The Last of the Summer Wine

View Out My Irish Window (c)2013 La Domestique

The weather has turned cooler and a bit blustery here in Cavan. We’re coming up on my favorite time of year: autumn. I can feel a change in the quality of the light, more golden and soft. My focus has shifted inward, away from long summer drives and tending to my little herb garden. Instead I’m examining my nest, stocking up on home decor magazines and tidying up around the house. The nesting urge is stronger this year than it has been in a long time. Not knowing what to expect from an Irish fall and winter, I prepare myself for the darkness that will come and the damp chill I’ve been told will settle in. It all sounds so dismal, but I love bad weather — taking shelter in my warm, cozy home with a cuppa tea and a good book.

Plum and Heirloom Tomatoes Cavan Farmers Market (c)2013 La Domestique

For now I’m enjoying the last of the summer wine. I’ve been greedily grabbing as many tomatoes as I can from the vegetable lady at my local farmers market in Cavan. It’s important to be first in line at the market, because the tomatoes go fast. I try to leave a few tomatoes for the other customers, but it’s hard to resist the lumpy heirlooms and rich plum tomatoes. I carefully carry several pounds home and my kitchen is filled with the musky aroma only a sun-ripened, garden-fresh tomato gives off.

Panzanella (c)2013 La Domestique

A ripe tomato waits for no one, sending me scurrying around the kitchen looking for ways to use the fruit before it succumbs to rot. This summer I’ve been on a mission to perfect my own panzanella recipe, and there has been no shortage of juicy cherry tomatoes for the project. I like to keep this Italian-inspired bread salad very simple so the flavors really shine: day old baguette, jeweled cherry tomatoes, handfuls of fresh basil leaves and my very special ingredient – roasted garlic vinaigrette. A whole head of garlic slow roasted in the oven becomes caramelized and sweet. I puree the melting cloves with a mortar and pestle, then whisk in red wine vinegar and a peppery extra virgin olive oil. Toasted bread cubes soak up the vinaigrette, softening inside while retaining a bit of crunch on the outside. I like to serve the panzanella family style with a big spoon. If it’s just me and the husband at the table all formalities are cast aside and we pick at the bread with our fingers, chattering away like a couple of swallows and drinking glasses of rosé. The relaxed personality of panzanella goes well with grilled Irish lamb chops, which we pick up with tomato-stained fingers, nibbling away at the sweet, succulent meat until all that’s left is the bone. The perfect summer meal. {recipe at the bottom of this post}

Plum Tomato Sauce (c)2013 La Domestique

After the first cherry tomatoes I await the arrival of meaty plum tomatoes. To me, plum tomatoes are very special. You’ll only find this variety in a garden, a farmers market, or a can. When I can get my hands on the plums I feel very lucky indeed, and the first order of business is to cook a simple, bright tomato sauce. For me, it’s all about using an unfussy, rustic recipe — no peeling, pureeing, or straining. I use Martha Stewart’s Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe as a guideline. Unlike Martha, I prefer to allow the garlic cloves to caramelize a bit and turn golden. A few fresh basil leaves from my herb garden get tossed in as well. Most of the time this sauce goes straight on pasta, pizza, or bruschetta, while any leftovers are stored in the freezer.

Drowned Tomatoes (c)2013 La Domestique

This summer I discovered a new technique from Florence Knight’s cookbook, One, called Drowned Tomatoes. It’s basically a tomato confit of sorts. Florence slices heirloom tomatoes in half and arranges them cut side down in a roasting dish. She adds a few whole garlic cloves and a couple of bay leaves, then seasons it with a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. She scatteres a handful of thyme amongst the tomatoes (I used rosemary) and pours over extra virgin olive oil (enough so the tomatoes are sitting in half a centimeter (or 1/4 inch) of oil). The tomatoes are baked at 170 degrees Celsius (325 degrees Fahrenheit) until collapsing and blistered. I let them cool and spoon into a large sterilized jar, covering the tomatoes in the cooking oil. Kept in the fridge, the tomatoes will last a week. It’s a great way to extend the harvest without going to all the trouble of preserving it.

Cooking the tomatoes this way intensifies their sweet and savory flavors, like those of a sun-dried tomato. Florence suggests spooning the drowned tomatoes onto salad leaves or serving them alongside a poached egg. I can’t wait to try them with steamed clams, by her recommendation (or mussels!). These tomatoes are so good you’ll be coming up with all sorts of reasons to enjoy them. One night last week drowned tomatoes made an impromptu appearance on the plate with lamb koftas and couscous.

Hopefully I’ll have a couple more weeks to ponder the many good uses of a tomato. I would love to hear how you’ve been enjoying the last of the summer wine, in the comments section.

For more inspiration on cooking with tomatoes, have a look in the La Domestique Pantry.

Panzanella

serves 4 generously as a side dish

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 ¼ pounds (570 g) cherry tomatoes
  • 1-day-old baguette
  • 2 cups (10 g) fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) red wine vinegar
  • ¾ cup (150 mL) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Prepare the garlic by slicing off the top and exposing the end of each clove. Place the head of garlic in foil and drizzle with a little olive oil to coat. Close the foil around the garlic and roast for 30 minutes, then uncover the garlic and continue roasting 15 minutes more, until caramelized golden brown and tender. Remove garlic and set aside to cool.

Place the tomatoes in a 9 x 13-inch glass or ceramic roasting dish and drizzle with 1-tablespoon olive oil. Roast the tomatoes on the center rack at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) for 10 minutes.

While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the baguette. Slice off the ends and discard them. Cut the baguette into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes. When the time is up on the tomatoes, add the bread to the roasting pan and toss to distribute evenly with the tomatoes. Return the pan to the center rack of the oven and roast for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the bread is toasted and golden brown. The bread should be caramelized, but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Make the vinaigrette. Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their paper covering and place in the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Add ¼ teaspoon sea salt and grind the roasted garlic into a smooth paste. Pour the red wine vinegar into a medium bowl and add the pureed garlic. Add a few grinds of fresh cracked peppercorns. Whisking constantly, gradually pour ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil into the vinegar mixture.

Remove the roasting tray full of bread and tomatoes from the oven. Tear the basil leaves into smaller pieces and sprinkle atop the bread and tomatoes. Pour over the vinaigrette and stir with the bread and tomatoes to combine evenly. Let the Panzanella sit for 5 minutes to soak up the vinaigrette. This way it will soften but still retain a bit of pleasant crunch. Serve family style on the table with a big spoon.

8 Comments

  1. Oh my oh my!! So many lovely tomatoes and recipes I want to try. I wish tomatoes were in season all year long, they smell so beautifully and are so wonderful in so many dishes.
    And Jess, you would have loved the tomatoes I saw on a French market last week, I had to keep reminding myself that tomatoes in suitcases and in planes don’t go so well together…
    Beautiful post that makes the Summer lasts a little bit longer, so wonderful!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Yolene! Welcome back, I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

      Reply
  2. Oh what a beautiful tomatoes. Lucky girl, I got pretty tomatoes on market lately, but I haven’t seen heirlooms :(. And think about yourself when you buy them, I know you will appreciate every tomato you get :)

    Reply
    • Magda,

      That’s too bad you haven’t seen any heirlooms, hopefully you’ll find some this weekend. Thanks for saying hello and happy cooking!

      Reply
  3. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I’m tomato obsessed so all those options make me so happy! Can’t wait to try those roasted heirlooms out, and your panzanella!

    Reply
    • Thanks Julia.Just checked out your space (beauty and some beef) and it’s lovely! Looking forward to following your food adventures.

      Reply
  4. I love this version of panzanella! I can’t wait to try it with ripe tomatoes from the garden. They’re still green…

    Reply
    • Mimi that sounds lovely! Hope you get plenty of sun so the tomatoes ripen soon.

      Reply

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