Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tomatoes and Basil

I tried the Pappa al Pomodoro recipe. I didn't get the bread-to-tomato ratio quite right, but Len liked it a lot. I ate some of the leftovers last night, and it still tasted pretty good. It was a lot more mushy than at Angeli. Next time, I'll do better.

The farm stand located on the corner of the Pierce campus gave away a basket of tomatoes to each Pierce employee who bothered to stop by. There were about 8 huge ripe tomatoes in my basket, and I've had several wonderful tomato salads and sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and basil. Truly the best taste of summer. If I had the time to throw eggplant slices on the grill, I'd be making tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, and basil sandwiches on my home-made artisan bread for lunch.

When I was growing up, my mother's cousin Mike had a fantastic tomato and vegetable garden in his back yard in Queens. His secret: horse manure. I have never smelled or tasted more flavorful tomatoes in my life and I loved eating tomato sandwiches with mayonnaise for lunch when I visited.

For years, the Pierce has been disposing of horse manure by spreading it across the fields which are now under cultivation for this privately-operated farm stand. I'm pretty sure our soil is an excellent growing medium.*

The farm stand was also selling huge bunches of basil for $2 each, so I bought several and perfumed my house by putting them in a vase before using. I have trouble growing basil because it gets so hot and bolts easily around here, although I noted that the plants I put in among my few cherry tomato plants has thrived. Love that companion planting thing.

I've made several batches of pesto so far and there's some in my refrigerator now to throw on pasta for a quick meal. Nothing could be easier:


2 large cloves garlic
2 packed cups sweet basil leaves
1/2 C. pine nuts
1 C. grated parmesan cheese
3/4 good extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or coarse Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Purist will use a mortar and pestle to make this. I don't own one, so I use my Cuisinart.

Turn on the food processor and drop the garlic through the tube until it is chopped. Add the basil and pulse until chopped. Turn on the machine and drop the pine nuts in to be chopped. Add the cheese, salt, and pepper, and drizzle in the olive oil while the machine is on to make a paste of your desired consistency. This keeps well in the refrigerator (I add a layer of oil to the top to prevent discoloration) or freezer. Some people like to freeze it in ice cube trays and pop them out as needed to add flavor to food.

*I have been told that horse manure needs to be well-aged before use as fertilizer or it will "burn" plants. I'm told that means three or four months before you put it around your plants. I'd suggest turning it into the ground in the fall, so that it will be ready for spring planting. I also use it around my roses, which my friend Melinda swears is the best thing for them. God knows, I've got a constant supply of horse manure to haul home.

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