Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Gradual Conversion to the Tomato Religion

I cook.  I'm not making a confession or anything, but I thought I'd lead with that as I launch into a short diatribe on heirloom tomatoes, and follow it up with a recipe. 

As the primary cook in our household, I try to keep things interesting week in and week out, and belonging to a CSA co-op farm forces me to do so throughout the summer and fall.  Every week we get a big shopping bag full of various seasonal produce.  This time of year, that means around 5 lbs of tomatoes every week.

Tomatoes have been a loathed object for me since childhood.  My parents were both devout followers of the tomato god, and we always had half a dozen vines somewhere on the property.  I won't go into details, but suffice to say that the thought of one outside extremely processed sauce or soup could just about finish my appetite.  But I was like that with lots of things--mushrooms, onions, olives, beets, brussels sprouts--and my palette has grown into them as I've gotten older and more sophisticated.  And cheap.  And in my part of the country, late summer=cheap tomatoes, even the beautiful heirloom varieties that come in more flavors than "store bought nothing"  and "rotten".  So the conversion started with BLT's (heavy on the bacon, thin on the tomato), and moved to chunkier fresh tomato sauces, and I have a feeling ended yesterday when I ate a whole plate of bruschetta.  Amen.  This gradual epiphany makes attemping the following recipe possible.

The version printed below is from Giada DeLaurentiis from Food Network (my wife is the researcher in the house--she found the recipe).  I had my doubts about the uncooked pasta, but it turned out fantastic.  The tomatoes more or less disintegrate under that kind of heat for an hour, and the pasta was silky and soft without turning to gluey mush.  There was a lot of sauce to go around, which makes me think I could stretch it another serving or two with about 4 more ounces of uncooked pasta.  I also just used cooking spray instead of butter to reduce a little fat, and instead of beefsteaks I just used a mix of ripe heirlooms that we had.  Give it a try next time you have a surplus of tomatoes.

Pasta alla Formiana

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
4 to 6 servings


· Butter, for greasing dish
· 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
· 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
· 1/2 pound (8 ounces) mezze penne or other small pasta
· 1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
· 1/4 cup dried oregano
· 2 teaspoons kosher salt
· 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
· 4 to 5 very ripe, extra-large or beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.

In a food processor, blend together the crushed tomatoes and garlic. Pour into a medium bowl and add the uncooked pasta, 1/3 cup olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Toss until all the ingredients are coated.

Line the bottom and sides of the baking dish with tomato slices. Pour the pasta mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Arrange the remaining tomato slices in an overlapping layer on top of the pasta mixture, making sure the mixture is completely covered. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the tomatoes are slightly crispy and the pasta is cooked, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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