As our summer of confinement–aka the summer that never was–comes to a close this weekend with the Labor Day holiday, I seek to find the good in these bizarre months. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been fruitful. And, like so many of you, I have been making lemonade with these lemons. Lots and lots of lemonade.
I have also made a few tomato-centric dishes with the abundant tomatoes gifted to me from a friend’s garden. Ripe and tasty, these were some of the better homegrown tomatoes I have ever had. Sadly, my own experience with growing tomatoes has not been so fortuitous. Typically, I harvest a maximum of two tomatoes–no matter how many plants I start with. This becomes some expensive tomatoes, so I have learned it’s easier, cheaper and more successful for me to buy tomatoes from my favorite farmers.
Unless a friend wants to share her prolifically impressive bounty with me.
One of the gifts of these last six months is the ease with which we are supporting one another. The ease with which we call and check-in and share herbs, leftovers, cookies, hikes, laughs, reality checks and ripe tomatoes from a victory garden.
Gardens are the salve to what ailed us this spring. Gardens need constant attention and tending. And we have had plenty of extra time to prep the beds and nurture the seeds. Gardening allows us to feel responsible for bringing something good to life and when we can’t have people over to celebrate the bounty, sharing the joy with friends who appreciate good ingredients feels right.
Gratefully, I had enough tomatoes to make three tantalizing dishes that highlighted the beauty of these summer jewels–and these are three delicious reasons we all should be growing our own food.
Many Tomatoes, Three Dishes
Initially, I was inspired to make Ina Garten’s summer garden pasta so the tomatoes could shine. And did they!
This recipe only required cooking the pasta. The tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil marinated for up to four hours and were served raw with the pasta. It didn’t take long for the intoxicating smell of garlic and oil to permeate the house.
This was an unexpected joy in this dish. It was insanely easy to make and absolutely something we will lean on again–the next time a friend generously bestows her overflow of tomatoes with me (hint, hint).
To spice up our Saturday night fish tacos, I roasted some of these garden-fresh tomatoes with half an onion and a jalapeno. Then I blended it with lime juice, a generous dose of salt and a handful of cilantro for a homemade salsa that made us start thinking about what else we could spoon the salsa over.
With still more homegrown tomatoes waiting their turn, I decided to combine those remaining with the two farmers market eggplants and make Pasta alla Norma. Even as an eggplant lover, I had never made this dish. Any time we have eggplant in the house, our minds go directly to eggplant parm or an Asian dish, so I was eager to try something new.
Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian pasta dish that is hearty but also vegetarian and wholesome. It’s easy enough for a weekday meal, but impressive enough to pass for a weekend gathering. There is a heft to the dish, which will go a long way in pacifying the carnivores at the table. A handful of basil reminds you this dish is puro Italiano, while the grated ricotta salata adds a hint of salt and texture to make it irresistible.
This is an ideal dish to make for a group, as it can be prepared in advance and warmed up before serving. For a party, grill up some Italian sausages for those who eat and need to have meat, with a vegetable and salad and everyone will be happy with this impressive Sicilian spread. Start the feast with a spectacular charcuterie tray and this dessert and your guests may never leave.
Pasta alla Norma
When eggplants and tomatoes are bursting in the garden (or a friend's garden or the farmers market) let this dish help you use them both. Eggplants and tomatoes are soul sisters or brothers and bring rigatoni or penne pasta to life. Simple, satisfying and savory, this recipe will be in constant rotation in your summer repertoire.
For the eggplant
- 1 lb eggplant diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
For the tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced or diced
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes plus more for plating
- 1 lb homegrown tomatoes this is about 3 large tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/3 cup fresh basil chopped, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
- 1 cup ricotta salata grated
- Parmesan cheese grated, for garnish
For the pasta
- 1 lb rigatoni or penne pasta
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
To make the roasted eggplant
Using a vegetable peeler, peel some of the skin off the eggplant in stripes, so only half of the eggplant skin remains.
Cut eggplant into 1-inch dice, place in a big bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Mix well to combine and then place on baking sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes or until browned and very tender.
To make the pasta
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add your choice of pasta and cook, stirring frequently, according to the package.
When the pasta is almost cooked, remove 1 cup of pasta water from the pot and set aside, as you will use this to thin out the tomato sauce.
When the pasta is al dente, drain into a colander.
To make the tomato sauce
Meanwhile, warm a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss in the garlic and crushed red pepper and stir a bit.
Add the chopped tomatoes and the juice, sprinkle with salt and cook until the tomatoes express their juice and the sauce thickens up a bit, about 15-20 minutes.
When the roasted eggplant is cooked, add it to the sauce, along with 1/2 cup of pasta water, and let it meld for 5 minutes. If the sauce tightens up and still needs thinning, add more pasta water and stir to combine.
Once the pasta has drained, add the pasta back into the pot and pour the tomato and eggplant sauce over the pasta.
Add the chopped basil and parsley and stir to combine. Add the grated ricotta salata, toss well and serve.
Once plated, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan cheese and a bit more chopped basil for garnish.
Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 5 days.
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