Saturday, August 9, 2014

Easing the Summer Produce Guilt with Pasta All Checca/Cruda and Other Delights

I was really feeling guilty.

How many times have I been to a farmer's market this summer?

Why am I not taking advantage of all that wonderful produce - one of the best parts of summer?

I asked myself these questions again and again all summer long.  I really needed some fresh local food.  My vacation to Chincoteague last week really drove that point home.  When driving through the rural parts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, I saw scores of roadside stands selling tomatoes and melons and peaches.  Even on Chincoteague Island itself I saw a half dozen produce stands and markets along with a bi-weekly farmers' market.  I was on vacation and staying in a hotel, so I couldn't really buy any of it then. I had no kitchen to prepare much of anything.   The guilt had me in its grip.  I vowed to make sure I visited markets regularly when I returned home.

I started out on my quest while I was still on the road.  As I drove off Chincoteague and onto Route 13 I made sure to stop at the first roadside stand I saw.  I bought a bounty of tomatoes and peaches.  I wanted some of their string beans too, but you could only buy them by the basket, so I passed as it was likely more than I needed.  

My first local cooking adventure started with pasta.  When the garden tomatoes are ripe, I love to make homemade sauce.  Sometimes I don't feel like going through the motions of boiling, peeling, and running them through the food mill though.  I decided to do it a little differently this time.  I made raw tomato sauce.

I have heard raw tomato sauce referred to as "Salsa Cruda" or "Salsa Alla Checca".  I'm not sure if one is more correct than the other, or if there is a difference between them.  All I know is that if the tomatoes are fresh and ripe, you have a delicious and easy sauce.  The key is to let the tomatoes marinate in the dressing overnight so they get nice and soft and sauce-like.

I doubt my version is different from any of the many others floating out there, but I'm going to give you the recipe anyway.  I like to add a few red pepper flakes to mine, just as I do with my cooked tomato sauce.  Does that make it any different?

I have seen people serve this with spaghetti, but I don't like to eat chunks and strands.  I like hearty pasta so I have chunks and chunks.

I added some steamed shrimp to my husband's portion and some chunks of fresh mozzarella to mine so we could have a bit of protein with our meal. Feel free to add your own proteins.

Pasta With Raw Tomato Sauce

  • 6 large ripe tomatoes, cored seeded* and chopped
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic lightly crushed
  • 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
  • 1 handful chopped basil leaves
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tsp salt to taste
  • 1 pound hearty pasta such as penne, ziti, or rigatoni
*Squeeze the seeds out of the tomato over a strainer and save the juice to add to your sauce if you wish. It adds a bit more substance and flavor to the sauce and less of the tomato is wasted.

In a large bowl whisk together vinegar,  juice from the tomato seeds, salt, garlic, basil and red pepper flakes.

Whisk in olive oil until well blended.  Gently toss in tomatoes.  Allow to marinate several hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and toss with tomatoes.
My farm market cooking didn't stop there.  Another night during the week when I didn't have much time to cook after Zumba class, I made a nice frittata with farm market eggs, farm market lamb's quarter, mushrooms, and caramelized onions.

Don't worry.  I didn't serve it raw.  I just took this photo while it was still cooking.

No recipe needed here.  Caramelize the onions, cook the mushrooms, wilt the lamb's quarter, add in 6 eggs.  Cook until bottom is set.  Stick in the broiler 2 minutes to brown the top.


I have one more.  This one also doesn't need a recipe.

I have a new kitchen toy.  See my new electric grill?

I still can't grill outdoors, but I can at least try to simulate that grilled flavor.  I had a Foreman grill years ago, but it got pretty worn out from years of use.  I decided I didn't need it anymore because at that point I ended up with a Le Crueset grill pan.  Unfortunately it smoked up the kitchen terribly every time I tried to use it.  A few months ago Cathy at Noble Pig was recommending this Hamilton Beach electric grill.  I decided that an electric grill was the way to go for quickly cooking meats and give me a grill flavor.  I bought myself one for my birthday.

I inaugurated the grill with chicken breasts that I had tossed with rosemary, thyme (from my balcony garden), olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon zest and let sit for an hour.  

Then I made my own version of ratatouille on the side.  I layered Japanese eggplants (creamier texture and less bitter than the giant ones), zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes in a baking dish. All of the vegetables were from the farmers' market.   I made sure there was plenty of basil (from my balcony garden), garlic, olive oil, and salt in each layer.  I roasted the whole thing at 400 degrees for about an hour.

A little grated cheese on top is a nice addition. 

I feel a bit less guilty now.  I also feel lighter after all of the heavy meals I ate in Chincoteague.


Emily said...

Oooh I love your new toy! That's going to be so much fun. You should make paninis too!

bellini said...

What we call "summer spaghetti" was dinner last night. I wait all year for sun ripened tomatoes. Sometimes I add ricotta, sometimes Parmesan…..