice to taste

A drop or two of honey if you wish

Salt & Pepper to taste

Fresh chopped herbs if desired: chives, thyme, etc.