Archived entries for tomatoes

Roasted tomato soup; or, Twitter is surprisingly useful.

I love my stand mixer.

I love it so much, I will go ahead and do something I almost never do, which is name-drop: Big Blue is a Kitchenaid. And I love it. I love it so much, that when the time came for me to invest in a food processor, I decided to stick with a name I knew, and buy a KitchenAid. Not blindly, mind you–I did my research, and ended up with a model that seemed to have garnered good reviews. I hemmed, and I hawed, and I gave in to the madness. And there was much rejoicing…

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…until I discovered that the dratted thing leaked like a motherfucker. By which I mean the whole business was not sufficiently substance-tight to make breadcrumbs, much less sauce or anything else interesting, without taking down the whole kitchen. Which I didn’t think was a particularly big deal (I have never been accused of being terrifically fastidious), until I tried making tomato soup for someone I was hoping to impress.

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Generally speaking, when I’m cooking a meal, I’d rather not wear it–nor do I want it to end up ALL OVER my worktop. Which, naturally, is exactly what happened, to my eternal chagrin and Peter’s sympathetic amusement. By the end of the night, I was mentally composing the hate mail I was going to write to KitchenAid chronicling the event–a letter that was probably far too satisfying to write. Then, after penning my email, I did what any self-respecting social media fiend would do: I tweeted it.

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Now here’s where it gets interesting. Not an hour after I posted that charming little message, I got a shout out from none other than @kitchenaid, inviting me to direct message with a customer service rep. Wholly unconvinced, I did as they suggested, figuring I had nothing to lose while waiting for a response from whomever ended up with the email I wrote. Imagine my surprise, gentle reader, when the mysterious person on the other end of that Twitter feed turned out to be both personable and genuinely helpful. By the end of the day, the lovely Cheryl had determined that it sounded like my bowl was, in fact, faulty, and that another one would be dispatched to me posthaste. It was amazing, particularly when compared with the utterly useless response I received to my email three days later, which was impersonal, kind of rude, and made it clear that my message hadn’t actually been read properly.

When I think about it, it makes perfect sense to use Twitter for customer service purposes–the public nature of it makes it easy to spot who is SERIOUSLY disgruntled (who else is going to bitch about their processor in that forum?), and equally easy to have the brief exchange necessary to sort out these kinds of problems. I’d just never seen it in action before. And I’ll say: I was impressed. I was impressed that KitchenAid had thought of this, and impressed that they actually decided to have useful customer service reps–the kind that ACTUALLY SOLVE PROBLEMS–manning the feed. Brilliant! And so, KitchenAid, I salute thee…at least until I need to avail myself of the system again.

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Ratatatatatouille!

It’s getting to be about that time again. That magical point in the winter where I start to champ at the bit in readiness for spring, where the prospect of being further lost in the wasteland of kale and turnips makes me want to commit ritual hara kiri. I want sunshine on my skin! I want to wear dresses! I want to stop living on cheese! (I know. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But there it is.)

Or, failing all of that, I at least want to eat a vegetable with some freaking color in it. I know, I know. Irresponsible Shiv, with her carbon footprint the size of the Superdome. But…I mean…sometimes in the deep midwinter, you just need a damn tomato. Vitamins, people! Vitamins and cheer!

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And it was with that chipper attitude that I approached dinner on Sunday night. I was freshly back from New Orleans, and really excited to rattle around in my kitchen; I was also, however, utterly exhausted, more than a little shell-shocked, and didn’t want to rattle around the kitchen for TOO long. I was also completely depressed by the gray and unforgiving state in which I found my home city upon my return (New York in February: No.), and needed some color; conveniently, Bench (having fended for himself all week) was also in the mood for something colorful and healthy. After a bit of hemming and hawing, we decided to make something that was not only completely veg-tastic, but is a breath of pure summer in the bleak midwinter–and something I’ve been dying to make for a while.

Ratatouille.

Say it out loud. It can’t decide if it wants to pop or sashay. Glorious!

Also delicious, and simple, and quick. At its most basic, ratatouille is a french vegetable stew–tomatoes, squash, and other wonderful things sauteed and then simmered with a few sprigs of thyme. You don’t cook it long, because you want the vegetables to retain their personality;  you want it on the stove just long enough to perfume your house and chase away some winter blues.

We made ours with tomatoes, yellow squash, orange bell peppers, and (against Bench’s initial judgment) eggplant, and it was a knockout. The eggplant became silky and seductive, the peppers smoky and sweet. The thyme infused the whole business with a simple elegance and an absolutely irresistible smell. It was, in short…exactly what the doctor ordered. Warm, simple, sweet, savory, and full of sunshine.

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More Pizza: A Few Toppings

I don’t have exact measurements for you today, or much of a method beyond what I mentioned earlier in the week, but I wanted to share two more pizzas we made and loved.

The first was more or less a margherita…a smear of sauce, a few coins of fresh mozzarella, and a scattering of onions and red chilies. Throw fresh basil on after you remove it from the oven so it doesn’t scorch and you get the full flavor.

Nothing wrong with a classic. But at some level, the point of making pizza at home is to experiment with toppings, to put things on your pizza that you might not be able to get at your local pizza joint.

Hypothetically, if you happen upon the mushroom man at the farmer’s market, and he happens to have cute little half-pints of fresh chanterelles, you should probably pick them up. Buy an ear of corn, too, and when you get home, slice the mushrooms up a bit and sauté them. In butter. We’re not messing around. When they’re nicely cooked, add the kernels cut from the raw ear of corn and remove from the heat.

After you’ve spread out your dough into a nice round, thin circle, brush with a little garlic oil, then add your mushrooms and corn, sprinkling with fresh goat cheese, thyme leaves, pepper, and a little parmesan. Cook until the crust is crispy, which melts the cheese and roasts the corn a little.

Three pizzas in two days? “But Maggie,” you say, “isn’t that a lot of pizza?”

Oh, that’s not even the beginning. Shiv will take care of you next week—I’m off to Italy!

Hearty Pasta: Whole Wheat Fettuccine with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge lover of whole wheat pasta. I’m not really convinced that it offers a big enough health benefit to make it worth switching over completely. But I found myself craving hearty whole wheat pasta the other day, so I went with it, making a hearty sauce that stood up to the nutty taste of whole-wheat fettuccine.

This is not a traditional peppers-and-onions preparation, but more like a stew with softened grape tomatoes, caramelized onions, sweet fennel, and some spicy Italian sausage. It was inspired by the silky peppers-and-sausage served over polenta at one of our favorite local restaurants, Frankies Spuntino. Fennel fronds and fresh basil brighten it up at the end. The preparation is easy enough for a work night; while the sauce simmers you can make a salad (or, um, finally put away the laundry that’s been sitting around for several days.)

Tossing the pasta in the sauce and letting it mingle and absorb a little before serving is an essential step. I think finishing the pasta this way may be especially important with whole-wheat pasta, which has a stronger flavor of its own. If you make extra sauce, consider freezing it separately before you add the pasta. Continue reading…

Killer Porcini Mushroom Tomato Sauce: Satisfying Vegetarian for a Crowd


When you make dinner for nine people in a tiny apartment (or anywhere), it is not always perfect. The lasagna noodles may overcook and turn out a bit floppy, and you may run out of cheese for the topping. The pictures may be blurry and messy. But it’s really just lucky you have enough chairs. And your guests are enjoying meeting each other, and there’s plenty of wine.


While I’m not going to instruct you to recreate this exact lasagna, I wanted to share with you the recipe for the sauce I used. Because it’s killer. It’s earthy and deeply flavored, with the richness and strength of a heavy meat sauce, without any of the meat. Dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, along with an entire bottle of wine turn regular marinara into dinner-party material. It impressed vegetarians and carnivores alike. And this is not just a lasagna ingredient: this would be great on gnocchi or tagliatelle or piled onto shredded spaghetti squash and/or bitter greens.

Set aside a day to make this giant pot of sauce, and save it in portions in your freezer for a quick meal. It can simmer all day, and your patience will be rewarded.

A few notes on ingredients: I used an inexpensive ($5) Shiraz for this. Be sure to taste a sip to make sure the bottle is good before adding it to your sauce. Because wouldn’t it be sad if the wine ruined it all! Also, I added one jar of pre-made Barilla marinara to the sauce base. I realize this is cheating, but I find it evens out the edges a little, and provides a neutral base for your fresh flavorings.

Killer Porcini Mushroom Tomato Sauce

1 oz porcini mushrooms
2 cups water
2 yellow onions, chopped
1/2 T fennel seeds
2 T tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 large portobello mushroom, chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bottle dry red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 jar (24 oz) prepared marinara sauce (I used Barilla)
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves

Soak porcini mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water for 30 minutes. Rinse porcini and chop, saving liquid. Pour liquid through a strainer lined with a paper towel to remove dirt and save. Meanwhile, saute onions in a large (at least 6 quart) heavy dutch oven over medium low, stirring often, about 20 minutes until translucent and beginning to color. Add fennel seeds and tomato paste, stir and let caramelize for a minute. Add garlic, rosemary, basil, and portobello mushroom, saute 1 minute more. Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper along with red pepper flakes.

Pour 2 cups of wine into the pan to deglaze, stir and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until wine evaporates. Add both cans of tomatoes and their liquid along with prepared marinara. Add chopped porcini along with half their liquid. Let simmer (it should be just lightly bubbling) until reduced slightly, about 20 minutes, then add another cup of wine and the remaining porcini liquid. Continue cooking and adding wine a cup at a time until entire bottle has been added. This could take an hour.

Let simmer on very low heat at least 2 more hours and up to six, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve, stir in fresh oregano leaves. Taste for seasoning.



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