Three or four summers ago I was standing in water up to my knees on a sandbar known as Horseshoe Shoal in the middle of Barnstable Harbor, that long shark-shaped body of water that swims between the shores of Sandy Neck to the north and the town of Barnstable to the south on Cape Cod. As I watched, a flock of seabirds raced down the channel that passes between the sandbar and Sandy Neck. The birds swooped and cried, strafing a line across the water with their beaks as precise as a squadron of P-51 Mustangs. Then I saw it, a deep slate discoloration below the channel surface, an undulating gray movement that fragmented into hundreds of individual fish as it flashed by me. I wasn’t the only one to take notice. Small boats stopped in the channel, people rising to stand, hands shading eyes. “Blues!” a man cried, waving and pointing. It was August and the bluefish were running. For anglers and eaters on Cape Cod, only striped bass equal the pleasures of bluefish. Stripers taste more delicate, but bluefish fight harder. This week’s dish: Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt.
I had to bite my tongue while Jody prepared this week’s Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade. The photographer in me was dying to speak up: Don’t you want to sneak a little preserved lemon into that? Some extra visual pop? Truth be told, my wife has always been a member of the “flavor first ” camp, with visual appeal a distant second. And we use preserved lemons in everything, so this week we’re giving tomatoes a turn, and tapenade. Is anything more summery than the crazy quilt of tomatoes just ripening in New England, along with an herby tapenade, basil and olive oil? If you’ve never sat down at a table with tapenade because you’re afraid it might once have dated an anchovy, then fear not. As Jody explains in her notes, this tuna tapenade’s for you.
The good news is you get a great pasta sauce this week. The bad news is you get the pasta part of the post next week. We thought asking you to make both the sauce and the fresh pasta would be asking too much, so this week we’re doing Rialto Bolognese, enough sauce for three meals. Next week we’ll be posting Fresh Tagliatelle. You can wait until then to bring them together, or simply use a pound of your favorite fresh wide noodle pasta and jump the gun. In fact, the great thing about a sauce like this is having it on hand, ready to go, for a meal when all you have to do make the pasta.
Back in 2001, when we were working on our cookbook, farro was still rare. If you went to the right restaurants, if you frequented the vortices of culinary hipness. Italian delis, in New York or San Francisco maybe. Specialty food stores, the occasional sighting. How the world has turned in a dozen years! Now you can often buy farro in grocery stores, which is a good thing if you want to make this week’s Tomato – Farro Soup.
Gratin typically brings to mind a rich and cheesy dish of root vegetables (pronounced by all American children to rhyme with “all rotten”). Nutritional guilt over this fat fest drives food bloggers to frantic rearrangements of their refrigerator poetry magnets into epithets like “a holiday indulgence” and a “once in awhile treat.” But in the Adams-Rivard kitchen we scoff at a such reservations. We eat gratins when we feel like it, whether Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is joining us for dinner or not. Thank God for bicycles. Which offers me a segue into this week’s dish, Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin. While pedaling through Provence a month ago we couldn’t help but notice how much lighter a Provencal gratin is than its Gerard Depardieu-like cousins to the north. The cream had vanished, along with much of the cheese, both supplanted by olive oil, bread crumbs, and fistfuls of crushed herbs. Olive oil, we were reminded, transforms the flesh of vegetables into something unctuous. Caramelization is the gilding on the lily.
We’re obsessing over peeled tomatoes. Jody has even made a convert of me, Mr. No-Fuss-No-Muss. Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers might well have begun Peeled Tomato… By the end of the summer you’ll either be slipping tomatoes out of their skins quicker than a fast-change artist in a costume shop. . . or you’ll be reading another food blog that doesn’t ask so much of you. But if you do, you’ll miss the supple sensation that is a tomato without its skin, as well as a remarkable esthetic experience. I, for one, had no idea how ordinary tomatoes metamorphosed into the Betty Grables of the garden without their skins. They’re gorgeous.
And nothing makes it worth the effort – trifling as it is – of removing a few tomato skins than pairing the tomatoes with burrata, the really hot cousin of bufala mozzarella.
In his brilliant maritime novels set during the Napoleonic wars the English writer Patrick O’Brian was ruthlessly accurate about the handling of square-rigged sailing ships and the social relations in the British navy. In order to keep readers from feeling completely adrift O’Brian, whom the NYT Book Review dubbed “Jane Austen at sea,” often had his sea-wise characters explain details of shipboard life to landlubbers who had wandered into the story. Those new to cuisine afloat soon learned, for example, that chowder and the dreaded “portable soup”* were thickened with hardtack lest the liquid slosh out of the bowl and onto the diner. Hardtack, sailors then cheerfully pointed out, was infested with worms, nicknamed “bargemen,” after their resemblance atop the crackers in the soup, to pilots steering captain’s barges from one side of the bowl to the other. In MASTER AND COMMANDER, O’Brian has a character contemplate his soup with its infested crackers and then observe, “Don’t you know that in the Navy one must always choose the lesser of two weevils. Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!”
You’re either on board with this kind of humor or you’re not. If you’re not, you can console yourself with today’s post, Corn and Mussel Chowder. Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!
Give me one good reason why anyone would choose to cook tomatoes at the very apex of their season, especially for for four hours?
Okay, here’s one: Slow-Roasted Plum Tomatoes with Herb Salt.
Plum tomatoes are the different tomatoes of the pomodoro world. Not inferior, just different. Consumed raw, their virtues remain hidden, but when roasted slowly they soften to the consistency of butter. Spread them on good bread, give them a quick chop to help them morph into a quick sauce. As a contribution to a picnic where everyone is assembling a plate of goodies, or as a high class sumpin’-sumpin’ with olives and shaved Pecorino Romano before dinner, they will provoke applause.
Unfortunately, they’re also addictive.
In my personal desert island larder (you know, What would you take if you had to choose only a dozen or so dishes or ingredients on a desert island for the rest of your life?) Skordalia with Parsley Salad would surely rate shelf space.* And not because it includes potatoes. But because it includes …