I’ve been reading all kinds of lovely and thoughtful posts wrapping up the past year and looking forward to the new one with hope and optimism, despite what you hear if you watch the news. I’m still in “lay around the house mode” for another week and rather than throw my two cents in about the coming year, I’ll just say two things about last year. First, it’s been one of the happiest and most tranquil in recent memory and for that I am thankful. Second, I accomplished the goal of starting this blog. It’s been nothing like I thought it would be, yet so much more and in so many different and surprising ways. It’s funny, in a curious rather than comical way, that blogging has not only made my life seem better than it is, but it actually has made my life better. I do and cook things than I probably wouldn’t get around to otherwise, oftentimes for the sole purpose of writing a post. And I didn’t expect that. Nor did I expect the connections that I’ve made throughout the “blogosphere” and the world. I’ve got a long way to go (still saving for that new camera I keep mentioning!), and at the same time I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Let’s just say that it’s all been good.
That said, there’s been a whole lot of cooking going on around here. So much so, that I’m not even sure where to go with this post. I can say, however, that I am completely done with any and all manner of holiday fare. I don’t think I can even look at another butternut squash, cranberry or pomegranate beverage until next fall. Now what I want are comforting winter dishes, like the bolognese I made for my girlfriends on New Years Eve Eve (December 30th, you know that one, right?), or the black eyed peas and cabbage that S made yesterday per his southern tradition, or maybe the Manchego, Arugula and Oven-Dried Tomatoes Quesadilla I whipped up today for lunch. The Shrimp Pil Pil I made last night also fit the bill for comfort and flavor in the new year. You can expect to see these recipes in the coming weeks since they were all worthy.
However, the recipe that I absolutely must share tout de suite comes from my new (and beloved) cookbook, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That? Ina, and Gwyneth for that matter (I got her cookbook too!), both extoll the virtues of winter grocery store tomatoes. Yep, you heard me right. I haven’t thought about a tomato since October really, but both authors suggest ways of cooking those mealy and bland hothouse tomatoes until they are syrupy and delicious. Ina says it’s an easy way to bring a little bit of summer to your winter table. I couldn’t agree more. You’ll really want this one in your winter recipe file, trust me.
Also, I should mention that I halved Ina’s original recipe but kept the sugar amount the same, mainly because, as soon as I saw this recipe, it took me straight back to a trip to Monticello where Wendy and I lunched at a tavern advertising “the food of yesteryear, served in the round” (whatever exactly that meant). While all the food, supposedly that of our forebearers, was delicious, the most memorable were tomatoes just like this. And were they ever sweet. Whoever made them, thankfully, did not hold back on the sugar so I didn’t either. You could, however, reduce the sugar amount I’ve listed by half and keep it more true to Ina’s original, if you’re worried it’ll be too sweet. You could also double the entire recipe to feed a larger crowd. People are going to want seconds of this one.
serves 4, adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy is That?, 2010.
12 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
1 cup baguette or country bread cubes (I used the innards of a frozen baguette I had on hand)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350°.
Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skill over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes or until they are nicely browned on all sides. It’s ok if the olive oil soaks in quickly and some parts of the bread remain dry. After the cubes have browned, add the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a low boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat completely and stir in the torn basil. Pour the mixture into a medium-sized casserole dish (eyeball the amount you have in your pan and choose an appropriately sized dish). Top with the grated parmesan cheese and drizzle with the last tablespoon of olive oil. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until browned and bubbly. This makes an excellent winter side dish, but I’d be inclined to eat a double portion with a green salad and call it a meal.
Happy New Year everyone! And thanks for reading, and above all, commenting. You have no idea how happy the comments make me. Cheers!