In the mood for Farmer’s Market Tomatoes!

     Every Saturday, I go to the Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market in Greensboro and get into all sorts of trouble.  I find it impossible to resist the truckloads of sweet corn, watermelons and peaches, the buckets of fresh cut flowers, the homemade baked goods, the goat cheese lady (who lets you taste everything), and especially the tables of carefully laid out vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes.
   This past week it seemed clear that the best of tomato season is over.  But happily there were still lots of beautiful cherry tomatoes and also boxes of field ripened tomatoes for 99 cents a pound that, while slightly unfortunate in looks, were extremely lovely in taste. So here is what I did with my end of season tomatoes.

Peeled Cherry Tomato Salad with Tarragon Mustard Vinaigrette and Walnuts

Who would actually score, blanch and peel a whole mess of cherry tomatoes?  That would be me, of course, after I read a description of how these little tomatoes, without the constraints of their skin, soak up the vinaigrette and explode in your mouth.  This is based on a recipe from renown chef and teacher Anne Willan from La Varenne.  And while I may not start peeling all of my tomatoes from this day on, I will definitely be serving this wonderful and unique salad from time to time.
2 pounds cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 small bunch fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup walnut oil (or olive oil)
Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves
Score a tiny x into the bottom of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to boil and drop tomatoes in for just a few seconds to loosen the skins.  Drain and rinse until cold water to stop the cooking.  The tomatoes should be quite easy to peel now.
For the Dressing:  Strip the tarragon leaves from their stems and coarsely chop.  Whisk the vinegar with the mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the oil so the dressing emulsifies and thickens slightly.  Whisk in the chopped tarragon, taste and adjust the seasonings.
Put the peeled tomatoes into a salad bowl.  Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, mixing carefully, and taste again for seasoning.  Shortly before serving, sprinkle the tomatoes with walnuts, top with tarragon and serve over leaves of Boston or Bibb lettuce.
(tomatoes can be made and kept at room temperature for 2-3 hours, and the flavors will mellow in that time)
(Serves 6-8)

Fresh Tomato Soup

Hands down my favorite tomato soup.  I make it a few times at the height of tomato season and then stash the recipe away until summer returns.  It really isn’t worth the effort if you are using supermarket tomatoes (trust me, I’ve tried) This recipe is from The Victory Garden Cookbook, by Marian Morash. Also, more tomato peeling here…it’s necessary, sorry.
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped leeks
1 cup sliced carrots
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons flour
6 sprigs parsley
1 celery stalk with leaves
8 cups chicken broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel, seed and roughly chop tomatoes.  You should have approximately 6 cups.  In a large saucepan, heat oil and saute the onions and leeks until wilted and golden,  Add 2 cups of the tomatoes, the carrots, garlic, and sugar, and cook together, stirring, until the moisture has evaporated and the mixture is thick.  The cooking time varies, from 10-25 minutes, depending upon the moisture of the tomatoes.  Whisk in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, to cook flour and make smooth.  Tie together the parsley and celery and add to saucepan.  Add remaining tomatoes and 3 cups of the broth.  Cook for 10-15 minutes to release the tomato juices and thicken slightly.  Add the remaining broth; simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove the parsley and celery and lightly process using either a food processor or a stick blender. (or you can put it through a food mill if you have one of those…this recipe makes having a stick blender worth it’s weight in gold) You can either puree this soup finely or leave a little texture, which is how we like it.  It is wonderful with french bread croutons made with parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper, as shown above.
Makes 2 1/2 quarts

Cherry Tomato and Ricotta Salata Salad

This mild salty cheese is perfect with summer sweet cherry tomatoes!  I’ve just added it to my list of favorite cheeses.  This recipe is from A Good DayFor Salad, by Louise Fiszer and Jeannette Ferrary.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup best quality balsamic vinegar
2 cups red cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
6 cups arugula, about 8 ounces
6 ounces ricotta salata cheese
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh basil leaves
In a small bowl, whisk oil and vinegar together,  In a large bowl, gently combine tomatoes and arugula.  Toss with dressing and place in a shallow serving bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Shave thin slices of ricotta salata and place over tomato mixture.  Sprinkle with basil.
(Serves 10)

In the mood for Orange!

Orange is the subtle citrus…sweet and delicate compared to the power of lemon or lime.  Oranges and their juice and zest are a surefire way to bring a little sunshine to all types of dishes.


Tomato Soup with Orange and Cumin


I’ve been making this all winter and see no reason to stop now.  It is like a light tomato cream soup with no cream in sight, just a hint of orange juice and the warmth of cumin. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it as it makes this soup a breeze to puree.  This recipe is from Food and Wine Magazine.
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 bay leaves
2 cans (28 0z each) peeled whole tomatoes with their juices (I like San Marzano)
1 tablespoon packed finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
freshly ground black pepper 
snipped fresh chives for garnish
Put the onion, orange juice, potato, butter, cumin, bay leaves, and 3 cups of water in a large saucepan.  Cover, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a summer.  Cook  until a skewer easily pierces the potato, 15-20 minutes.  Add the tomatoes with their juices and the orange zest.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a steady low simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the potato chunks are falling apart, another 20 minutes  Discard that bay leaves; puree the soup with an immersion blender,  hand blender, stand blender, or food processor.  Strain through a medium/large sieve; discard the contents of the sieve. Season immediately, let cool completely if refrigerating or freezing.  Heat gently, adjust the salt and pepper as needed garnish with the chives and serve. (makes about 10 cups)

Scampi Al Dragoncello

This bright and beautiful shrimp recipe is from Christina’s Tuscan Table by Cristina Ceccatelli Cook.  The only change I made was to segment the oranges instead of slicing them.  It’s super easy if you have a small, sharp knife.  Just cut a bit off of both ends of the orange so that you can set it flat on a cutting board then,  slicing from top to bottom, remove all of the peel and pith from the orange.  When it is completely clean, you will be able to quickly slice between the membranes to remove the orange segments.

24 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined, tails left on
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for cooking
juice and zest of 2 oranges
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
a few sprigs fresh tarragon, for garnish
orange slices for garnish
salt to taste

Combine shrimp, 1/4 cup olive oil, juice and zest of oranges and lemon, tarragon, garlic, red pepper flakes, and parsley in a bowl.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook the shrimp on high heat for 3-5 minutes,  adding a splash of marinade as you cook to keep them moist.

Season to taste and serve hot, garnished with fresh tarragon sprigs and orange slices. (serves 4-5)


Berries with Orange Sabayon

I could live without a microwave.  For the most part, I use ours to melt chocolate for baking and to warm a tepid cup of coffee.  When I prepared to try this recipe, I almost pulled out the double boiler to cook the eggs then decided that if Chef Laurent Tourondel suggests the microwave, I should at least give it a try.   It came together like a dream and I am thrilled to have such a quick and easy make ahead dessert recipe for entertaining this spring and summer. (And the flavoring possibilities are endless!) This recipe is based on one in his book, Bistro Laurent Tourondel, New American Bistro Cooking. 
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
scant 1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract
fresh berries, like raspberries, blueberries or strawberries (about 5 cups to serve 6)
Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool.
In a microwave safe bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the cooled simple syrup (the rest will keep in the refrigerator for another use, if you like) and the orange juice until frothy.  Cook 8-10 seconds on high heat in the microwave.  Remove from the oven and whisk until smooth.  Repeat 9-10 times, until the sabayon is cooked and thick.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes. (I cooked it 8 times for 10 seconds and then 2 times for 8 seconds, whisking between each and it turned out perfectly)
In a large chilled bowl, whip the cream with the honey and orange extract until soft peaks form.
Fold the whipped cream, gently but thoroughly, into the egg mixture and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Serve the sabayon over fresh berries and garnished with orange zest if desired.
Mint would be nice as well, of course, but I just couldn’t spend money on fresh mint when it will be popping up all over the place around here in just a few weeks!  The daffodil below is the first to bloom in my woods this year…Spring is here!

In the mood for Chicken Soup!

Let’s talk soup.  Remember that TV show, Talk Soup?  Greg Kinnear was the adorable, sarcastic host who showed clips of daytime TV’s oddest moments and then just reacted to them…that was the whole show…but it was very funny.  I think that it is still on the air, renamed The Soup,  but I haven’t watched it since Greg Kinnear left in the mid 90’s to become a movie star.
Soup, namely chicken soup, is the ultimate comfort food and although there are many to choose from in the soup aisle of the grocery store, none will compare with what you can create at home. Try these and you will see for yourself.  Sorry Progresso.
Beethoven famously once said, “Anyone who tells a lie, has not a pure heart and cannot make great soup.”  He was reportedly dismissing an otherwise decent housekeeper for being untruthful.  Here are three really great chicken soups for the pure of heart among you.
Note: While you can serve each of these soups right after making them, their flavors will really develop if they have at least a few hours to sit, either cooling, covered on the stove top (or refrigerated) and reheated. If you are in a hurry, the Asian Chicken Soup is the one who’s flavors seem to come together the quickest.  And, of course, they are all most excellent on day 2 as well.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

None of these soups are difficult to make but this one is probably the easiest because I use the meat from a rotisserie chicken.  I’ve been making it for years and just finally wrote down the ingredients and amounts for the first time so that I could post it here.  For entertaining, it is fun to set out lots of toppings…cheese, sour cream, fresh diced tomatoes, green onions, and fried tortilla strips.  But even on a busy weeknight, I take the time to make the tortilla strips because my whole family would be terribly disappointed if I didn’t.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 can petite diced tomatoes with juice (14.5 oz)
2 cups Spicy V-8 juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups lower sodium chicken broth (I like Swanson’s or College Inn)
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper, if necessary
fresh corn tortillas, cut into 1/4 inch strips
vegetable oil for frying
Optional toppings:
shredded cheese for garnish (I like Colby/Jack)
chopped fresh green onions
sour cream
chopped fresh cherry tomatoes
For the soup:
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot and saute for several minutes, until onion softens and just start to color.  Add the next 9 ingredients (everything but the black beans) and bring to a simmer. Simmer covered for 20 minutes then add the rinsed black beans and simmer 5 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serves 6.
For the tortilla strips:
Prepare several layers of paper towels for draining the strips.  Heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan over high heat.  Test to see if the oil is ready by frying one tortilla strip.  It should sizzle immediately and turn golden brown in just a matter of seconds.  Depending on the size of you pan and the amount of strips you are planning to fry, you may have to do this in several batches.  Toss the tortilla strips constantly while frying to brown them evenly and don’t walk away for even a minute as they can quickly burn.  Remove to paper towels to drain, sprinkle lightly with salt while they are hot, then let them cool completely.  Most importantly, make more than you think you will need because while they are excellent on the soup, they are also just a yummy nibble.  They keep well in a zip lock baggie.

Asian Grilled Sesame Chicken  Soup

I’m not sure how to describe how great this soup is…you just have to try it.  I wanted to re-do the photographs with a slightly higher noodle to broth ratio but the whole batch was gone before I got a chance.  My guy actually made a special trip home for lunch saying that he had been thinking about this soup all morning! This recipe was inspired by one from Bon Appetit (Feb. 2002)

3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (divided)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce

1 package bean thread noodles (3.75 oz.)
4 cups chopped Napa cabbage (from 1 head)
6 green onions, white and light green parts chopped, dark green parts slivered
8 cups canned lower sodium chicken broth
1 small carrot, shredded
salt if necessary

Mix together soy sauce, dry sherry and 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and pour over chicken breast.  Marinate chicken for 15 minutes in refrigerator. (note:  I like to pound the chicken breasts to create thin, even cutlets that will grill quickly)

Stir together garlic, peanut butter, ginger, vinegar and chili sauce in a small bowl.

Soak the bean thread noodles in very hot water for 10 minutes.  Drain, squeeze out excess moisture, and with a large knife, cut noodles into 2-3 inch sections. Set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon of sesame oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add cabbage and chopped green onions and saute until cabbage is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add broth and the peanut butter mixture and stir well to combine.  Reduce heat and let simmer gently.

Meanwhile, prepare a grill pan over medium high heat.  Remove the chicken from  the marinade and then pour the marinade into the simmering soup.  Grill the chicken for 5 minutes on each side, or until just cooked throughout.  Slice the chicken thinly across the grain into bite sized pieces and add it to the soup.  Add the cut bean thread noodles, carrot slivers and green pepper slivers and simmer just until everything is heated through and the noodles are tender.  This will only take a few minutes. Remove from heat and taste and adjust seasonings.  Serves 6.


Brunswick Stoup

This is actually a Brunswick Stew.  I stopped short of thickening it to the consistency of stew, because I prefer it as a soup.  Brunswick Stew apparently originated in the southeast United States and I found many variations in the combinations of proteins that can be used in it.  My boring little version features all white chicken breast because I was plum out of squirrel!  I’ve simplified this family recipe, based on the one in American Family Style, by Mary Randolph Carter, in order to make it a tidy one pot affair.  Thanks to Marinda for inspiring me to make this excellent dish…it’s a keeper!
6 small chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans (14.5 oz.) chopped tomatoes with their juice
4 cups lower salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
cups frozen corn kernels
2 cups frozen baby lima beans
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Wondra flour (quick dissolving)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco and additional Worcestershire sauce to taste, optional
Trim the chicken breasts of any visible fat and cut in half crosswise.  Sprinkle chicken with the paprika and the salt. In a heavy soup pot, melt  1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil over med-high heat. Brown the chicken on both sides and remove from the pot and set aside.
Add the onion to the pot and cook until transparent.  Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, 1 tablespoon of the Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and when the broth is just simmering, return the chicken to the pot, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  (Be careful to maintain a simmer and don’t let the mixture boil…this will keep the chicken tender as it cooks in the broth)  When the chicken is nice and tender but before it starts to fall apart, remove it from the pot and let cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite sized pieces.
Raise the heat under the pot a bit and add the potatoes, corn and lima beans and boil gently until vegetables are tender then return the shredded chicken to the soup.
 In a small bowl, melt the 3 tablespoons butter with the lemon juice, then stir in the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon Worcestershire, and the parsley.  Gently stir this mixture into the soup to flavor and thicken the broth.  Remove from heat and taste for seasonings.  Serves 6