Farm-Fresh Tomato Time
September 1999--Now is the time when farm fresh tomatoes are at their peak. "Where I live in Orange County, California, we are blessed with an abundance of great farm stands and farmers markets specializing in fresh, and often organic, produce. When tomatoes are this fresh they need only a little nudge to become culinary masterpieces," he says.
His style of cooking incorporates ideas from many disciplines. He learned to cook as a child under the tutelage of his Italian grandmother. "Because of my Italian upbringing, we just had tons and tons of vegetables around. That started me moving in the direction of more healthy foods. When I moved to California to go to college, I became a vegetarian. And then I moved to Japan and lived there for 12 years," he says.
His stint in Japan had a major influence on his life, in more ways than one. "Actually, my degree's in architecture, and my main career over there was interior design. Through a very serendipitous coincidence, I started to do vegetarian catering and that grew into a whole other business for me. It was such a natural progression, because the Asian culture really treats food as the primary medicine in your life. Garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric are valued as much for their healthful properties as for their flavor. So that was really an amazing extension of my education," says Cleveland, who now runs a business as a caterer and personal chef in Orange County, Calif.
Here are two recipes that reflect both the Italian and Japanese influences on his life.
2 whole heads of garlic
1. Remove most of the papery skin from the garlic heads. Slice off the top to expose the flesh.
2. Place garlic heads on tin foil with 1 tablespoon sake or vermouth and 2 tablespoons of citrus juice. Fold foil into packet and place in 275 oven for about an hour or until soft and roasted.
3. Cool and squeeze garlic into bowl. Mix with other ingredients and blend well. Serve by the dollop on tomatoes, with artichokes or as you wish. Garnish with fresh herbs such as Spanish tarragon, basil, marjoram, etc.
1. Simmer chopped lemon grass in water and vermouth for about 15 minutes until liquid is reduced by half. Remove from heat, add verbena and allow to cool.
2. Strain and process liquid with the other pesto ingredients.
3. Cut tomatoes, peppers and squash into fine dice (or process gently if you must). Mix with the pesto. Check seasonings for salt and pepper.
4. Serve chilled or at room temp on grilled or toasted Italian bread slices.
Notes: Sorrel is a spinach-like leaf with a lemony flavor. You can easily substitute spinach, lemon balm or your favorite fresh herb.
Copyright 1999 Seasonal Chef