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Halloween is less than a week away and I’m without a costume. I have serious love for Halloween, so not having a costume (or plans) makes me feel like I’m dying inside.
I did manage to buy six – yes, six pairs of false eyelashes from the craft store last weekend. So if nothing else, there will be crazy eyelashes this Halloween. And popcorn balls. Make that pink popcorn balls.
One of my favorite childhood treats was Wright’s Pink Popcorn, the sweet, slightly stale bar of popcorn sold at zoos and amusement parks in and around the Bay Area. My mom would buy it for us at Fairyland when we were kids, so I associate youth and good times with pink popcorn.
I’d been thinking about pink popcorn for a few weeks and decided that I had to do something about it. I hadn’t made popcorn balls in over ten years, and the idea of pink popcorn balls put a smile on my face. Freshly popped stove-top popcorn lightly coated in a sugary syrup with a hint of vanilla and sea salt is my kind of party. The pink is optional, but so much fun. This one is definitely for the kids, big and small.
pink popcorn balls
adapted from karosyrup.com
makes 12 balls
16 cups popped, unsalted popcorn (2/3 cup kernels)
non-stick cooking spray
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon sea salt (I used Maldon)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 or 2 drops pink or red food coloring
Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the popped popcorn in the bowl and set aside.
Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a small, heavy saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Continue stirring and boil for 2 minutes.
Remove the sugar mixture from heat and add baking soda, vanilla, and food coloring, stirring, until desired color is reached.
Pour the hot syrup over the reserved popcorn; stir together with a wooden spoon until all the kernels have been well coated. Spray your hands with non-stick cooking spray. Working quickly, use your hands to form a 3-inch-diameter ball. Transfer the ball to parchment paper, and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining the popcorn mixture. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container up to 2 days.
I know that it’s no longer tomato season for some of you, but it’s still happening in my neck of the woods. I just couldn’t pass them up at the market this weekend. It’s hard to keep walking when these heirloom varieties are so gorgeous.
So, I’m sneaking in one last tomato dish for the year. It must be done. Hopefully you can sneak one in, too. If not, there’s always next year.
Since these particular tomatoes were so handsome, I wanted to make something to show off just how good looking they were. A tart seemed like the perfect solution.
Tomatoes and puff pastry, together at last. I love the simplicity of this tart, and because it is so simple, it really showcases the goods. The combination of the buttery puff pastry and the juicy, slightly acidic tomatoes is perfect – definitely more decadent than your average tomato and pizza dough pairing. It’s really lovely served with a mixed green or arugula salad and a glass of white wine. Oh, tomatoes, until we meet again…
adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 4 by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
2-3 tomatoes, cored and sliced
2-3 branches fresh thyme
really good extra-virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt, preferably Maldon
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lay the sheet of puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score a 1/2-inch border around the pastry. Prick the dough inside of the border all over with the tines of a fork to prevent it from puffing too much during baking.
Arrange the tomato slices on the pastry in a single layer, being careful not to crowd or overlap the tomatoes, which will make the puff pastry soggy. Strip the branches of thyme, scattering the leaves over the tomatoes. Drizzle the tart with olive oil and season with pepper.
Bake the tart until the pastry is crisp and deeply browned on the bottom and around the edges, 30-40 minutes. Season with salt. Eat warm or at room temperature, preferably the day you make it.
The universe has been sort of funny this week. I’m not sure what exactly it’s trying to tell me, but I feel as though it’s saying something, or at least hinting around. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and see what other surprises it has in store.
At the moment there are more important matters at hand. Like tomatoes. It’s finally that time. Hot days in the Bay = tomatoes galore. The tomatoes around here are exploding right now; even my crazy little Sweet 100′s are out of control. I’m ecstatic.
About this time last year, I bought myself a 20 pound flat of Early Girls, which was the best decision ever. I loved being able to crack a jar of the Girls open in the middle of winter. I enjoyed those tomatoes so much that I decided I would buy a flat every year going forward.
This year I decided to go with the San Marzanos since they’re supposed to be the best for sauce making. As it turns out, they’re also very good for drying. If you find yourself with a surplus of tomatoes, I highly recommend oven-drying. Oven-dried tomatoes are the bomb. They’re the easiest thing ever, and if you have a convection oven, it’s a relatively quick process. And the smell of drying tomatoes is pretty amazing – it’s like pure tomato essence locked inside your oven. I couldn’t wait to eat them.
I didn’t wait long. I ate a few on toast, which was pretty spectacular. And then the rest went into a sauce. This recipe originally caught my attention because it was so simple and called for just a handful of ingredients. It also called for bottarga.
Bottarga is the dried, cured roe of the grey mullet or tuna. It is found on several restaurant menus in these parts, but it’s only available in certain specialty stores and it can get a little pricey. I was on a mission, so I searched the net, made a few calls, did some comparative pricing. And then I headed to the Ferry Building to seal the deal. Thank you, Boulettes Larder, for opening your already closed doors and breaking me off a piece of this gold from the ocean.
Freshly grated bottarga transforms a simple pasta dish into something special. It lends a saltiness and complexity that can’t be achieved with salt. It offsets the sweetness of the sundried tomato sauce really nicely. If you can find bottarga and are not deterred by the cost, it’s a great treat for yourself and those you are sharing with.
bucatini with oven-dried tomatoes and bottarga
adapted from A-16 by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren
serves 4- 6
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
2 cups oven-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped (see recipe below)
12 ounces bucatini
1-ounce piece bottarga for grating (or substitute fresh parmigiano reggiano)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chile flakes and sweat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic has softened. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have plumped up. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed, keeping in mind that the tomatoes are seasoned and the bottarga is salty.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute less than specified on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the large pot over medium heat. Add the sauce to the pasta along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toss well, adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. If the sauce is too loose, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook down the sauce with the pasta. It should be loose enough to barely pool at the bottom of the pot, but not too watery. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
Serve the pasta in a warmed large bowl, family style. Grate the bottarga over the top to finish and serve immediately.
1-1/2 pounds kosher salt
15 san marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 200°F.
Spread the salt on a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet, creating a 1/2-inch thick bed of salt. Core the tomatoes and halve them lengthwise. Arrange the halves, skin side down, in rows on the bed of salt. Bake for 6 hours, or until the tomatoes are dried and look like sun-dried tomatoes. (if you have a convection oven, turn the fan on; the tomatoes should be dry in about 3 hours.)
Remove the tomatoes from the salt (the salt can be reused for another batch), and pack them into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in olive oil, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.