We are dragging this summer out. Maybe it’s because as far as I am concerned, it didn’t really start until August, when the bulk of the heat wave was behind us and we willingly ventured outside of our air-conditioned caves again, and when we finally took a little family vacation. Maybe it’s because if it is still summer, the baby is still a baby and not a one year-old toddler as he will be after this weekend. But it is most likely because we headed down the Garden State Parkway to Exit 0 last weekend for a belated 5 year anniversary mini-vacation without said baby and somehow, well into September, still got sun, sand and freckles. Summer in September? I’ll take it.
Around this time every summer, I see the best signs at the markets: “Ugly but tasty!” “Pretty on the inside!” “Don’t judge a tomato by its cover!” Beneath them are usually buckets of craggly misshapen tomato beasts, with coarse seams like they’d been stitched back together after some rough past and distinctly un-heirloom colors. At prices like a dollar a pound, obviously, they were destined for sauce.
[Er, croutons not pictured.] Here’s the thing: If you told me you were serving succotash with or for dinner, I’d inwardly groan. People, I’ve had all sorts of succotash — a summery stew of corn and lima beans, often with tomatoes, yet still so bland that no added butter or cream saves it for me, and when adding butter and cream don’t save something for me, you know something is terribly wrong — and can’t think of one that I wanted to run home and make for myself. It might be because it’s usually in the off-season, when the above come frozen and no, it’s just not the same. It might also be because I once had a roommate that would open cans of succotash, not drain it, heat it in the microwave and eat it straight and guys, it’s been many, many years and still, my stomach turns. Don’t ever live with me. I’m a jerk.
The Food Network had the audacity (I am joking, a little) to air an episode of Barefoot Contessa in which she makes a “scalloped” dish with bread cubes, garlic, basil, Parmesan and the brightest most summer-bursting-forth, musta-tasted-like-the-heavens-above, thanks-for-rubbing-it-in-guys tomatoes over the winter, when there was absolutely nothing I could do to bring this dish into my kitchen. It wasn’t fair. It felt outright mean. For people as berserk about summer tomatoes as I am — people who avoid them in the off seasons, when they’re tomatoes in name only — being reminded of that which is as impossibly far off as the notion that there are days in the summer that are so hot, we actually long for the kind of weather that requires Gore-Tex and hot cocoa. It’s basically crazy talk.
When I am considering recipes I might share with you all, there are a lot of foods that I arbitrarily rule out. Sandwiches? Nope! With rare exception, who needs a recipe for slapping things between two pieces of bread? Fruit salad? Oof! No! Again, unless you’re doing something fancy–fancy to it, I’m pretty sure people can find their own path to chopped fruit in a bowl. So when I got to thinking about making an old-school Cobb salad a couple months ago, I quickly rejected it because given the Cobb salad’s ubiquity on lunch menus everywhere, who doesn’t know how to make it?
I could no longer resist this sauce, and frankly, I don’t know why I even tried to: food bloggers obsess over it, and they’re not a bad lot to base a recipe selection upon. Adam of Amateur Gourmet fell for it five years ago. Molly at Orangette raved about it over two years ago, with a bonus approval marking from Luisa at Wednesday Chef. Then Rachel Eats fawned over it too, and Rachel, you see, she lives in Rome right now — I want to be in Rome right now — Rome, where you can get authentic, perfect tomato sauce a zillion places every single day. And yet she stayed in and made this one. That sealed the deal.
You were so enthusiastic when I recently told you about that cubed, hacked caprese I throw together a lot in the summer, I am clearly overdue to tell you about one of my other, favorite “tossed together” meals. Except that while I really like that caprese salad, this roasted tomato and cippoline dish is something of a religion to me: my obsession with it borders on fervor. I don’t understand why I can’t run off with it.