early girl tomato soup

September has left the building. And I’m feeling a bit wistful. September is hands down my favorite of all of the months. For one thing, September in San Francisco is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a sort of last call for summer and a sneaky peak at fall. It also happens to be my birth month, which may be the reason why I just want September to linger.

Because we here in the Bay are experiencing a later than usual summer, there is still a ton of amazing summer produce in the markets, like peaches and plums and early girl tomatoes. Last weekend at the farmer’s market, one vendor had so many early girls that they were selling twenty pound flats for twenty bucks. I’m not one to pass up a deal, but I had to stop myself for a second to contemplate this purchase. What the hell was I going to do with twenty pounds of tomatoes? I walked away so I could obsess and do some number crunching while I did a lap around the market. It was insanely hot. I was sweating. I bought the tomatoes.  I really cannot pass up a good deal.

When you come home with twenty pounds of early girls, what happens is this: You eat tomato salads with basil, olive oil, and burrata. Alotta burrata. And you make sauce, half of which gets eaten almost immediately, while the other half goes into the freezer so that you can enjoy it in a few weeks when the early girls are a thing of the past. And then you try your hand at canning, which doesn’t go quite as smooth as you had hoped because your jars are a little too big for the job since you didn’t read the recipe before hastily buying them. Lastly, you make a pot of good old tomato soup, nevermind the fact that it is 96 degrees outside. And even though its the end of September and impossibly hot, your bowl of tomato soup could not be more perfect. It’s silky and has an incredibly pure tomato flavor. And that drizzle of olive oil makes it extra luscious. And just in case you were wondering, it does in fact serve very nicely chilled if you feel so inclined.

early girl tomato soup

adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

makes about 1-1/2 quarts ; serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, sliced

1 small leek, white and green parts, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 pounds ripe early girl tomatoes, washed, cored and sliced (or whatever tomatoes you have on hand)

1 scant tablespoon white rice (optional)

salt

1/2 bay leaf

1 small sprig of savory, thyme, or basil

1 cup water

Warm a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, onion, leek and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook until soft but not brown. If necessary, add water to keep from browning.

Add the garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, rice, bay leaf, choice of herb and a large pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes fall apart. Add water and remaining tablespoon of butter.

Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the rice is tender. Remove the herb sprig and bay leaf. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender or food processor (or use an immersions blender). Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Pass the pureed soup through a strainer to remove skin and seeds. You can also use a food mill, which purees and separates the skins and seeds simultaneously. Taste for salt. Add more water if the soup is too thick.

Variations:

Omit the rice for a thinner soup.

Garnish the soup with crème fraîche and mint, or with buttered croutons, or with torn basil or finely cut chives and olive oil.

tomato basil salad with olive oil and burrata. word.


brussels sprouts gratin

After a super-gluttonous Thanksgiving feast including turkey, ham, prime rib, countless sides and I don’t know how many desserts, I feel the need to eat veggies. And only veggies for a long, long time.  I managed to get my hands on a stalk of brussels sprouts during a recent run to Berkeley Bowl, produce mecca of the SF East Bay. I find the presentation of brussels on the stalk so impressive, and it might just be my imagination, but I swear they taste better too.

I know that some people are probably cringing at the thought of brussels sprouts because they’ve been scarred by the bad experiences of their youth, such as my father, who to this day insists that they are the only vegetable he does not like. Because I think brussels sprouts are really tasty, I feel inclined to clear them of their bad rap. I’ll be the first to admit that at their worst (i.e. undercooked) brussels are terribly hard and bitter. When cooked properly, however, they are full of flavor and have great texture.

While I love the simple preparation of roasted or sauteed brussels sprouts, I knew they would be even more glorious gratineed, because everything is better with a little cream and a crusty golden top, no? Needless to say, this Alice Waters recipe was so delish I practically licked my plate clean.

brussels sprouts gratin

adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food

1 pound brussels sprouts

3 slices bacon or 3 slices pancetta

1/2 cup half-and-half or a combination of half-and-half and heavy cream (my choice)

2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter plus extra for dish

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

salt

fresh ground pepper

To make the breadcrumbs:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove crust from day old levain or country style bread and cut into cubes.  Grind in a blender or food processor until coarse. Toss with pinch of salt and olive oil (recommended 1 tablespoon oil for every cup of bread crumbs). Spread crumbs on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Bake until golden brown, stirring every few minutes for even browning.

Butter a gratin or baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim the stems and remove the outer leaves from the brussels sprouts. Cook in salted boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well and coarsely chop.

Cut bacon into half inch pieces and cook in a heavy pan over medium heat until just rendered and limp. Add the garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant. Add chopped sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook until brussels are well coated. Transfer to buttered baking dish and spread evenly. Pour half-and-half over sprouts and sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the mixture. Scatter thin shavings of butter on top of breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.