Is braunschweiger, the the liver-heavy Midwest staple, a dads-only thing? Discovering the appeal of a food you once considered gross is a line of demarcation in personal preferences, but it helped me cross a long-standing line of demarcation between me and my old-school dad.Read More
I have a fun little article up on Modern Farmer about the secret history of America's favorite summer vegetable. Toxicity rumors! Suspicion of outsiders! Clarification about the meaning of the term "heirloom"! Check it out now.
Our glorious summer tomato days are waning. I want to eat as many tomato-centric sandwiches as possible, and I feel those opportunities slipping away as the calendar marches on. I ate sliced of the last ripe red tomato in the house yesterday, on a sandwich smeared with squash-tomato chutney made a few days ago from many of its tomato siblings. How delightfully perverse to ingest multiple forms of tomato carnage in one petite sandwich.
This time in the season, a lot of us have a pile of not-quite ripe tomatoes, and another pile of outright green ones. You can cook them all up in this sticky, sweet-tart sandwich spread. The tomatoes melt into a gel, suspending cubes of squash that are nearly candied. I use it all year long. It’s the best thing to put on a grilled cheese sandwich, and it has also eclipsed ketchup here as a topping for hamburgers.
This is a fine entry-level preserving recipe, and makes a significant dent in the bulbous summer squash that seemingly spontaneously generate during hot months. The key to chutney working as a sandwich spread is the dice of the squash and peppers; if too large, they sit clumsily on the bread. The correct dice is ½ to ¼ inch, and it will require a decent investment of knife work. Put on your favorite podcast and look at is as therapeutic.
Yellow Summer Squash and Tomato Chutney
Makes about 7 to 8 half-pint jars
This is a great way to use up those homegrown summer squash the size of a human’s femur. Yellow squash makes the prettiest chutney, but you can add green zucchini, too. I also like to use patty pan squash. If I have a particularly femur-esque specimen, I cut off about ¾ from four sides and pitch the elongated cube of mealy interior. This might mess with your yield, so if you are using older or bigger squash, make sure to weight it post-cutting.
- 2 pounds summer squash, preferably yellow, diced between ½ and ¼ inch
- 1 pound onions, finely diced
- 1-1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
- Up to ½ pound not-too-spicy gypsy or wax peppers, seeded and diced ½ inch, optional
- 3-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1/8 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon table salt
Combine all of the ingredients in a large (about 5 quart) non-reactive pot, such as stainless steel or enameled cast iron. Stir to combine, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Uncover and continue to cook (in a well-vented room if you don’t want to wipe everyone out with vinegar fumes) over high heat. For the first 20 minutes or so, you probably won’t need to stir very often; there will be plenty of liquid. If you see any scum rise to the surface, skim it off, but there won’t be anywhere near as much as, say, a batch of strawberry jam might produce.
Once the chutney starts to thicken, stir it with a wooden spoon every now and then. Gradually reduce the heat. When the chutney starts getting glossy and the bubbles get smaller and make little snapping noises, it’s very close to ready. You should feel a decent amount of resistance when you stir. It will take between 45 minutes to over an hour for the chutney to cook, depending on many factors: the intensity of the flame, the liquid content of the veggies, the particular character of the day.
Pack the chutney in warm sterilized jars (I prefer half-pint), leaving ¼ inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. The chutney isn’t too bad at all right after you make it, but it gets better if you allow the jars to age a month or so before opening. Store any jars that didn’t seal properly in the refrigerator for up to one month.
I am guessing it’s not easy being married to me. My temper can be short, and I have a habit of insisting on getting my way. But Joe’s soldiered on in our union for nine years. There are times I figured we might not be married by now, still. This may be normal, as far as marriages go. That every marriage is a locked box both perplexes and delights me, because there’s no need to measure what Joe and I have against larger yardstick: if it’s working, hey, go with it. I have friends who I look at and assume they must be living in harmony and bliss, but you never know. I have other friends who I marvel are still together. Knowing why and how is not my job, though; it’s theirs.
In those heartfelt odes to spouses I see people post on Facebook, this notion of a husband being “my best friend” comes up a lot. And fine if it is true for them, but Joe is not my best friend, because I already had a best friend when we met. There are things I tell Joe that I’d never tell a friend, and there are things I tell friends that I’d never tell him. It works because he gets that. I don’t want Joe to be everything to me. That seems unfair.
Today’s our anniversary. Earlier, I’d told Joe we were going to have tortilla Española with romesco sauce and a big tossed salad for dinner, and he was enthused. Our initial hope was to go to the Buckley House, which is our town’s dependable fancy-pants restaurant, but we’re low on cash at the moment, and a Buckley House dinner is not for lean times.
Some unexpected construction at my daughter’s daycare facility threw off my schedule, though, and I realized making romesco sauce would take longer than I’d like and create unwanted stress. So I switched to pasta with sweet corn and tomatoes instead. To me it’s the pinnacle of Ohio recipes, because sweet corn and tomatoes are the best we have to offer. Joe didn’t want to move here to Ohio, but he did. He’s still ambivalent. But I feel like I’m in my element. How can two people be so compatible yet never fully happy in the same location?
Joe does not do well with sudden changes, but he was okay with our dinner switchup. It resulted in fewer dirty dishes to clean, always a plus. We drank a $5.99 bottle of Spanish Tempranillo with our pasta. The herbs and tomatoes had come from our backyard; the corn, from a field somewhere in our county. It’s definitely GMO corn, engineered to be as sweet as a cold glass of Southern iced tea, but you can’t win ‘em all. And so goes marriage. You can’t have everything in one person. Spending life with a boring husband, to me, would be a terrible fate. Out marriage has been anything but boring, so we must be doing something right. Maybe I’ll make this pasta again in another nine years, for our 18th anniversary. Maybe we’ll go to the Buckley House instead. Does it matter? An anniversary is one day a year. It’s the other 364 days that really count.
Pasta with Tomatoes, Corn, Herbs, and Feta
It was only after residing in a handful of other states that I realized the superiority of Ohio-grown tomatoes. This pasta cannot be made with grocery store produce; it is a summer-only dish. You can throw together sweet corn and beautiful homegrown tomatoes—the most coveted of summery Ohio foods—to make an incredibly fresh, flavorful pasta dish in a flash.
- 3 to 4 large, ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 2 to 3 ears fresh corn, or 1-2 cups cooked corn cut from leftover cobs of sweet corn* (and cripes, please don’t use grocery store corn or frozen corn. Not this time.)
- Kosher salt, as needed
- 8 ounces angel hair pasta
- 4 large cloves garlic, sliced very thinly crosswise
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced, or a combination of fresh basil, thyme, and oregano (go heavy on the basil and lighter on the other herbs)
- 4 to 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Place the chopped tomatoes in a medium bowl. Add the Aleppo pepper; season generously with salt. Toss to combine and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water on to boil. If the corn hasn’t been cooked already, plunge the whole ears of corn into the water and cook for five minutes. Don’t drain the water; you’ll use it for cooking the pasta. When cool enough to handle, cut the ears from the corn and set aside.
Cook the pasta until al dente; drain..
Meanwhile, in a 9- to 10-inch skillet, heat the garlic and olive oil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is a light golden-brown (do not allow to burn). Add the corn and cook until it’s heated through. Add the tomatoes and cook for just a minute. Remove from heat.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it. Add the saucy tomato-corn mixture; toss with the feta cheese and basil. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Cover for a minute or two to let the pasta absorb the juices form the tomato sauce.
Divide the pasta among serving dishes. Crumble the feta cheese over each bowl and serve.
*Sometimes, leftover corn that’s been cut off the cob and stored for several days (or frozen and thawed) can be soggy. To dry it out and perk up the flavor, I toast it a heavy, dry medium skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until charred spots appear on the corn, 2 to 3 minutes.
In the public mind, Ohio is not ubiquitous with tomatoes. You don’t read heartfelt odes to Ohio tomatoes in Saveur or see them on the menu in some Wagnerian dining experience at Alinea. This lack of attention from the non-Ohio world makes Ohio tomatoes the country’s biggest secret amazing food. Here, it’s a given. Tomatoes are the state fruit.
Ohio is not keeping these tomatoes secret on purpose, mind you. I didn’t even care about them myself until I moved out of the state; as a girl, I recall the South Carolina friends we vacationed with every year raving about the cardboard box of homegrown tomatoes we brought down to the beach house. “Ohio tomatoes!” they’d sigh, and it baffled my youthful mind that people who lived within spitting distance of a wonderful beach and wild-caught shrimp could crave anything from my humble home. I didn't become a tomato convert until I grew up and moved across the country to the San Francisco Bay Area, where gem-like heirlooms of every shade were bountiful at markets and grocery stores. I bought them and enjoyed them, but they didn't make me dizzy like the unassuming red globes I savored on visits back to Ohio. Scarcity leads to mystique. There is no Ohio tomato like an Ohio tomato in the palm of a expat Ohioan.
I should clarify that the biggest, most pulsing fists of tomatoey lusciousness hail from the dense red clay of the Mid-Ohio Valley, in the southeast corner of the state. Nothing against heirloom tomatoes, but the ultimate Ohio tomato is just a run-of-the-mill beefsteak, red, shiny, and perhaps a bit knobby and misshapen. They grow in family gardens and the fields of tiny family farms all along the river, baked under the summer sun and bathed in thick humidity.
Any homegrown tomato is a treat, but the (admittedly lovely) tomatoes I grew in my various Oregon backyards just didn’t measure up. I’d like to ask a horticulturalist why, scientifically speaking, Ohio tomatoes dazzle so—is it soil pH? chemicals from the industrial plants downriver?—but I’m afraid the truth will disappoint. Maybe my fine Oregon tomatoes would have stood up in a blind tasting to their Ohio counterparts, and it was really just a vanished summer idyll I was yearning for.
It’s August, and all over town, the inimitable smell of tomato leaves withering in the heat betrays no hint of the acidic sweetness and almost buttery flesh to come. I’ve been eating enough to give myself an ulcer: thick raw slices on a plate, more substantial than any filet mignon. Neighbors gave them to me; I give mine to friends. Summer will vanish, and Ohio will get boring and shitty again, and so we all dive into the intoxicating cosmos of seeds and pulp our precious tomatoes offer us in this eternal now.
Mid-Ohio Valley Summer No-Cook Tomato Sauce
Get one 12-ounce package of eggy Rossi Pasta Capelli d'Angelo. This can be purchased at their gift shop on Front Street in Marietta, or at any one of a handful of grocery stores. When I was 20, I worked at Rossi Pasta making gift baskets, and I got a lot of free pasta, and pasts tastes best when it’s free. In lieu of Rossi Pasta (free or not), use 8 ounces of ordinary dried angel hair pasta.
Next, procure about one and a half pounds of quite ripe, very red homegrown tomatoes—beefsteak or the likes, and luscious enough to eat a plain slice of as if it were cake. Maybe you grew them yourself, maybe your best friend’s parents left a bag of them on your back porch like the tomato fairy. These tomatoes should be at the stage of ripeness that’s just before squishy. At least half an hour and up to two hours before planning to eat, chop them up (on a cutting board with a groove if you don’t want to make a swampy red mess of tomato juice). Put these chunks in a large bowl, along with a pinch of red pepper flakes, a large clove of garlic that’s been mashed to a paste, and a generous amount of kosher salt. If you have fresh oregano around, mince up about a teaspoon of that and add it. If not, no big deal. Let this all sit at room temperature; the salt will work on the tomatoes and make a soupy, saucy mess.
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the Rossi Pasta package. And drain the pasta, and although I normally would reserve some of the pasta cooking water, we’re not going to do that now, because we want the pasta to absorb the very liquid part of our splendid tomato sauce so that every bite offers an explosion of summery tomato flavor.
Return the pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Add the tomato sauce, along with a few tablespoons of very good olive oil and a big fat handful of thinly sliced fresh basil. You need lots of basil, which will collapse in the heat of the dish and wind up not looking like nearly as much as you began with. Taste this and add salt or whatever to make it taste right.
Divide the pasta between big bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Feta or soft goat cheese would also be acceptable, but I like the parm. Then dig in. That’s it.
This recipe absolutely will not work in parts of the country with crummy tomatoes, or after late September, or if you use the wrong shape or type of pasta; the network of angel hair pasta strands lock in the sauce like a sponge so you don't miss a drop of flavor. This also will not be quite as good if you consume it in a location other than my parent’s screened-in back porch, where an unseen chorus of cicadas drone in the background, to a mesmerizingly creepy, jungle-y effect. But if you get all of the variables right, your dinner will be like a big plate of adult candy. No salad, no bread. Just the pasta, maybe a glass of white wine. Amen.
A summer sandwich is all about the moment. The whims of the person building it and the stuff that happens to sit on the counter or grow in the garden at that exact time result in that most personal of constructions, the produce-heavy Dagwoodian mess bookended by bread. It's about the watery tomato liquid mingling with mustard that drips down your arm and all over your magazine or paperback book as you sit outdoors, or wherever your happy place is. It's about the satisfaction of putting together a bunch of ingredients that make sense to no one’s mind but your own. Its about the ephemeral pleasure of wolfing the thing down before it collapses all over your lap, a slithering mess of cucumber slices and lettuce and relish and god knows what else.
My dearest wonderful wreck of a summer sandwich came about because of a story I heard on NPR last year. They held a contest for the ultimate summer recipe, and finalist Marti Olesen’s entry was for a crazy assemblage of tomatoes, sweet onion, cucumbers, and white cheddar cheese between whole grain bread that’s been smeared with peanut butter. As with any great sandwich, the order of the ingredients is as important as the ingredients themselves; it’s got to do with the messy mechanics of what hits your tongue first when you sink your teeth into the thing. Olesen assures listeners that the sandwich functions best when built thus, from top to bottom: cheese, tomato, cucumber, onion, peanut butter.
The other two finalists in the NPR contest offered recipes for strawberry trifle and Baja slaw. Trifle is trifling; slaw is slaw. A sandwich is a meal. I rooted for Olesen, and she won, to the great satisfaction of sandwich aficionados across the nation.
But I didn't make her sandwich. She inspired me to adapt it, and maybe that's the point. As an alternative jammy-sticky-sugary PB&J, my mom started making peanut butter and cheese sandwiches for my daughter. They’re not bad if you’re four years old, but an adult needs something more. Likewise, a sandwich of homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers sounds magnificent on paper, but in practice it’s wan and bland.
So I combined the two. Lightly toast two slices of whole-grain bread (I prefer those circular flatbread/bun hybrids sometimes marketed as "sandwich skinnys", since the slight crumb of the bread makes the filling the star player). Generously spread crunchy natural peanut butter (it has to be salted) on one slice, and tomato-squash chutney on the other slice. (You probably don't have tomato-squash chutney; classic storebought Major Grey's can work in a pinch, or you can make your own squash chutney). Then shingle thinly sliced cucumber on the peanut butter. This is your base. Top the cucumber with thickly sliced ripe red tomato (beefsteak, please), then with one slice of Swiss or pepperjack cheese. Place the chutney-smeared bread over it all, then grab a lot of napkins. You will need them. Note: this sandwich does not travel. At all. That’s what makes it even more special. You need to be at home to enjoy it. Preferably on a porch, taking in all the ephemeral joys of summer.