I’m not exactly sure where September went. It was here, all crisp and vivid with Indian summer sunlight, and then the light softened and the air grew chill and it was October, a month squarely on the other side of summer. I spent September at work writing a holiday catalog, which may not sound particularly taxing, but is. Like, really. At night, after all the writing, I’d come home ravenous and addle-brained and stand in front of a refrigerator stocked with little more than a handful of fancy cheeses and—honestly—six kinds of homemade pickles. These are not the sort of ingredients with which one can reasonably cobble together the only meal of the day.
Instead, I lived on tomatoes. (And wine. Lots and lots of wine.) There are a handful of things that I make for dinner when I can’t be bothered to figure out what to make for dinner, but this cherry tomato gratin is by far the best of my default dinners. You toss a pint of cherry tomatoes in a shallow baking dish and scatter a handful of breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and Parmesan over them, leaving just a hint of round redness peeking out here and there. Then you slip the dish into a hot oven until the bread is crisp and golden and fragrant and the tomatoes have just begun to go all slumpy and warm. With each bite you get the hefty crunch of cheesy toasted bread, the vivacious freshness of summer herbs, and the exhilarating burst of intensely sweet roasted tomatoes. Which is exactly the sort of thing you need when you’re feeling all sapped and addle-brained and like whoever invented sentences is a real jerk.
I don’t know if tomatoes are still in season where you live, but we have another week or so here along the 45th parallel. That’s at least five nights of cherry tomato gratin— spooned over thick slices of fresh mozzarella or grilled eggplant, tossed with capellini, or served alongside roast chicken. On the other few nights, I think we’ll just go back to September and serve it simply with wine. Lots and lots of wine.
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 oz. ciabatta or rustic Italian bread, torn into coarse crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
kosher salt and ground white pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, combine bread, Parmesan cheese, thyme, and garlic; drizzle with olive oil and toss to combine. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper.
Place cherry tomatoes in a shallow baking dish; scatter bread crumb mixture over tomatoes. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for five minutes. Remove foil and bake until crust is golden and crisp and tomatoes are soft, 10 minutes more.
Serve over fresh mozzarella, grilled eggplant, pasta, grilled fish or roast chicken.
It was pouring at the market this morning! And it’s supposed to be crappy all weekend– a good weekend to spend in the kitchen.
corncob wine (no, really)
Marcella’s tomato sauce (to freeze)
oven-dried tomatoes (with the Juliets)
basil preserved in salt
and I’ll probably end up canning some of those Romas, because that’s a hell of a lot of tomatoes for just sauce.
And then there’s this:
One goes in gin and the other gets bourbon.
I’m showing remarkable restraint at the market these days, y’all. Remarkable. Restraint.
We’re having 15 people over for dinner on Tuesday night. Obviously I’m planning on feeding them herbs and tomatoes. I think I need more tomatoes. . .
Also, you should not make pinky swears and home improvements at the same time. The bathroom’s still not quite done, but it’s fully functional and a hell of a lot prettier.
At some point I’m actually going to tell you about something I made with all the produce I’ve been buying. We’re in the midst of renovating our only bathroom, and every spare second is devoted to returning the room to a semi-functional state. Next week, an actual recipe. Pinky swear.
Oh, you’re probably wondering what Shunkyo radishes are. They’re an heirloom variety my favorite farmer grows. I didn’t need two types of radishes, but he tucked them into my basket as a freebie. I think I might pickle them.
More strawberries, more garlic scapes, more fish. And this week, potatoes!
Last week, Amy asked what to do with garlic scapes. I’ve got a grilled garlic scape pizza in mind, but you can use garlic scapes in any recipe that calls for garlic. Just chop the scapes up and use them in place of garlic cloves.
My god, will you look at that rhubarb?! It’s a good thing I got married in August instead of June or I would have been some wacko bride carrying a bunch of rhubarb down the aisle instead of a bouquet of flowers.
I bought the rhubarb and the garlic scapes solely because they were pretty. I’m not really a shining example of frugality and practicality at the market, but I do know how to get a really good deal on toilet paper.
What kind of college has no football, no fraternities or sororities, and believes that one person can change the world? The kind of college my twelfth grade self had her little seventeen-year-old heart set on. More specifically, Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. In the wave of post-SAT college literature that flooded my mailbox (I must have checked a box: “Would you like to receive information from every college on the planet?”), Warren Wilson stood out. They had a farm, right there at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the green and the blue and the fog all merge into one misty cavalcade of beauty. A farm, which presumably you could work on instead of, say, going to Biology class.
In retrospect, that’s probably what freaked my parents out. Because no way in hell was I going to Warren Wilson College, a hippie school. So I didn’t. I went to a nice little state school, with no football and no fraternities or sororities. And, incidentally, no shortage of hippies.
So it comes as little surprise to my parents that I’ve spent a portion of my summer volunteering at a farm, or that I’ve taken such pleasure in it. My favorite farm chore — for reasons I can’t even begin to explain — turns out to be picking raspberries, though I’m also rather fond of weeding. On my family’s most recent visit, when I returned dirty-kneed from a morning at the farm with red-stained fingers and bramble-scratched arms and a contented smile, I heard my father mutter to my mother, “Maybe we should have let her go to Warren Wilson.” Maybe. Perhaps in some parallel universe they did, and my parallel self became exactly the sort of left-wing radical they’d always feared she would, throwing herself in front of bulldozers and chasing nuclear submarines around in a rubber dinghy with buckets of blood at the ready. Or perhaps — as I believe was my dad’s point — she, too turned out to be a quiet sort of hippie, the kind of girl who believes you’re much more likely to save the world with raspberries than with blood.