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Cooking for Amy and Kristi

August 31, 2010

Never forget, I am here for you.  Seriously.  Have a wine question, let me know.  Trying to decide what to make with ingredients on hand, I’ll come up with something.  When I was a kid my grandmother scolded me once by saying, “You always have an answer for everything.”

And to this day, I still can’t see what’s wrong with that.

It just so happened that last week two prominent local twitteresses @amymengel and @kristigustafson had similar but different problems.  They both need help cooking.  Amy flat out admitted, “I really wish I had any inkling of how to cook. Anything.”  Kristi was a little less transparent.  Her cry for help came in an otherwise innocent tweet, “I wish I could bottle up the smell of the kitchen when the dishwasher is running. Cascade, you’re so easy on the sniffer.”

And you know what, if they need help, it’s likely other people need help too.  So let’s get down to basics.  Let’s talk about cooking techniques.  Let’s do some simple recipes.  Let’s make things that are good for one or two people, but can be made for twenty.  Let’s eat healthy, with plenty of vegetables and whole grains.  Let’s get cooking.

Ordinarily I would start with onions.  But tomato season is fleeting, and we are in the thick of it.  So today I am going to talk you through an end-of-summer raw-tomato sauce for pasta.  Just last week, I made something very similar to this from tomatoes grown by my mother-in-law on her farm in Pennsylvania, and it was delicious.

Even the fastidious Chris Kimball from Cooks Illustrated and author of The Cook’s Bible says that you don’t have to remove the seeds, the juice or the skins of the tomatoes for this dish.  Which makes it super easy.

Me, I like to remove the skins.  You can take an OXO peeler to a large tomato, or once you are more skilled in its use, a paring knife.

Either way, working over a large pasta bowl, dice up two medium peeled or unpeeled tomatoes.  The dice doesn’t have to be perfect.  I was going for about a quarter of an inch.  All the cutting can be done in the bottom of the bowl, so all the juices of the tomato are contained.

A dice can simply be executed by cutting the tomato into vertical rounds, then taking those rounds, and cutting them into sticks, then taking those sticks and cutting them into cubes.  If there is anything that doesn’t look like a delicious tomato piece (green stem, bits of hard white core, etc.) cut it off and throw it away.

Now it is time to mince a small clove of garlic.  The cloves are those smaller individual pieces that grow on a full head or bulb of garlic.  When garlic is raw, it is very pungent.  A teaspoon goes a long way.  Powdered garlic is not an acceptable substitution.

If you have a chef’s knife, you can smash the clove of garlic with the wide flat end of the blade to remove its skin.  Then you can chop away until you have a pile of very finely cut up garlic bits, no more than a couple of millimeters big.  Toss the chopped garlic in with the tomatoes in addition to a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil.

Now taste.  It tastes like summer.  You will need some salt and some pepper.  How much depends on your taste and the ripeness of your tomatoes.  Do not forget to salt.  Only too much salt makes food taste salty.  The right amount, which is generally more than just a little bit, makes the food taste more like itself, and helps marry flavors together.

If you like olives, you can add some chopped black Kalamata olives.  If you like capers, you could add a tablespoon of capers.  A tablespoon of balsamic wouldn’t kill you, especially if you love the stuff.  Fresh shredded basil would be lovely.  As would some fresh oregano from the garden.  Some might even want a teaspoon of sugar.  You can see how this recipe is flexible.

Boil the pasta in well-salted water.  Seriously, don’t forget to salt the pasta water.  It should have the salinity of sea water.  I like to use dried pasta, which soaks up sauce really well, so something with a lot of nooks and crannies.  We had 100% whole grain rotini, which worked beautifully.

Whole grain pasta can really be a bummer.  The worst are grainy and gritty.  My favorite brand is the Trader Joe’s Organic, but with no Trader Joe’s in the area I was surprised to discover the Great Value brand at Walmart is damn good.  Taste the pasta as it cooks.  When the grittiness is gone, it’s done.  Sometimes it takes a minute longer than the minimum recommended cooking times.

Drain the pasta, and immediately dump the hot noodles into the bowl of sauce.  The heat from the pasta will “cook” the garlic just enough to take away a bit of its rawness.  Toss very well, so that the sauce really has a chance to get into all the crevices of the pasta, and serve with more salt, fresh ground pepper and a grater of Parmigiano Reggiano.

This won’t make a ton of great smells in the kitchen.  But it’s a healthful and easy way to eat seasonally and simply.  And besides heating up your kitchen with a pot of boiling water, whoever is making this dish doesn’t have to stand over a hot stove.  In fact, the tomato cutting can be done sitting down in front of a television with a bowl in your lap.  You know, if you are into that sort of thing.

Any leftovers translate very well into a cold pasta salad.  But I warn you, they will not taste as good as they do warm.  So eat up.  Open a pinot grigio, and marvel at the fact that you just cooked a delicious, seasonal and healthy meal.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2010 10:22 am

    Thanks for your help! While I have little prospect of ever becoming a domestic goddess, I’m at least trying to not be so helpless in the kitchen. Easy recipes like this give me hope!


  2. August 31, 2010 5:48 pm

    “Smells like Summer” Well said. What’s better than that! PS – Salt the pasta water after it boils, lest you pit your pots.

  3. Cindy permalink
    August 31, 2010 7:24 pm

    Daniel, you rock! I join Amy in the gratitude! My mom and my sister were blessed with the cooking gene (and the intuition that goes with it), but not me.

    This simple recipe is actually more complex than I usually do pasta, but still super easy. Yay!

    Also love the helpful tips, like cutting the tomato in the bottom of the bowl (I would have used a cutting board, and thus lost some juices – and made a mess), and smashing the garlic clove with the wide flat end of the knife blade to remove the skin (I wouldn’t have thought of that).

  4. Ellen Whitby permalink
    September 5, 2010 11:23 pm

    I`d be happy to share fresh basil and oregano from my garden for your sauce. And rosemarie, too, if the spirit moves you.

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