- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

It has been a long six months or more since I have eaten a local vine-ripened tomato, freshly picked and still warm from the sun. It has been too long.

Although tomato season isn’t here yet, I sometimes let down my resolve to wait it out and buy them anyway. I look for the reddest ones I can find — usually plum or Roma tomatoes. Once home, I tuck them into a brown bag with an apple or banana for a couple of days. The fruit will let off natural gasses that will help the tomatoes ripen and develop a little more flavor.

I then oven-roast the ripened tomatoes. Roasting enhances the natural sugars lurking within and gives them a caramelized flavor.

For the following menu, the tomatoes are quartered, drizzled with olive oil and roasted until the skins char and the juices thicken. Cannellini beans and either Kalamata olives or capers are added to create a thick bean-stewlike dish that makes a terrific meatless entree or side dish for fish, chicken or meat.

Capers, the sun-dried buds of a native Mediterranean bush, are typically sold in a salty brine. Either the olives or the capers can be used in the recipe that follows because they both have a sharp, salty flavor that will help balance the sweetness of the roasted tomatoes.

For a meatless menu, I usually serve a green vegetable, such as the broccoli-with-garlic recipe that follows, along with open-face melted cheese sandwiches.

For dessert, I like to serve something light, such as a mango or lemon sorbet with thin chocolate cookies.

Preparation: Roast the tomatoes. Prepare the golden garlic for the broccoli. Finish the tomato and broccoli dishes. Toast the cheese-topped bread just before serving. Set out sorbet and cookies for dessert.

Roasted tomatoes with cannellini beans and Kalamata olives

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the baking time is 45 minutes.

1 pounds plum tomatoes, trimmed and quartered

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 15-ounce can cannellini or white kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons chopped pitted Kalamata olives or 1 tablespoon small capers, rinsed and blotted dry

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves

Arrange tomatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste and a grinding of black pepper. Roast in 450-degree oven until tomatoes begin to brown on the edges, turning the baking sheet once, about 35 minutes. Remove pan from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Add beans, olives or capers, and garlic to tomatoes and stir gently just to blend. Return to oven and roast until heated through, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil. Spoon onto a deep platter or shallow bowl and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Broccoli with golden garlic

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is about 8 minutes.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic, thinly sliced crosswise

teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

4 cups prepared broccoli florets

Kosher salt

Combine olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper in small skillet. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring, just until the garlic begins to turn golden on the edges, 1 to 2 minutes.

Set a small strainer over a heat-proof bowl and strain garlic from oil. Reserve both separately.

Set vegetable steamer over 1 to 2 inches of boiling water; add broccoli and cook, covered, until tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

Transfer broccoli to a serving dish. Drizzle with reserved spicy garlic oil and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat. Sprinkle top with crisp garlic slices and hot pepper flakes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Melted cheese on toasted bread

The preparation time is 5 minutes, and the cooking time is 5 minutes.

4 diagonal slices (-inch thick) Italian bread cut from a large loaf

8 slices mozzarella, provolone, Swiss or other semifirm cheese

Heat broiler. Broil bread slices about 3 inches from heat source until golden, about 2 minutes per side.

Remove from oven and cover surfaces of bread with cheese slices, cutting as necessary to fit. Return to the broiler and broil until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 4 servings.

Marie Simmons’ newest book is “The Amazing World of Rice” (HarperCollins).

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