How Italians Warmed Up to Tomatoes
Before long tomatoes were entrenched in Italian cuisine, writes Julia Della Croce, in Salse di Pomodoro, a book in which she recounts the slow-to-develop Italian love affair with tomatoes. In one of the first Italian cookbooks, published in 1765, a tomato-based dressing for pasta was hailed by the author as a "universal sauce" -- a characterization that by now is quite true.
A book about Italian tomato sauces is especially useful at a time of year when the last of the summer tomatoes overrun farmers markets. But if youre expecting a book all about sweating over a hot stove for hours on end, guess again. The dish that takes the longest to prepare, a recipe for baked tomato sauce, spends most of the time in the oven. The book has an entire chapter on uncooked tomato sauces, which consist simply of chopped tomatoes -- the freshest and ripest available -- and an ingredient such as arugula or avocados tossed together with olive oil.
The following is said to be one of the most popular tomato recipes. It is enshrined on the box of one of Italys best-selling pastas. When putting the recipe together, she advises, "It is essential that the pasta be dripping wet when tossed with the sauce to enable the avocado to merge with some of the pasta cooking water, thus saucing the strands."
pounds fresh, sweet, mature, vine-ripened
2. Add the basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Peel and halve the avocado, thinly slicing each half crosswise, then cut the slices further into small strips or dice. Add the avocado to the bowl with the other ingredients. Toss to mix and allow to stand at room temperature while the pasta cooks.
4. Stir in hot, dripping wet pasta.
At the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City last summer, eight chefs accepted a challenge: spend $20 and 40 minutes shopping for tomatoes and any accompaniments that the budget allows, and spend the next 40 minutes whipping the ingredients into an uncooked tomato-based dish for six.
The chefs were told that they could bring knives and any odd condiment or spice not sold at the Greenmarket. But no kitchen, no back-up staff, and no electrical equipment would be allowed. The market provided a work surface, salt and olive oil.
Eight chefs took up the challenge, fanning out among the 54 stands at the market, 20 of which were selling farm-grown tomatoes, 10 of them carrying heirloom varieties.
Along with tomatoes, the chefs picked up such things as goat cheese, opal basil, purslane (the garden variety and a large-leaved golden purslane), mint, fennel, lemon thyme and sunflower sprouts to work into their dishes.
This is the dish concocted by Nicole Routhier, a consulting chef.
4 ripe plum
tomatoes or two red
beefsteak tomatoes (about
1 pound total), in
2. Mix the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil with the garlic in a small bowl.
3. Cut the bread into 16 to 24 1/2-inch slices. Brush one side of each slice with the garlic oil. (If a heat source is available, grill or toast the slices until golden brown on both sides.) Place the bread slices on a serving platter. Top each slice with sunflower sprouts, then with a generous spoonful of the salsa. Sprinkle each with a pinch of kosher salt. Serve immediately as an appetizer.
Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef