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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Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

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

@judyschickens Marinara Sauce

I have two ways of preparing marinara sauce, the summer way and the winter way. Either way, marinara sauce is super easy to make and so much better than store bought sauce.

In the summer, I use fresh tomatoes. I often use the over-ripe and cracked tomatoes for cooking and save the pretty ones for salads.

In the winter, I use Italian, canned, whole, plum tomatoes.

There is also a “hybrid” version of sauce that I make at The Nashville Food Project. There, I use a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes — a mixture that includes canned tomatoes that are often dented (they’re okay to use) and homegrown tomatoes (some perfect, some cracked), all of which are either donated or grown in TNFP’s production gardens. I happily get to make that version in a tilt-top stove which can hold enough sauce for 300 servings!

I use the same ingredients in all three versions: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, sea salt, and ground cayenne or red pepper flakes. What I don’t use is dried oregano. I’m not sure why people think oregano should go in Italian tomato sauce, but no one in my family ever used it. All versions simmer for ten minutes on medium heat once they have come to a rolling boil. Marinara sauces do not cook for as long as a thick and meaty “Sunday Sauce.” They are meant to show off the beautiful flavor of tomatoes.

Although I’ve been making marinara sauce for most of my life, it wasn’t until the summer of 2006, when our family was on an overnight sailing trip in the Adriatic Sea with friends, that I learned to make a delicious marinara. Our skipper, Toto, prepared lunch for ten on a two-burner cooktop in the small galley kitchen of his boat. What did he do differently? He did not add onions (I used to), he used a pinch of cayenne pepper (for heat), and he only cooked the sauce for ten minutes (I was cooking it for 30-45 minutes). In other words, he kept it very simple.

And I’m not the only one who loved the sauce. To this day, if you ask my boys, they will tell you it was the best spafhetti and marinara sauce they ever had.

Yield: Makes 4-5 cups

Ingredients:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves of smashed and chopped garlic (about ¼ cup, chopped)
4 pounds of ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and rough-chopped (about 8-9 cups) or 2 28-ounce cans of whole Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons sea salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper OR ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
15 large leaves of basil, rough-chopped OR 2 loaded stems (about ½ cup when chopped)
1-2 teaspoons sugar (optional, it cuts the acidity)

Instructions:
Core the stems of the tomatoes, slice tomatoes in half (horizontally), and use your index finger to scoop out the seeds. Rough-chop tomatoes into 1 to 2-inch chunks. I do not peel the tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, pour them into a bowl and break them up with your fingers. Swizzle each empty can with a ½ cup of water and pour the liquid into the bowl. Set aside.

Smash the garlic to break up the bulb. Remove the tissuey peel. Take the flat side of a chef’s knife and press it down over each clove to flatten and make it easier to remove the last layer of peel, then rough-chop the garlic cloves.

Pour olive oil into a 6-quart sauté pan. Add garlic. Sauté for about one minute on medium heat until the garlic starts to change color. Do not brown the garlic. If you do, discard and start over. It will make your sauce bitter.

Add the tomatoes, salt, and cayenne or pepper flakes to the garlic and oil. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium heat for about ten minutes. Stir in sugar. Remove from heat.

Stir in basil. Let flavors meld together for at least 15 minutes. If desired, purée the sauce. Personally, I like a chunkier texture.

Serve over cooked bucatini and sprinkle with Reggiano Parmesan.

Recipes from Judy’s Chickens that use this Marinara Sauce recipe

Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Ziti  Amazingly delicious! My family loves it.

Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella Yummy for a quick evening dinner. You could add cooked chicken for protein if desired.

Spiralized Zucchini with Fresh Marinara Sauce I’ve taught this recipe to a few different groups and each time half the people present ordered spiralizers before they left the room.

Check out other family-favorite Italian pasta dishes here.

Never buy a bottle of salad dressing again! Keep a bottle of this 4-ingredient vinaigrette in the cupboard. Use it for salads and marinades: @judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing

One of the most popular recipes on the blog developed by me after our trip to Croatia: “Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce

Last night, my son and grandson joined my husband and me for dinner. I made baked ziti with eggplant.

The nicest compliment came when my son said this newest rendition of baked ziti was among the top five meals I had ever made. He said he wished it was served in a restaurant so he could get more whenever he wanted. (No need for that, honey; just say when.) It was all music to my ears. I had been working on a recipe for baked ziti and eggplant for years.

I love roasted eggplant. I was taught by my mother to sweat (salt and drain) eggplant before cooking to rid it of its bitterness. Indeed, for most of my adult life, I equated the brown liquid that dripped from the colander during sweating as the color of bitterness. The more brown liquid in the sink, the more successful I thought I would be in making a delicious eggplant dish. But recently I learned the true reason for sweating had nothing to do with bitterness and everything to do with the anatomy of eggplant. Eggplant is porous; it is full of small air pockets that absorb oil like a sponge. Sweating draws out water from the eggplant’s cells which fill the air pockets so cooking oil can’t’ occupy the air space.

Since I no longer fry eggplant, this summer I eliminated this time-consuming step of sweating and instead lightly brushed each raw slice of eggplant with olive oil before roasting.

The results have been delightful. At a recent dinner party, guests started gobbling down unadorned roasted eggplant slices before I got a chance to smother them with marinara sauce and mozzarella.

Recently, I went to the Richland Farmers Market in Nashville and bought these gorgeous, svelte, Italian eggplant (melanzana, in Italian) from Corner Spring Farm. They had delightful names like Violeta di Toscano, Rosa Blanca, Clara, and Beatrice.

When I got home, I added them to the hefty stash of Black Beauty and Japanese eggplants I had harvested from my garden. I decided to make a day of it and cook all the eggplants at once. When I trimmed and peeled the skin, I was surprised to see the contrast in color of my stash of eggplants and the Italian varieties. Their flesh was so much whiter. Once roasted, I noticed the Italian eggplants were denser and maintained their shape better. Plus, they had the mouth-feel of artichoke hearts. Yum. Now I know why my mother would always choose Italian eggplants when we visited farmers markets; there is a difference. Next summer, I’m planning on growing more of the Italian varieties.

Yield: serves 8-10 as a main course

Ingredients 

The ingredients list is divided into each of the cooking steps:  eggplant, marinara sauce, pasta, and basil and cheese layers.

3 medium to large eggplants, about 4 pounds
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 28-ounce cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or dash of cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)

6 quarts water
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 pound penne ziti rigate pasta, cooked to al dente

1 pound sliced and then chopped, mozzarella
1 cup finely grated parmesan ( about 3 ounces)
1 cup basil leaves, about ¾ ounce

Mise en Place

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425º

Remove the stem, and peel and slice the eggplant. Slice them about one-half inch thick; better to err on the side of thicker than thinner slices.
 

Pour olive oil in a bowl and brush each side of each slice very lightly with oil. I only used 3 tablespoons of oil for all the eggplants pictured above.
IMG_2499

Arrange the eggplant slices on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Roast for 30-40 minutes. If you want them browned on each side, turn them over after about 20 minutes. I do not bother with this extra step. They should only be lightly browned when done. If you can’t decide if they are cooked enough, try tasting one. That’s what I do. You want them to be firm enough to hold their shape.

At this point, you could store the slices for one or two days in the refrigerator, or freeze. To prep for this recipe, measure out one pound (about 3 cups) and chop into 1.5 to 2 inch segments. Set aside.

DSC_5175.jpg

While eggplant is roasting, start the marinara sauce. Heat olive oil in a 6-quart frying pan over low heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Pour the tomatoes into the pan breaking them up with your fingertips as you do. Add salt, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring frequently. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh basil and turn the heat off. Set aside.

While the sauce simmers and the eggplant roasts, start a large pot of salted water over high heat for the ziti. When water comes to a full boil, add the ziti, bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta. The pasta will cook more as it bakes.

Now you are ready to layer all the ingredients into a 9 by 13-inch casserole.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Pour two cupfuls of sauce into the bottom of casserole pan.
Add half of pasta, half of eggplant, half of basil, half of mozzarella and one-third of parmesan,

Repeat layering starting with half of the remaining sauce, the rest of the pasta, basil, and mozzarella, and a third of the parmesan. End with the remaining sauce followed by the last of the grated parmesan.

Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.

Related Italian Dishes:
Tomato Pie for a Crowd
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Marinara Sauce
Peperonata!
Spiralized Zucchini (aka Zoodles) with Marinara Sauce
Roasted Tomatoes, Burrata, and Basil
Roasted Ratatouille
Pasta, Mozzarella and Marinara Sauce
Tomatoes: The Crown Jewels of the Summer Kitchen Garden
My Favorite Gazpacho

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

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