Tuesday, March 8, 2011
When we plant our vegetable garden in Todi, we’re always way more ambitious than we have a right to be. Like clockwork we end up planting about six more zucchini plants than we can possibly use. And don’t even get me started on cabbage. But I always figure you can never have too many tomatoes, right? Wrong.
The problem is that we don’t live full time in our villa in Todi, we use the house on the weekends when we can, and spend most of August there. But there are times when we are just too busy with life in Rome to make it up to Umbria. Even though we know the vegetables are literally falling off the vine.
At the very least, I try to plant things that I know will ripen while we’re there in August. Like tomatoes. But last summer I once again went overboard, and had baskets full of tomatoes. I realized long ago that I was never going to be canning tomatoes (just not my thing) and so stopped planting san marzano. Instead, I choose as many different varieties of heirloom and small cherry tomatoes that I can find at the nursery. My thinking is that they’ll be be perfect for eating raw in a salad, scattering atop a pizza or cooking down quickly for a pasta sauce while we are there in August.
But last September was particularly sunny and warm, and my tomato plants kept giving and giving and giving. As I sat at my desk in Rome, I kept thinking of going up to Todi to make a quick tomato run. But when I finally got there, in early October, the plants were completely bare. As if someone had carefully picked off every last red globe.
Well, someone had. Marisa (who helps us take care of the house) had thoughtfully picked them all. While I was very grateful for her foresight, I wasn’t too happy about what she did with them. She filled up bag after bag with them, and popped them directly into the freezer.
So disillusioned was I, with the thought of frozen tomatoes, that the hard little things have been sitting ever since then, nestled up between a pork roast and two sticks of butter in my freezer in Rome.
Until this past Friday. Fridays are always a problem. It’s the night before the farmers market, and we’ve usually gone through the previous week's bounty. Not even one carrot left. I know I could easily run around the corner to buy vegetables....but I kind of like the idea of getting through the week with local produce.
That’s when I remembered the tomatoes.
While the main part of this post will, of course, be the recipe for the tomato sauce I made with orange, the newsflash item is: Yes, you can freeze cherry tomatoes and they are fantastic!!! Before Marisa handed me my baggies full of tomatoes, I had never heard of freezing then. I guess I was wary of any preserving that didn’t involve many complicated steps. But with this method - let’s call is Marisa’s Way - you just pick the little buggers off the vine, give them a rinse and freeze them as is.
Since they freeze up separately, you can just pull a few out of the bag as you need them. Since they are so small, you don’t even have to thaw them out, just throw them straight into the pan. (well, don’t throw them, they are hard as a rock and may bounce back out). They do give off quite a bit of water, so use more than you think you need, and let them cook down.
The taste? You know that August tomato taste, when you bight into a cherry tomato straight off the vine, and the flavor is so intense it almost hurts? It was still there, 9 months later, simmering in my sauce.
Pasta with Tomatoes and Orange
4-5 cups frozen cherry tomatoes*
3 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, (chopped finely)
Zest from one orange (chopped finely)
Juice from one orange
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 pound pasta**
1 cup shredded ricotta salata
Choose a large saute’ pan, that will hold all of the tomatoes, and eventually all of the pasta.
Add olive oil to pan, heat over medium flame. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and let cook for a few minutes, until fragrant (but not brown)
Add the tomatoes, giving them a good stir. They will start to cook and defrost. Keep the heat low at first. As the tomatoes start to give off their liquid, you can turn the heat up.
Add salt and let the tomatoes cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is very thick. This is not a slowly simmered sauce. You want the heat rather high, so the tomatoes cook quickly, and almost start to carmelize at the edge of the pan.
Once the sauce is thickened, add half cup of orange juice, and let it cook for about 1 minute. Add the rest of the juice, and turn off heat.
Add orange zest.(put lid on to keep warm)
In the meantime bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until done.
Drain and add to the sauce.
Combine the sauce and pasta, adding handfuls of ricotta salata as you stir, until you have added it all.
*You can substitute fresh cherry tomatoes
**I used Forno Vecchino Bucatini di grano duro Senatore Cappelli, which I bought at DOL, and - if you can find it - I definitely recommend. In fact, this pasta may be reason enough to head out to DOL, and stock up.