Sunday, September 29, 2013

green beans with garlicky tomato concassé

The first real frost forecast came late last week.

After some discussion, we decided that tucking table clothes around the tomato plants probably wouldn't provide enough protection, as it had the week before.

So, Thursday night after dinner, my intrepid husband donned a headlamp and got out our biggest bowl. He came back in with his bowl full of little green tomatoes.

Now, we have two full cookie sheets of tomatoes in various stages of green to red.

But I'm not concerned.

Because I have discovered the wonderful world of tomato concassé.

I don't think I'd ever had concassé before, except maybe in a fancy restaurant where I didn't know all the names for things that happily passed by my lips.

Laura Calder, of course, knows the names for French foods, and I found this recipe for green beans with garlicky tomato concassé as part of a menu called "An Unintimidating Dinner on a Reasonable Budget"* in Dinner Chez Moi.

How could I resist?

It turns out that a concassé is this plump, velvety mass of tomato sauce that tastes like it costs  well beyond "reasonable."

I think the secret might be the mere half a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, which somehow brightens the tomatoes but doesn't make them at all acidic. And that little teaspoon of sugar makes the tomatoes softer and more friendly, too.

Concassé is a tomato sauce transformed, and it's lovely and smooth alongside crisp green beans. Just the thing for your trays of tomatoes.

* If you're curious what else is on Laura's menu: avocado with citrus dressing, flat-roasted chicken with merguez sausages and a cake of cherries.

one year ago: beet hummus
two years ago: parsley lentil pasta
three years ago: mrs. doucet's apple chutney

green beans with garlicky tomato concassé
from Laura Calder

4 large tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
 3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
675 g. (1 1/2 lbs) green beans, trimmed

First, set about peeling the tomatoes. Bring a pot of water to boil. Mark a small X on the tomato bottoms and drop them into the simmering water. Leave in for 10 seconds to 1 minute to loosen the skin. Use a slotted spoon to take the tomatoes out and set the tomato water aside. Place the tomatoes in ice-cold water so they stop cooking and you can work with them sooner.

When they're cool enough, peel the tomatoes. Make thick slices and push out the seeds. Set the seeds aside to use for something else.* Chop the tomato flesh until it's a pulp.

Put a large frying pan over medium heat and heat the oil. Cook the garlic gently for up to one minute; don't let it colour. Stir in the tomato pulp, sugar, balsamic vinegar and bay leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until it becomes a thick sauce, about 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

Set the tomato water over the heat again and salt it. Once it's boiling, cook the green beans until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in an ice-water bath to stop further cooking. Drain again.

Stir the beans into the tomato concassé and gently heat through. Serve.

* I like to put the juicy tomato seeds in a small bowl, season it with salt and pepper, and eat it like a fancy appetizer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

rocky mountain climb

Right. So I do understand that this is supposed to be a food blog.


Last weekend we cheated fall and went camping in Jasper, in the Rocky Mountains. And I just had to show you.

The nights were cool  I mean put-on-a-tuque-and-a-down-vest-and-cozy-up-to-the-campfire cool  but the sun rose in the morning over the Athabasca River right behind our campsite and slowly gained strength until it felt like a mid-summer's day.

On Saturday morning, after a simple breakfast of cereal and bananas and tea, we loaded up the backpack and set off for Edith Cavell Meadows.

This is the Angel Glacier. Last year, a chunk of the nearby Ghost Glacier hurtled down the mountain and pushed tons of rocks and water over the path to make it unpassable.

Every so often, we could hear the glaciers groaning and creaking, especially as the sun beat down on one of the angel's wings.

The meadows were a native heather and little old trees that a sign told us could be one hundred years old.

This is where we stopped for lunch: ham sandwiches, carrots, peanut butter rice crispy balls, chocolate, a lot of water, and quite the view.

Refueled, we climbed another three hundred metres straight up to reach the top of the moon. Or so it looked.

Everywhere we looked, we could see mountain valleys and ranges leading off into other worlds.

The sky was as blue as could be and the small blister on my right heel was nothing, nothing, compared to standing on top of the world.

one year ago: beet hummus
two years ago: parsley lentil pasta
three years ago: salted chocolate shortbread and a taster menu from gluten-free girl & the chef

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

warm salad of crispy chicken thighs

My dad is a true gardener.

He's willing to plant just about anything: tomatillos, epazote, Amish snap peas, fig trees, huckleberries, wild fennel, barbecue rosemary, frilly pink poppies.

It all shoots up happily in his small backyard, and he tends it with seaweed and horse manure and anything else it might need.

Scott and I like Dad's garden so much that it actually figured into when we decided to go to B.C. this summer (August = more ripe things in the garden).

One morning at Dad's a couple weeks ago, we were making scrambled eggs the way we always make them there: with at least six or seven different herbs from the garden.

Then my genius husband remembered Nick Nairn's warm salad with crispy chicken thighs, which just so happens to be one of Scott's specialities. He knew we could use copious amounts of herbs from Dad's garden, and we were heading off to the Courtenay farmers' market later that morning.

Sure enough, we wandered around at the market, picking up soft ripe tomatoes, fresh green beans, dark green lettuce, a new little fennel bulb . . . all the fixings.

That evening, Scott and Dad set to work on the salad and frying the chicken, while I sat in the back little office and caught up on email (because my life is glamourous like that).

Half an hour later, they called me to the table. The chicken was warm and crispy, the salad was crunchy and sweet and a little bit sharp with the vinaigrette, and it was the perfect summer meal.

Cooking note: Scott is militant about frying the chicken Nick's way. He insists that you just keep frying it for more than 20 minutes without fussing at it. That way, the skin gets crisp and golden. I worry about the meat overcooking, but thighs are moist and tender to begin with and somehow they turn out perfectly with this method. ("Of course they do," I hear Scott saying in my head, "because that's how you're supposed to do it." Right.)

Bonus photo of Dad and me in his garden last year

one year ago: ode to victoria and little house on the prairie
two years ago: salmon for dinner and hop & go fetch it: german edition
three years ago: black & blue scotch berries and plant yourself some garlic

warm salad of crispy chicken thighs
slightly adapted from Nick Nairn

4 boneless chicken thighs with skin on (about 140 g. or 5 oz. each)
2 tbsp. neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
1 tbsp. lemon juice
140 g. (5 oz.) salad greens
50 g. (2 oz.) green beans, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes
12 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, summer savory, basil, etc.)
1/2 red pepper, seeded and julienned (optional)
1/2 c. fennel bulb, finely sliced (optional)
2 tbsp. vinaigrette (to follow)
chives, to taste, cut into 3 or 4 sections

Set a frying pan over low-medium and heat it. Season the chicken thighs well with salt and pepper. Pour the oil in the pan and put the chicken in with the skin side down. Add the garlic to flavour the oil. Cook until the skin is very crisp and releases from the bottom of the pan, about 20  30 minutes.

Turn the chicken over and remove the garlic. Cook for another 2  3 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice and shake the pan to move it around. Cook 3 more minutes. Remove the chicken and let it rest 5 minutes.

To assemble the salad, put the greens, beans, tomatoes, herbs, red pepper and fennel and in a bowl. Toss with just enough vinaigrette to just coat. Divide between the serving plates. Cut each thigh into 6 or 7 strips and place on top each salad. Garnish with lots of long pieces of chives. Eat immediately, while the chicken is crisp and wonderful.

from Je sais cuisiner

1 tbsp. white wine or rice vinegar*
3 tbsp. good quality olive or neutral oil

Mix a bit of salt with the vinegar. Whisk in the oil and taste for seasoning.

* Really, any nice vinegar you like.