Crostini with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, Burrata, and Basil

Although my tomato garden started out pretty, it did not produce all summer. I heard similar comments from many of my backyard gardening friends. About two weeks ago, I cleaned up my 26 tomato plants and gave them one last chance to make fruit before pulling them. I picked every tomato in sight in various stages of ripeness.

At our next monthly Master Gardeners of Davidson County meeting, I asked our UT Extension Agent, David Cook, if he had an explanation. He said in long periods of heat and drought, tomatoes take longer to ripen. Additionally, he said the plants do not set new fruit because the heat coupled with high humidity cause the flowers to shrivel up and drop. He said he’s been wondering if it is time to rethink when we plant tomatoes locally.  Perhaps later in June would work better since we have a long growing season. Coincidently, I learned my father-in-law planted his tomato beds on July 1st, and they were lush and producing when I saw them last week.

The first thing I did with the ripe portion of tomatoes I harvested was to make and freeze a few batches of @JudysChickens Marinara Sauce. Soon after, I had the pleasure of tasting Robin Verson’s slow-roasted tomatoes while attending an indigo dyeing workshop at Hill and Hollow Farm, in Kentucky. I’ve made oven-roasted tomatoes before, but their flavor wasn’t nearly as intense as these. These were like little flavor bombs.

I asked her how she prepared them. She wrote, “Cut off the tips of Roma tomatoes, then cut them in half. Place in baking pan and sprinkle olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put a nice
amount of freshly pressed garlic on top of each half. Bake at 225 for many hours, usually half a day.” Thus began my days of slow-roasting tomatoes.

Slow Roasted Tomato Ingredients

4 pounds small tomatoes (I used 3# Roma and 1# cherry)
5 -6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic pepper (used only for cherry tomatoes)

I divided the tomatoes into cherry (Juliettes and Sungolds) and the larger tomatoes (Romas and Lemon Boys). I found that garlic doesn’t stick well to whole cherry tomatoes, so I used garlic pepper for them.

Instructions
Preheat oven to 225º
Line two 13″ x 18″ rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

For the pound of cherry tomatoes: mix tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of garlic pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Set aside.

For the three pounds of Romas and Lemon Boys: cut the tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with your index finger. Mix olive oil and minced garlic in a small bowl to moisten the garlic. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Use a teaspoon to drizzle the olive oil and garlic over the tomato halves.

Slow cook tomatoes for 4-5 hours. The cherry tomatoes were ready about 30″ before the Romas.

We call the cherry tomatoes “poppers.” They are fun to eat individually or to throw in sauces, salads, and vegetable dishes for a burst of flavor.

The roasted Romas are good to eat as an appetizer, a side dish, or as a mix-in for foods like hamburgers, vegetable dishes, and even over pasta. They are especially good smushed on bruschetta, or on crostinis, as we shall see. They will last in a covered dish for about a week in the refrigerator, or they can be frozen.

Crostini Ingredients
Yield: 18 Crostini

1 baguette
½ recipe of slow roasted tomatoes (see above)
4  2-ounce balls of burrata cheese
a few leaves of basil, minced
balsamic vinegar
Cracked sea salt and pepper

Instructions
Preheat oven to 400º

Slice a baguette into ½-inch slices. Lightly brush each with olive oil. Place slices on a sheet pan and toast for about 7-8 minutes.

Slice the burrata and place some on each slice of bread.

Top with one roasted tomato half.

Grind a little sea salt and pepper over each crostini. Sprinkle with chopped basil. Drizzle each with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Arrange crostini on a serving platter.

If you are looking for other ways to cook tomatoes check out Tomatoes! on the MENU page.

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Quick and Easy Baked Hummus and Feta Appetizer

Recently, I  hosted my book club’s annual dinner where guests signed up to bring either beef or chicken chili, salad, cornbread, dessert or an appetizer. When Book Hunters member, Janna, uncovered her Greek-style appetizer, the aroma of warm feta and olives wafted through the kitchen attracting us like moths to a flame. Guests started scooping up the dip with abandon, or at least I did. Soon, there was a lot of gushing going on in my kitchen.

Janna said the appetizer was easy to make.  Even better.

Ingredients:

1-pound container hummus
6-ounce container crumbled feta
5 ounces (¾ cup) flavorful tomatoes, chopped
4 ounces (¾ cup) flavorful kalamata olives, cut in half
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mise en Place:

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350º. Allow ingredients to come to room temperature if times allows.

Layer ingredients in an 8″ by 8″ square pan or other ovenproof containers, as shown. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Bake in a 350º oven for 20-25 minutes.

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Serve with pita bread or crackers. We loved it with naan dippers.

A few words about the ingredients. I tried this with cherry tomatoes but thought the sliced tomatoes had a lot more flavor. One tomato was enough.

It took me a few attempts to find kalamata olives that were tasty. Make sure the ones you choose are flavorful.

We preferred the dip with the garlic-flavored hummus.

Things to knit while watching the game

How to Knit a Hat and Make a Pom Pom
A Birthday Tribute for my Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash
What to Knit for a Baby: a Hat, a Sweater and a Blanket

Foods to serve a crowd on Super Bowl Sunday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outrageous Roasted Rosemary Cashews

Warning: these nuts can become are addictive!

Even the reject batches turned into something absolutely wonderful.

I had been served roasted rosemary cashews twice, both times at The Nashville Food Project’s Patron’s Party for Nourish. I was smitten! After this year’s event, I cruised the Internet for a recipe and found that superstar chefs like Ina and Nigella and a slew of others had been writing about these “bar nuts” from the Union Square Cafe in New York City for years. I had to make them.

A few words about the ingredients:

The Nuts. I made this recipe using one-pound bags of raw (unroasted), unsalted, cashews from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The pound bags cost $7.99 at both stores. Be forewarned — raw, unsalted, cashews are hard to find at traditional grocery stores. At the Union Square Cafe, they use a combination of raw nuts.

Kosher Salt versus Table Salt. If you use kosher salt, you will need to add more salt. Kosher salt has larger crystals than table salt. Thus the salt takes up more volume but has less weight in a measuring spoon. Plan on using 1¼ to 1½ tablespoons of kosher salt to 1 tablespoon of regular salt.

Kosher salt has larger crystals because historically it was manufactured for “koshering” meat, a process where large crystals of salt were rubbed onto meat to remove surface blood. If table salt had been used, it might have been absorbed by the meat. Eventually, the name “koshering salt” was reduced to kosher salt.

Olive oil versus Butter. I  tried using olive oil instead of butter, but the seasonings wouldn’t stick to the nuts.

Yield: 6½ cups
Preheat oven to 350º

Ingredients:

2 pounds whole, raw, unsalted cashews
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (from about ⅔ ounce of sprigs)
½ -¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on how much heat you like
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt (if using kosher salt, you will need to use 1¼ to 1½ tablespoons)
2 tablespoons melted butter

Mise en Place:

Instructions:

Pour nuts into a large, rimmed, baking pan in a single layer. Roast for 10-12 minutes until very lightly browned.

Meanwhile, measure the seasonings and mince the fresh rosemary.

Melt the butter and add to the bowl of seasonings. Stir.

Immediately after removing nuts from oven, pour nuts into a large bowl and add the seasoning mixture. You could add the butter mixture directly to the pan and toss, but the nuts tend to spill out as you stir and much of the seasoning stays on the bottom of the pan. I think it’s better to mix in a bowl.

Let flavors meld for about ten minutes, occasionally stirring to distribute the seasonings evenly. Your house will smell divine. Serve warm or allow nuts to cool by spreading them in a roasting pan.

These nuts make great holiday and hostess gifts.

Roasted Rosemary Cashew Nut Butter

What did I do with my reject batches of roasted cashews? I tried making nut butter for the first time using my Vitamix processor. The results were amazing!! I’m so thrilled to have made something new that is so tasty. I processed the three pounds of nuts for only two minutes.
 

P.S. The seasoning mixture is yummy on popcorn.

Related Snack Recipes:
Roasted Tamari Almonds (and growing soybeans)
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful,  Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Cooking Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

How to Make Yogurt at Home

I recently stopped by my daughter-in-law’s house to visit her mother, Viji, and her grandmother, Hema. Knowing how much I love her cooking, Viji, whose kindness and generosity know no bounds, asked if I was hungry and offered to prepare a bowl of biryani and rice for me. I gratefully accepted.

Usually, when Viji makes biryani, she serves it with a bowl of raita, a refreshing yogurt-based condiment that tempers the spices in biryani. This time, Viji offered a bowl of plain yogurt (known as perugu in Telugu) which she often serves over rice and curries. I scooped up a few spoonfuls and poured them over the biryani. As I licked the spoon, I was struck by how sweet, tangy, and light her batch of yogurt tasted. It was unlike any yogurt I had had before. I asked Viji what brand it was and she told me she made it herself. As soon as she said the yogurt was homemade, my hand was already searching the depths of my purse for a pen and a piece of paper. I had to learn how to do this.

Viji explained how making yogurt was something she and her family have been doing almost daily their entire lives, both in India and in the United States. In describing how she made it, she didn’t use off-putting words like “live cultures,” “starter,” or “fermentation.” Instead, she told me simply to heat milk in a microwave until just before it starts to boil, allow it to cool until you could comfortably stick your finger in it (not scalding and not lukewarm — somewhere in between). When it got to that temperature, I was to add a spoonful of yogurt from the last yogurt batch, stir it, cover it with plastic wrap, and put it in the warmed microwave to set undisturbed overnight; it would be yogurt in the morning.

She sent me home me with a small jar of yogurt for “starter” and an encouraging smile. Here is a photo of Viji and our daughter, Meera, from a cooking class they taught to Meera’s friends a few years ago.

I made my first batch that same evening. When I checked the microwave the following morning, the preparation had thickened. I had made yogurt! I felt so accomplished. Surprisingly, it tasted exactly like Viji’s batch: sweet, light and tangy. Delicious in its plainness. Out of sheer delight in creating something as universally known as yogurt,  I proceeded to share a few spoonfuls with everyone who walked in the door for the next few weeks.

How does milk become yogurt?

Milk is made of water, fat, proteins, minerals, and a milk sugar known as lactose. When the milk is heated, its native bacteria are killed. As the milk cools and the new, live bacteria in the starter culture are introduced, the new bacteria feed on the milk’s lactose (sugar) and turn it into lactic acid. As it does this, the milk is transformed, or ferments, into a soft curd — yogurt.

It is a very simple and time-honored process. People have been making yogurt, kefir, and cheese from milk, using bacteria, yeast, or fungi, for thousands of years to preserve milk’s shelf life. It is only in the last one hundred plus years, with the advent of refrigeration, that people have been able to store milk in liquid form in their homes.

The Starter Culture
You can make your own yogurt using a starter culture that has been given to you, as I did, or you can buy commercially prepared yogurt with “live” or “active” cultures from the grocery store. To make this recipe replicable for readers,  I purchased four different commercial brands of plain, unsweetened yogurt to test the process and each brand worked. As long as the container of yogurt has these two live bacterial strains listed, you will be able to make yogurt: Lactobacillus bulgaricus ( L. bulgaricus) and Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus). Other strands of bacteria are often added by manufacturers to create the unique taste and texture of each brand.

This label is from a container of Trader Joe’s plain yogurt.

This label is from a container of Desi, a nice plain yogurt I bought at Patel Brothers, a fabulous Indian grocery store on Nolensville Road in Nashville.

All four brands of yogurt produced a semi-solid yogurt that tasted identical to the batch from which the starter came. Words to the wise: be sure you like the taste of the plain yogurt you choose because that is how your homemade batch will taste.

The Milk
Any whole or reduced-fat milk will do. You could also use soy or coconut milk, although I have not tried these.

Ingredients:

4 cups milk
1 tablespoon plain yogurt with live cultures

Instructions:
Pour milk into a tempered glass bowl suitable for heating.

Heat milk uncovered in the microwave, or on the stovetop, until it reaches 180º. In my microwave, this takes nine minutes. If you do not have a digital thermometer, heat milk until it just begins to boil. Do not let it boil over.

Remove hot milk from the microwave to a padded surface and allow it to cool to 115º.

Add a spoonful of yogurt starter and stir. I add one tablespoonful of starter when using four cups of milk and a heaping teaspoon when using two cups. Cover mixture with plastic wrap and let rest, undisturbed, for 8-10 hours in a warm, dark place like a microwave, an oven, or on a shelf in a kitchen cabinet.

If it doesn’t set, let it sit a little while longer. For some reason, it took twelve hours for one of the brands to form a curd. I am not sure why, but it did eventually set. Once set, refrigerate the yogurt. Be sure to set aside a small amount to use as starter for the next batch!

Yogurt Cheese (aka Labneh and Greek-Style Yogurt)

Since making that first batch, I’ve started draining yogurt to make “cheese yogurt.” This process of draining yogurt to separate out the whey is also how Greek yogurt and labneh, a Lebanese cream cheese, are made.

The resulting soft cheese is delicious spread on bread and topped with honey or preserves.

Or, it can be served as a savory dish and spread on pita or toast and topped with olive oil, freshly chopped herbs, slivers of green onion, sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper. The flavor is amazing!

To make yogurt cheese, I place a cheesecloth over a fat-separator which has a built-in colander. You could also line a regular colander with cheesecloth.

Allow yogurt to drain for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

This method produced two cups of whey and two cups of yogurt cheese from a four-cup batch of yogurt.

I’ve been making two batches of this yogurt cheese, which is rich in protein and calcium, every week for the last month. Our family cannot get enough of it. The good news is if you don’t feel like making your own yogurt, you could buy commercially prepared yogurt and drain it.

Toast and yogurt cheese are delicious served with one of these preserves, too:
Roasted Strawberry with Rosemary Preserves
Crabapple Jelly
Grape Jelly

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.