Roasted Heirloom Grape Tomatoes

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If you find yourself with a lot of grape tomatoes on hand at summer’s end, this is the dish to try. One-color red tomatoes will do nicely, but, of course, a multi-colored variety will make this recipe even more special. (The tomatoes don’t have to be heirloom, but they are particularly lovely.) Quickly tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and slices of red onion concentrate as they roast and caramelize.

This combination of flavors makes for the perfect warm or room-temperature side dish for virtually any type of meat. It would also be delightful tossed into a salad.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds heirloom grape tomatoes (varied colors are nice here)

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into about 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, divided

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss together the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the oregano on the prepared baking sheet. Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and roast until the vegetables are softened, caramelized, and fragrant, about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven, season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tomato Jam

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This sweet-tart jam is a great way to utilize a basket-full of late-summer tomatoes. It does take some time to prepare, but it’s worth it in the end. Keep it on hand to dollop on top of slices of manchego or Comté cheese and whole-grain crackers, drizzle over warm baked Brie, or even add to a vinaigrette. For a special hors d’oeuvre, spoon a bit over a tartlet shell filled with herbed cream cheese, goat cheese, or Boursin. Packaged in a pretty jar with a decorative tag, this addictive condiment would also certainly come as a welcome hostess or holiday gift.

The following canning method relies simply on sterilized jars for vacuum packing, but if you are experienced in sealing your preserves in a boiling water bath, try it. Your jam will last even longer and won’t require refrigeration.

Makes about 6 cups

6 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more as desired (optional)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine the tomatoes, sugars, salt, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar in a large (at least 8-quart) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the jam is thickened and reduced to about half, about 2 1/4 hours.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and the vanilla extract. Fill sterilized jars, seal with lids, and set aside to cool and create a vacuum seal at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

My Favorite Zucchini Bread

 

Fall is finally here, and I, for one, am ready to say farewell to summer’s heat and humidity. I’m even prepared to trade in the warm weather’s rich assortment of produce for autumn’s array of apples, winter squash, roasted chestnuts, and the like. This is my favorite time of year, and I adore the comfort food that accompanies the cool weather and brilliant foliage.

All this being said, I must admit, though, that I am having a difficult time saying goodbye to one seasonal fruit, in particular: summer squash. Yes, I know it’s available year-round, but summer’s bounty is special. I’ve cooked a lot with it the past few months. I have served zucchini and yellow squash grilled, sautéed, in soups, salads, and even in an impromptu ratatouille-like chili.

My favorite way to celebrate fresh local zucchini, though, is to bake it into bread. For quite some time, I searched for the perfect recipe. I don’t know why it took me so long to settle on one I really liked. I guess I was looking for a loaf that succeeded in all areas. I wanted the bread to be moist; pleasantly, but not too, sweet; golden brown; and leavened enough to form a lovely domed and slightly cracked top.

After several tries and many donations to neighbors, I finally found a recipe that satisfies my criteria. This batter makes two loaves, but you could also use it to fill small loaves or muffin pans. I usually serve the bread plain, but it would also be lovely drizzled with lemon glaze or even spread with buttercream or cream-cheese icing. I have found that using cake flour makes for a tender, light bread, while the whole-wheat flour contributes a nuttiness and depth of flavor. If, however, you have neither, simply use three cups of all-purpose flour in place of the cake and whole-wheat flours. The bread stores well in the refrigerator for at least a week or in the freezer for about two months.

Yes, I realize summer squash is best in its namesake season. But, seeing that we are fortunate to have access to zucchini year-round, I encourage you to make this bread whenever you are yearning for a taste of warm weather, or are just in the mood for a comforting, satisfying loaf.

Summer’s Best Zucchini Bread

Makes two 8-by-4-inch loaves

3 cups cake flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 large eggs

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)

3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans.

Whisk together the cake flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice in a medium bowl.

Combine the granulated and brown sugars and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla, reduce the mixing speed to low, and add the zucchini, beating until just incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the nuts, if desired.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans, set the pans on a baking sheet, and bake until the breads are well risen, golden brown, and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Set the breads on a wire rack to cool in the pans for about 15 minutes before turning out to cool completely.

 

Summer Peach Jam

A couple of weeks ago, on a warm, sundrenched summer day, I took my girls to a local peach festival, where we spent several hours reveling in fuzzy, fragrant fruit. Abundant bushels of ripe white- and yellow-fleshed peaches abounded. After filling our baskets at the farm market, we perused the bakery, where we discovered ping-pong-table-size peach layer cake, from which enthusiastic ladies wielding long serrated knives were slicing oversized, whipped cream-cloaked squares. Nearly every conceivable confection celebrated the fruit that day, from crisps and pies to breads and cakes and, of course, ice cream.

Once home I was ready to get to work cooking with the several pounds of the ripe peaches we purchased. Although there were many delicious desserts I could have made, I decided to engage in one of my favorite cooking pastimes: making jam. I have made peach jam a handful of times—sometimes with pectin and sometimes just with sugar. In the interest of time and accuracy, I decided to go with the conventional method and pulled a packed of liquid pectin from my pantry. The instructions in the box of Ball Fruit Jell Liquid Pectin make the process just about foolproof.

I happen to like altering recipes, adding ingredients here and changing amounts there. With jam, however, it really is necessary to follow directions and abide by the ratio of sugar, pectin, and fruit called for. This ensures that the jam will set up properly and maintain an appropriately thick consistency. That being said, I couldn’t help myself and did change the ingredients slightly. I added a pinch of salt, which I think is necessary to enhance the brightness and depth of the fruit flavor, and I stirred in a bit of finely chopped crystallized ginger. Peaches and ginger love each other. Adding too much ginger can overpower the peaches’ delicate sweetness and acidity. Incorporating just enough, though, contributes a lovely balance of warmth, spice, and roundness to the finished jam. The heat and intensity of the spice also mellows slightly as the jam sets for several days. In case you don’t care for ginger, simply leave it out, or add a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract once the jam is done if you want. The peach jam is, of course, also perfect without any additions or alterations.

A final note about canning: Many recipes call for boiling the filled, capped jars of jam in a rack-lined pot of water to help create a successful vacuum and increase the jam’s shelf life. I usually don’t do this. My method of filling the jars, putting on the lids, inverting the jars for about ten seconds, and then allowing them to cool on the counter always creates a successful seal. I then store the jars in the refrigerator for at least three weeks and often up to a couple of months. This is an easy method of preserving, and once you start making your own fruit jams, I bet you’ll never again buy another jar of the store-bought stuff.

Summer Peach Jam

Pit, peel, and chop 3 pounds of peaches. You should have about 4 cups. Put the peaches in a large saucepan along with 7 1/2 cups of sugar, the juice of 1 lemon, and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to full boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 packet of Ball Fruit Jell Liquid Pectin. Return to a rolling boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, skim any foam that has formed on the surface, and stir in 1/3 to a scant 1/2 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger, if desired. Carefully ladle the hot jam into jars, leaving about 1/4 inch from the rims, and seal tightly. Invert each jar for about 10 seconds to create a vacuum and then set aside at room temperature to cool. This jam will keep well in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks.

Makes about eight 8-ounce jars (8 cups)

 

Summer Melon Soup

To my mind, one of the best things about summer is the abundance of available fresh, ripe, and often local, melon. My favorites are orange-flesh muskmelons, such as cantaloupe and Tuscan cantaloupe (similar to the former, but enhanced with green stripes). I am rather picky, I admit. The fruit should be firm but appropriately tender, juicy, sweet, fragrant, and never, never mealy.

Even though my family doesn’t often have trouble consuming the one or two melons we buy each week at the market, the summer heat can often transform a lovely ripe melon into a mealy mess within a day. To avoid this catastrophe, I have found that preparing soup is one of the best ways to quickly put a good bit of this fruit to delicious use.

The following recipe actually serves equally well as a cold or room-temperature soup and the base of a fruit smoothie to which you could add other fruit, yogurt, buttermilk, or ice cream, for that matter. This is also one of those nifty dishes that babies, children, and adults can all enjoy.

If the melon is ripe enough, you don’t need to add much else to it, save for a bit of salt to brighten and enhance the fruit’s sweetness and a splash of vanilla extract or a pinch of vanilla seeds scraped from a plump bean. You can’t really taste the vanilla, but it does add depth and complexity to the melon’s floral characteristics.

Serve this soup by itself, with a sprig of mint or basil, and a scoop of fresh ricotta cheese, if desired.

Summer Melon Soup

Seed, peel, and chop one medium cantaloupe or other orange-flesh muskmelon. (You should have about 4 cups.) Put the fruit in a blender, add ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (or the seeds from about ½ a vanilla bean), and puree until very smooth. Pour the soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese and garnished with fresh basil or mint, if desired.

Makes about 4 cups

Roasted Nectarine Bread

I love summer fruit. Problem is, however, that in recent years, I’ve developed an allergy to a variety of fruits, including all stone fruits. The season’s loveliest and most flavorful peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries are all off limits to me. As soon as the sweet nectar touches my tongue, my lips, throat, and areas around my mouth itch and develop little blisters, causing me to run for the Benadryl. This reaction seems to be due to the chemical interaction that occurs between the pollens and proteins found in these fruits (see more about fruit allergies at http://allergiesspring.com/fruit-allergies.php).

Happily, though, I have discovered that when these fruits are cooked or dried, my reactions are lessened or disappear completely. This is apparently quite common in allergy sufferers like myself, as cooking or drying (particularly at higher temperatures, I imagine) destroys the pesky pollens and proteins.

So, although I would prefer eating luscious summer fruit out of hand, I have taken to cooking virtually any variety that bothers me in ways that are not only delicious, but celebrate their natural sweetness, perfume, and flavor.

Just about any stone fruit (or other fruits, for that matter) can be grilled, poached, stewed, sautéed, or roasted. I like all of these methods, but roasting is my newest favorite. In only a matter of minutes, pitted and sliced nectarines, peaches, plums, or cherries can be tossed with a little sugar or honey, if desired, spread onto a baking sheet, and cooked into soft caramelized gems that are delicious on their own, served with a dollop of whipped cream or yogurt, blended into smooth purees (for babies, especially), or used to add flavor and texture to other recipes.

Recently, I have been playing with fruited quick bread recipes. Chopped roasted fruit adds unique flavor and moistness to these comforting loaves. The recipe that follows celebrates ripe nectarines. This is a fragrant, moist bread that develops a delicate caramel flavor from the addition of brown sugar, a slight nuttiness from almond extract and whole-wheat flour, and a sweet fruitiness from the roasted nectarines. Serve it warm or room temperature, on its own or with butter and jam (blackberry or apricot would be particularly lovely). This recipe makes one large (9 ½-by-5 ½-by-3-inch) loaf or four small (5 ½-by-3 ¼-by-2 ¼-inch) loaves. Store the baked and cooled bread in the freezer for up to a month or in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Roasted Nectarine Bread

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter and flour one 9 ½-by-5 ½-by-3-inch loaf pan or four small 5 ½-by-3 ¼-by-2 ¼-inch loaf pans.

Remove the pits from 4 nectarines, cut them into ½-inch slices, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with raw sugar, or drizzle with honey or agave nectar, if desired. Roast until the fruit is tender, lightly browned and caramelized, and fragrant, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Coarsely chop the fruit and set aside to cool completely (you should have about 1 ½ cups).

Whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ cup whole-wheat flour, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Combine 2 sticks (1/2 pound) of room temperature unsalted butter, 1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Reduce the mixing speed to low, mix in the chopped roasted fruit, and gradually incorporate the flour mixture, again stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s), arrange the pans on a baking sheet, and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center(s) comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the bread from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool in the pan(s) for about 20 minutes before turning out each one to cool completely.

Quick Summer Tomato Soup

As I was cleaning and organizing the kitchen one evening last week, the day before we were leaving for a four-day mini-break, I eyed the three New Jersey tomatoes sitting on the counter. They had been there for several days slowly ripening, and now they were perfect. Time was short and I still had many tasks to complete, but I couldn’t just leave them there—or, heaven forbid, stash them in the refrigerator.

So, I rallied and quickly put together a tomato soup that, even if I had had more time, I would have been happy to prepare and proud to serve. This is another family friendly recipe, as babies, kids, and adults will find it yummy. (Do make sure, of course, that your baby can tolerate onions and tomatoes.) Keep it simple and season the soup with just a bit of dried herbs (I used herbs de Provence, a mixture of dried thyme, basil, savory, fennel, and lavender) along with salt and pepper. Or, if you want more flavor and freshness, stir in some chopped fresh basil, oregano, and/or thyme after you’ve pureed the cooked soup.

Serve this soup warm, room temperature, or chilled. It is lovely just as it is, but it is also delicious garnished with fresh herbs and/or spoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese. It freezes nicely, too.

Fresh Summer Tomato Soup

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Peel and slice 1 medium onion and add to the oil. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and light golden in color, about 7 minutes. Stir in 3 chopped medium tomatoes, add about 1/4 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or a mixture of dried or chopped fresh basil, oregano, thyme, etc., as desired), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have released their juices and are soft, about another 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment until smooth. Stir in some chopped fresh herbs if you wish. Serve garnished with fresh herbs and/or spoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese, if desired.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups