Tomatoes


Tomatoes have been the main star in our kitchen since the beginning of August. I’ve been getting pounds of tomatoes every week from the garden, so we’ve been doing everything we can to keep up with them before they go bad. Aside from breakfast, almost every meal has had a tomato squeezed into it in some way. Just in case it sounds like I’m complaining, let me assure you that I’m not. I spent my entire life, up until a couple summers ago, HATING tomatoes, so the way I see it I’m happily making up for a 26-year tomato void in my life.

I like to think I was a decent eater as a kid (definitely not the kind who refuses all colorful or healthy foods), but I would NOT BUDGE on tomatoes. Every summer my parents grew tomatoes in our garden and every year my dad would try so hard to get me to eat them. I think he was convinced that some evil friend had fed me a grocery store tomato (gasp!) at some point and that experience had formed my opinion. But every few years I would break down and agree to try a bite of his fresh, ripe, homegrown tomato and I would absolutely hate it.


Then, a year or two after moving to California and being immersed in a produce-loving, potluck-crazy grad student community where people just wouldn’t stop talking about their stupid, delicious heirloom tomatoes, I got jealous. For the first time I was no longer proud of my tomato hatred. Instead, I began to wonder if I really was missing out, and I vowed to put an honest effort into learning to like tomatoes.

I’d always liked ketchup, tomato sauce, etc, but anything resembling a raw tomato had been off limits. So I decided to start small with tomato juice. It was actually pretty easy to start liking that, which gave me hope! Then I moved on to sweet yellow and orange tomato varieties like pineapple heirloom tomatoes and sungolds. The yucky tomato texture was still there, but the relative lack of acidity made them possible to stomach. It took another summer or two to get used to raw red tomatoes, but at some point it just clicked and I became a full-fledged tomato eater!

In the last month or so I’ve made dozens of caprese salads, cucumber tomato salads, fresh tomato sauces, roasted tomato soup, and gazpacho. And when we still couldn’t keep up with the tomatoes, I started slow-roasting them to use in sandwiches and salads. This, I’ve discovered, is my favorite way to eat tomatoes. Most of the water of the tomatoes evaporates away, concentrating and perfecting the tomato flavor in a more compact little slice. A couple of weeks ago when we we were trying to use up homemade pesto in the fridge, I had the idea for this pizza. To me, it’s the quintessential summer pizza. If you have an abundance of basil and tomatoes, this is a great way to use them. Store bought tomatoes and pesto would work as well, but the better quality tomatoes you can get (from a farmers market or farm stand), the better it will be.

Vicken’s dad, who is an English professor, was visiting us last week in the middle of a tomato onslaught, and was reminded of a Pablo Neruda poem that he shared with me: Ode to tomatoes. It’s a wonderful toast to the perfect summer fruit and his imagery might even make you salivate a little! Give it a read if you have a chance. And then make this pizza or anything else involving a tomato before the summer warmth fades and the last of these “stars of the earth” is gone!

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Roasted tomato and pesto pizza
Makes one large pizza

Pizza crust (slightly modified from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Recipe)
1/2 cup warm water
pinch sugar
1/2 envelope yeast
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt

6 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/4 to 1/3 cup basil pesto (this recipe is pretty good)
1 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Core the tomatoes and then slice into 3/8 to 1/2 inch slices. This will seem thick, but they shrink a lot, trust me. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 2 hours.

2. To prepare pizza dough, measure 1/2 cup warm water in a 1-cup measuring cup, stir in sugar, and sprinkle with the yeast. Let it sit until the yeast dissolves and bubbles form, about 5 minutes.

3. Combine flour and salt into a food processor and pulse until mixed well. Continue pulsing as you pour the olive oil and then yeast mixture through the feed tube of food processor. If the dough does not readily form a ball, add additional water and continue pulsing until a ball forms. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.

4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, knead by hand a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Put the dough into a deep oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm place and let dough rise for 1-2 hours.

5. When tomatoes look shriveled and have turned a deeper shade of red, they are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool. Turn the oven up to 450.

6. When dough has risen remove plastic wrap and punch the dough down. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and pat all sides with flour. **I find this step to be really important, especially if the dough seems very sticky. If this is the case, then add even more flour to the surface.** Cover with a damp towel and let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes.

7. Spread dough on a pizza stone or baking sheet (I use a 15 inch round baking stone, but cookie sheets work just fine). Spread a thin layer of pesto over the pizza, followed by roasted tomatoes*, and then mozzarella. Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes, or until crust and cheese are golden.

*If you have leftover roasted tomatoes you can store them in an air-tight container in the fridge for several days. They are great on sandwiches, pasta, or for snacking.

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Apparently I’ve been enjoying my summer so much I’ve forgotten to update the blog recently. Maybe saying I’m “enjoying” summer is an understatement. I have actually been LOVING everything about this summer. Since I come from the land of hot and humid summer weather, I feel odd saying that, but bearable summer weather is one of many great things California has to offer (especially if you cheat like me and go to the mountains). I spent most of July in Mammoth doing field work, and even though I’m always reluctant to want to go, once I’m there I am reminded of just how lucky I am to get to work there. The weather is perfect, there’s climbing nearby, and I get to stare at the amazing Sierras every day.

I also spent the last week of July at a lake cabin in Minnesota, celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday with my parents and all my mom’s siblings. Since my sister couldn’t make it, I was the only one there under age 58, but I had a blast. We did crosswords, swam, and ate delicious evening meals, which were always followed by hours of talking at the dinner table when we were done eating. I think the dinner table lingering would have killed me even 5 years ago, but I guess I’m a real grown up now because it was actually enjoyable to sit and chat.


Aside from the traveling to pretty places and visiting family, I’ve been especially happy while I’m at home in Davis and I think it’s due in large part to the garden. There’s just something about harvesting fruits from plants that I nurtured from seedlings that makes me giddy. I have a permanent grin on my face while I’m there and proudly display every harvest to Vicken when I come home, in the same way I imagine I showed my parents my report card as a kid. It’s pretty ridiculous how proud I am of the food I’ve grown.

Since returning from Minnesota, I’ve been harvesting a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. I planted 6 or 7 cucumbers, hoping I would get enough to make pickles, but production has been pretty sporadic (2-3 cukes at a time) so we’ve just been eating them instead. The Armenian cucumbers that I planted haven’t done much, but I did get one really nice one that I used in this cucumber salad. I’ve also made the salad with a peeled slicing cucumber and that works just as well. If you’ve never had an Armenian cucumber though, it’s worth a try. You don’t have to peel them, which is a major plus, and they are light and crisp. Plus, if you care about looks, the ridges that run the length of the cucumber give the slices a pretty ruffled edge.


This salad has been my favorite meal this summer. It is light and satisfying, and I it eat for lunch most days when I’m at home. The key ingredient is the Aleppo pepper (the red stuff in the jar above) you add to the lemon dressing. Vicken’s mom brought a bunch from Syria with her when she visited in June so we always have a full jar on hand. You can also buy it from any specialty spice store.

I harvested close to 10 pounds of tomatoes yesterday, so I’m sure I’ll be making lots of tomato dishes in the near future. I’ll try to write about them soon. In the meantime, this roasted tomato soup is a great thing to make with fresh tomatoes. I recently found this blog and am in love with the photography and recipes. The quality of the site is a little intimidating, but it’s inspiring me to step it up here, so that’s probably a really good thing.

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Cucumber quinoa salad
Makes one large salad or two smaller side salads

1/2 large armenian cucumber, cut in half length-wise and sliced (about 2 cups chopped)
large handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked quinoa (quinoa cooking instructions)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped parsley

juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil*
1/2 tsp aleppo red pepper
small pinch salt
small garlic clove, minced

Stir together cucumbers, tomatoes, and quinoa. Combine dressing ingredients together in a small jar or bowl and shake or stir to combine. Pour dressing over the salad and mix until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with feta and parsley just before serving.

*If you don’t like the idea of so much olive oil, just use part of the dressing on the salad. I found I needed this much oil to balance out the lemon, so I wouldn’t skimp too much while mixing the dressing.


After years of observations and careful analysis I have pin-pointed the major causes of my unproductiveness in grad school: perfectionism and its close relative, the fear of failure. And after a couple of days of wondering why I never write on this blog I realized it’s for the SAME REASONS! Namely, I want every picture of every step of the cooking process to be perfect and for each entry to be clever, poetic, or some other adjective to describe good writing. Well, the real kicker is that, although I’ve been really proud of some of my photographs, it’s really hard to get a nice picture when you don’t have great natural light, aka when it’s dark outside aka when most of us cook. So the only times I get “successful” photos is when I play hookie from school and cook in the afternoon or when I cook on the weekends.

Secondly, I rarely get a photo of the final product when I make something I’ve worked hard on or am really proud of because it’s either for a dinner party or it just disappears too fast. I always feel ridiculous pulling out my big camera in front of people to take pictures of food. I’m even shy about doing this around my roommates. Finally, while I’m a decent writer, I’m not particularly funny in writing. And I desperately wish I was. I mean, why else would anyone want to read this? It’s not like I’m a cooking expert with anything genius to say…

Well, I’ve decided to just get over all of this. I’m going to start writing posts with imperfect pictures and sometimes with very little text if I don’t have that much to say. My main goal over the next few weeks is to get out all of the back-logged posts (imperfections and all!) and share food that I like with whatever people read this. Hopefully there are a few of you…

Today for lunch I made these eggs poached in tomato sauce topped with grated pecorino romano cheese and served on toasted bread. I’ve been making this all the time ever since I found it on smittenkitchen.com about a month ago. It is my new favorite quick meal. It’s so wonderful because pretty much any tomato sauce will work. So you can follow the tomato sauce recipe below or use the leftover homemade mushroom pasta sauce like I did. It’s genius!!!

You’ll notice with this post that I didn’t take any pictures of the process of cooking this. If you want that, check it out here. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep gorging myself with tomatoes and eggs and relish in the flexible grad student lifestyle that allows me to do this on a Tuesday afternoon…

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Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce
from the smitten kitchen, inspired there by Martha Stewart

This tomato sauce is pretty good, but if you have another tomato sauce (in a jar, or leftover from another meal) on hand, that will also work. Just reheat it in a sauce pan/ dutch oven and start at step 2.

Ingredients
1 can (14 ounces) tomato puree
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Big pinch of sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Glug of red wine (optional)
4 large eggs
4 slices toasted country bread, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions
1. In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 20 minutes minutes. A few minutes before it’s done, I like to add a glug of red wine and let it simmer for a moment.

2. Gently crack eggs into tomato mixture, cover, and let cook 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Transfer each egg to a piece of toast. Spoon over sauce, garnish with cheese, and season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

It’s been way too long since my last post!  School has started, which means I’ve had to switch back into “teaching mode,” and that my life is 10 times busier than it was this summer.  Something about doing field work is just so relaxing. The days can be long and exhausting, but there aren’t deadlines around every corner or students depending on me.  It’s a nice break from the normal hectic grad student life.  At the same time, I’m pretty relieved to be back on a normal schedule and to feel like I’m getting important work done again.

Despite being busy, it is my goal to catch up with the backlog of recipes and photos that have accumulated over the last month or so.  I’ve made peach jam, Thai chicken salad, tofu stir fry, and about a million variations on caprese salad, and I haven’t written about any of them!

I’m going to start digging myself out of this hole by telling you about this amazing grilled pizza I made about a month ago.  Vicken recently bought the Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue and this was the first recipe I tried out of it.  You incorporate sautéed garlic and rosemary into the dough, which results in the most flavorful (yet not over-the-top) pizza dough I’ve ever made.  You can honestly grill the dough alone and eat it plain it is so good. It would make excellent bread sticks.

Once the dough has risen, you partition it into smaller rounds, which you then flatten into personal-sized pizzas.  The cooking process goes really fast, so you want to make sure you have all of your ingredients ready before you put the dough on the grill.  The recipe called for fresh sliced tomatoes, chopped basil, and grated parmesan cheese.  This worked fairly well, but the recipe drastically under-estimates how many tomatoes you will need.  They call for 3 medium tomatoes for 8 small pizzas, but I couldn’t even stretch 3 tomatoes to cover 4 pizzas so we used some sliced small romas to fill in the gaps.

Once the dough has cooked on one side you take it off the grill and put the toppings on the grilled side.  Then you put them back on the grill to cook the other side and heat the toppings through.  Depending on the heat of your fire, this can take as little as 2-3 minutes.  For this reason, you want to use only toppings that are pre-cooked or don’t take a long time to heat through. They suggest covering the pizzas with disposable pie plates to help cook the toppings, but I didn’t do this and it still turned out fine.

A short time after I made this, I decided to try it again and perfect some of the flaws I found the first time around.  This time I bought more tomatoes and baked them at a low temperature for 30 minutes before adding them to the pizzas.  This concentrated the tomato flavor and resulted in a less soggy pizza.  I also substituted sliced fresh mozzarella for some of the parmesan cheese, and these two changes made the pizza was soooo much better.  I’ve made those alterations to the recipe below.

My final verdict is that this recipe is a keeper.  This is some of the best pizza I’ve had in a long time (Gino’s East deep dish withstanding) and it’s both easy and fun to make, especially with friends!  You just want to make sure that you eat them straight off the grill while they are still hot. If you don’t make it through all of them at the first sitting, they also make excellent left-overs.

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Garlic-Herb Pizza Dough

Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium cloves, minced or pressed (about 4 tsp)
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, thyme, or oregano leaves (I used rosemary)
4 cups (22 ounces bread flour, plus extra for dusting hands and work surfaces
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)
vegetable oil or spray for coating bowl

Directions
1. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté until the garlic is golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the mixture to room temperature.

2. Process the flour, yeast, salt, and sautéed garlic mixture in a large food processor, pulsing to combine. Continue pulsing while pouring 1 1/2 cups of the water through the feed tube. If the does does not readily for into a ball, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup water and continue to pulse until a ball forms. Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer. (You can also knead this by hand. Just stir the water and garlic-herb mixture into half of the flour. Then add the rest of the flour and knead for 7-8 minutes).

3. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball. Put the dough in an oiled straight-sided plastic container or deep, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Press the dough down with your first and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide and shape the dough into 8 smaller rounds. Cover them with a damp cloth and let the dough relax for 5 minutes but no more than 30 minutes. Then press dough out to 8 inch diameter pizzas of 1/4 inch thickness.

Grilled Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Ingredients
1 recipe Garlic-Herb Pizza Dough
Olive oil for brushing dough
salt
8 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced crosswise into thin rounds
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (more if you like very cheesy pizza)
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
ground black pepper
1/4 cup pitted and quartered oil-cured black olives (optional)

Directions
1. Prepare dough as directed above.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 230 degrees F. Arrange tomato slices on lightly oiled baking sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes or until tomatoes soft and slightly dehydrated. Set aside.

3. When the grill is medium-hot, brush some oil over each stretched dough round and sprinkle with salt to taste.

4. Slide your hand under several dough rounds and gently slip them onto the grill, oiled-side down. Grill until dark brown grill marks appear, 1 to 2 minutes. Prick any bubbles that develop on the top surface with a fork. Brush the tops with more oil and flip the dough rounds onto a clean baking sheet or peel, grilled side up.

5. Brush the grilled dough surfaces with more oil. Arrange a portion of the tomatoes over each dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges uncovered. Sprinkle with the parmesan, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with oil and dot with the mozzarella and olives, if using.

6. Slide the pizzas back onto the grill and cover each with a disposable aluminum pie plate. Grill until the pizza bottoms are crisp and browned, the tomatoes are hot, and the cheese melts, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately and repeat the process with the remaining dough rounds.

A couple weeks ago my housemate Tim scored a bunch of free nectarines from the research orchard near campus. He froze as many as would fit in the freezer, but that still left boxes of ever ripening nectarines for us to eat as quickly as possible. Believe me, there are worse plights in life than being surrounded by an abundance of fresh fruit. For a whole week I had sliced nectarines with cottage cheese, one of the most delicious snacks on the face of the planet. But at a certain point your body begins to protest at the inclusion of nectarines in EVERY meal you eat, and you begin to lag in the race to keep up with the rotting fruit. This is why I was thrilled when some friends had a bbq and I got an opportunity to make a nectarine dish that I could at least partially pawn off on OTHER people.


I could have made a pie or a cobbler or something else sweet, but I wanted to try something a little different. Finally I found a salsa recipe that paired nectarines with yellow tomatoes and arugula and decided to give it a go. The chopping and slicing took a while, but the end product was worth the effort.

We served the salsa with chips and used it to top our grilled fish tacos. It was delicious! The next night we used the leftover corn tortillas and salsa to make chicken tacos. Equally delicious! I’m sure you could substitute peaches or mangos for the nectarines if you find yourself with an overabundance of one of those. Bottom line, if fish tacos are on your menu in the near future, I really encourage you to use this salsa. Top it with some feta, avocado, and cilantro and experience heaven.

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Nectarine salsa
from Bon Appétit

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups 1/3-inch cubes pitted white nectarines (**I used yellow nectarines and removed the peel)
1 1/4 cups chopped yellow or orange tomatoes (8 to 9 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped arugula
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 3- to 4-inch-long serrano chile, seeded, minced

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

My field season is rapidly coming to an end. I officially moved out of the field station and back to Davis 2 weeks ago and I only have one more experiment to do later in August.  Before I’m totally out of field-living mode, I wanted to share a recipe that I made a lot at the field station this summer.

This salad was inspired by Erin, the field assistant I lived and worked with over the summer. The girl pretty much lives on salads made of greens, some kind of grain, and other vegetables. Since I’ve been trying to eat a wider variety of grains anyway, I figured I might as well give her approach a try. I started with quinoa and played around with additions until I came up with a pretty good salad base consisting of quinoa, chickpeas, and feta cheese. I’ve done variations with whatever vegetables I happen to have around or whatever is in season and it has consistently turned out well. For this summer version, I used cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and parsley. I even got to supplement the cherry tomatoes from the co-op with a few from the “garden” at Vicken’s house!!! I guess it’s a little pitiful how excited I got about this, but really! Aren’t they beautiful!?!


I add quite a bit of vegetables to this so that the quinoa isn’t the main component.  I find it’s a great way to eat a big serving of vegetables without having to eat a boring green salad.  You can add less vegetables if that’s your preference, or you could even serve this over salad greens with some extra dressing. The best thing about this salad is that you can make a big batch and then eat it for lunch for a few days. This assumes, of course, that you (like me) can stand to eat the same meal day after day.  I used to think I was boring for doing this, but, in the spirit of positivity, I now prefer to think of it as “adaptive.”  I am a broke grad student after all.

In case you’re curious, I’ve made a spring version of this salad with arugula, green beans, and green onions and another summer version with roasted zucchini and tomatoes. The possibilities are endless!  Despite this, I figure it’s in my best interest to come up with a different type of salad or bulk meal to make before I get totally sick of this one…  I’ll let you know when I find it.

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Quinoa salad with tomatoes and cucumbers

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa (I used red, but you can use white)
2 cups water

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered length-wise, and sliced
4 green onions, green and white parts, sliced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 can chick peas, drained
4 oz. feta crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the sliced vegetables, chick peas, and parsley and stir to combine. Top with the crumbled feta and serve immediately.

**I’ve kept leftovers for up to 4 days in the fridge. It is great cold or at room temperature, and it makes a great light lunch.

As soon as I read the Wednesday Chef’s post about her experience in Italy with Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati (essentially grilled stuffed tomatoes on bruschetta), I knew it was something I had to try.  I immediately fell in love with the seemingly romantic and ceremonial process of cooking and eating the stuffed tomatoes, each on its own slice of grilled toast.  My old housemate and good friend was visiting Davis from Virginia over the weekend of the 4th, so we had a bbq to celebrate her return and the holiday.  With it being high tomato season and all, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try this recipe.

Did I mention that it was also very brave of me to try out this dish?  I wasn’t exactly following a detailed recipe.  The “recipe” in the original post was incredibly vague, but there were just enough details to give me inspiration, guide me through the process and help me come up with a recipe which I’ve now shared with you.  Since this is only the first time I’ve tried this, I’m sure there is plenty of room for improvement and if anyone tweaks the recipe with success, I’d love to hear about what you did!

I made the stuffing by sautéing chopped fennel in olive oil over low heat for about 15 minutes.  Once this was almost complete, I added 4 cloves of minced garlic and sautéed a couple minutes longer, until the garlic was aromatic.  I then combined this with bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and olive oil and filled the hollowed out tomatoes.  Then came the fun part.  We loaded all of the stuffed tomatoes into a grill basket and placed it over hot coals on the grill.  Once the bottoms of the tomatoes were blackened, we removed the grill basket and threw slices of country bread onto the grill until lightly browned.  The next steps of the process are highly personalized and I think that’s why everyone enjoyed this dish so much.  You prepare the bruschetta as you like, drizzled with olive oil and/or rubbed with garlic.

Then you take your stuffed tomato, flip it over onto the bread, remove the skin (which is much easier to do when the tomato has had some time to cool down!)  and mash it into the bread with a fork.  Then you take a bite!  And you roll your eyes and nod your head because it tastes that good, and you feel happy that you are enjoying fresh food with friends.

After making these I’m on a heightened look out for recipes with aspects of ceremony or group participation.  I sometimes let my desire for perfection isolate me in the kitchen, but making this reminded me of how much fun cooking can be when done with others.  Cheers to that.
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Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati
guidance from The Wednesday Chef

Makes 12 stuffed tomatoes.

Ingredients
12 medium tomatoes (preferably heirloom varietals with flat bottoms), cored and hollowed out (see picture in earlier in post)
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed of stalks and finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
olive oil (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
Loaf of country bread, sliced to 3/4 inch thickness

Directions
1. Once you have removed the seeds and very-inner flesh from the tomatoes, salt the insides and invert over a plate to drain for about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the fennel in a dollup of olive oil over med-low heat for 12-15 minutes. At this point, add the garlic and sauté a minute or two longer, until the garlic is aromatic, but not browned.

3. Mix together bread crumbs, fennel and garlic mixture, parsley, and salt until combined. Then add olive oil to moisten the mixture. I added enough to make the mixture glisten a bit, but it was still pretty dry. You could add more or less depending on your taste.

4. To give the tomatoes a final chance to dry out a bit more, before stuffing them you can place them on a grill basket, inverted, or in the oven (right side up) under the broiler for a few minutes. Then you fill each tomato with stuffing and arrange them on a grill basket.

5. Grill tomatoes until they are slightly blackened on the bottom, remove from heat, and let sit to cool. Place bread slices on the grill and toast until lightly browned on both sides.

6. Drizzle toasts with olive oil, rub with garlic, and invert a stuffed tomato onto the bruschetta. Remove the charred tomato skin and then mash with a fork to spread the tomato over the bread.