Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer in a glass

Tomato. Pomodoro. Tomate.

However you say it, tomatoes scream summer. They are sweet and juicy, but not sweet enough to be called the fruit they really are. Tomatoes have a green, herbal taste to them, and in a really ripe tomato, I think you can taste the sun beams that lovingly reddened its skin and flesh. Tomatoes are the building blocks of great sauces--marinara, bolognese, barbecue--but in the summer they beg a simpler preparation. Tomato salads abound. Tired of these, you can move onto salsas and uncooked pasta sauces. For the family party this past weekend I made a bunch of tomato topping for bruschetta, and it was during that process that I got an idea.

As I diced up the tomatoes, I kept thinking about all the seed-y pulp that I wasn't using. Couldn't I do something with it? As it turns out, yes. I got the idea to push the pulp through a strainer into a bowl, and was rewarded with a beautiful, rose-colored, vibrant tasting tomato juice.

And what else would I do with that, but mix up a drink? Tomato martini, anyone?

This is just vodka and tomato juice, about a 3:1 ratio. Garnished with a sprig of basil, tomato's best friend. Think a more alcoholic, yet lighter version of a bloody mary. It's all about the taste of the tomato, but there's no thick vegetable puree to wade through.

But my weekend tomato cocktail experience didn't end there. My sister was home, and she mentioned seeing a "white bloody mary" from Tyler Florence. She didn't even have to ask if I wanted to try it. She pulled up the recipe, we had all the ingredients, and on a relaxing Sunday afternoon, we dove into making them. For this, you make your own juice using a melange of all things green: green tomatoes, green grapes, cucumbers, celery, and a little jalapeno. Puree and push through a seive to create a gorgeous electric green liquid. Mix in a little lime, a little horseradish, and add your vodka. And now, you just spent so much time mixing the drink, you might as well go the extra mile with a salt and pepper rimmed glass and a fun garnish.

A few notes on the recipe:
~Tyler says to put the puree in a cheesecloth in a seive. You really don't need the cheesecloth.
~There's some sugar in his recipe. Not necessary, in my opinion. The grapes are sweet enough.
~Abby and I added a couple spoonfuls of the leftover puree to add a little texture.

A note on green tomatoes:
I love green tomatoes. I might even love them more than ripe tomatoes. They are a little citrus-y, a flavor I love. They have a little crunch, a texture I love. Fried green tomatoes are sublime. Dredge in a little flour, dip in egg, cover in cornmeal, and lightly fry. You want to brown the cornmeal, but not overcook the tomatoes. I like them best when some of the hardy texture is retained. And you can top your fried green tomatoes with so many things. Maybe even a ripe tomato salsa. So delicious.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Family Feast

Apprentices have asked me, what is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it the freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic, or the rare? It is none of these. The peak is neither eating nor cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine, unless he invites cherished friends, counts the days until the banquet, and composes an anticipatory poem for his letter of invitation? ~Nicole Mones, The Last Chinese Chef

When I came across the above quote in Nicole Mones's excellent novel on Chinese cuisine, I instantly loved it. I'm moving in a week, and I plan on posting a copy of it in my kitchen to remind me of the great truth--company trumps cuisine. It is only people that are eternal.

This past weekend was another great one of family and food, shared with some of the same people I enjoyed the crab feast with. I love the cooking just as much as the party itself, but even that has a communal aspect to it, because I'm spending all my kitchen time with my mother. We have a great rhythm, and it's a joy to share the kitchen with her. Plus, after many years of entertaining, we have reached a point where everything is perfectly relaxed. We cooked over the course of two days, and had plenty of time to sit with a beer before our guests came.

A few pictures from the event:

Lovely place settings.

Drink trolley

The spread

Close-up: beautiful greens

Ironic napkins!