Monday, October 08, 2007
Signs of autumn are all over the place.
I love the change of light...
...and the first leaves drifting to a soft landing to join others in piles around trees in town and in the parks. I love the milder temperatures.
So I was baffled the other day when I overheard (in French – yay me!) two women commiserating about autumn not being a good season. It’s always been one of my favorite seasons but I’m beginning to understand the less than affectionate welcome it receives here.
I’ve been down for the count with a little bug, or “vee-rrroose” as the doctor charmingly called it, due to the change of seasons and the fact that this little bug is making the grand rounds in Aix right now. He prescribed patience. Well, that and a scarf around my neck during these transitional days to protect my throat - a very French notion and I must say, style aside, I think it makes a difference. (And if I thought for one petite moment that the good doctor's counsel was covered by my international health insurance, I'd be dragging my little virus along as I made a beeline to the Hermes shop around the corner!) I did add to that prescription a little something in the realm of essential oils from my trusty “pharmacien” to clear my aching sinuses. Put it all together and I am into my third day of feeling better...and actually looking a bit more French with that scarf wrapped around my neck before there is a need for a coat to go over it!
Needless to say, I’ve really been into easy do-it-in-my-sleep kind of stuff: Linguine with cream, tomatoes and smoked salmon (my favorite dish at the Fish Market in Del Mar, California and inspired by a dinner shared chez N & W several nights ago), a slice of 6 cereal bread slathered with pesto and topped with smoked salmon then drizzled with lemon juice and a bit of lemon zest with a spinach salad on the side or roasted chicken with leftover refried black beans and a Napa cabbage slaw, or a bit of roasted fennel with shaved parmesan...stuff like that. Things I could drag myself up from the couch and put together without a lot of fuss. (Clearly I've taken the route of feeding a virus and starving something else...something I rarely come down with because I can't remember the last time I starved anything!)
In keeping with only cooking the easy stuff, there was a great price per kilo the other day on the end of the season’s roma tomatoes at one of my favorite veggie vendors at the market. The woman standing next to me sorting through the crates of tomatoes assured me that these were very good even if they were not very pretty. So instead of being comforted with apples à la Ruth Reichl, I decided to be comforted with fresh tomato sauce.
I mentioned a few posts ago that I was making batches of the stuff to freeze with the last of the tomatoes from summer but faced with the critical mass of these tomatoes in the market and the desire for comfort food, I thought the result might be worth sharing.
A bouquet of basil, the head from a twisted rope of garlic and a snowy topping of aged parmesan cheese and it gave that old “vee-rrroose” a run for its money.
With an appreciative curtsey to Faye Food, as she inspires me to be a bit more adventurous as I play with my food (one of these days I am certain I will make it to one of her cooking classes in Italy!), this recipe is more of a description of process so I encourage you to use your instincts! If you’d like to see something a bit more precise, I have used this recipe for years to make my fresh tomato sauce – with very consistent results.
(There is actually another savory madeleine that I want to try that would go well with this dish…but it was not in the category of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of thing so it will have to wait for another worthy partner.)
Fresh Tomato Sauce with Roasted Garlic and Basil
(As long as you’ve got garlic going into the oven, put in an additional head or two. It makes a great appetizer – a soft, sweet clove squeezed onto a piece of bread...mmmm! Or toss a roasted clove into a bit of mustard and mash with some added good vinegar...whisk with your best olive oil and voilà: roasted garlic vinaigrette.)
Cut a head of garlic in half and place it cut side up in a small baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and place in a 375º oven to roast for 45 minutes. When it is done, set it aside to cool.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and gently drop 12 to 15 roma tomatoes into the pot to blanch for 2 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon onto a tray lined with a paper towel and allow to cool a bit. While the tomatoes are cooling, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pan and add one small onion and a clove or two of garlic (chopped) and cook until softened and translucent over a gentle heat.
While the onion and garlic are cooking, peel, seed and chop the now cooled tomatoes. Add them, along with the juice (I collect the peel and seed mixture in a bowl and then toss it all in a sieve over the pan after I’ve added the tomatoes to the pan to strain out any extra juice) and mix to blend with the onion and garlic. Allow to simmer over a low heat to blend flavors and reduce the juice a bit.
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. While you wait for the water to come to a boil, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves you’ve set aside to cool into the sauce and gently fold in to mix. (I like to keep them in large chunks to really get a melt-in-your-mouth exclamation point every now and again in the sauce.)
When the pasta is ready, drain and plate it and top it with the sauce. Garnish with a few leaves of basil (either torn or in a chiffonade) and give it a flurry of freshly grated parmesan.
Stick your own fourchette in it and...well...you’ll know what to do next. Trust your instincts on this one!