What's the dinner equivalent of kicking off your shoes, grabbing a cold one, and kicking back in a hammock to swing ever so slowly in the breeze?
I can think of several candidates.
Last night it was a BLAT. That would be a BLT on homemade bread with local bacon and tomato, lettuce from the garden, and a healthy dose of sliced and slightly smushed avocado. No other fuss needed. Ambitious folk could get the kids to peel some ears of corn and throw them in a pot of boiling water, but I look forward to my first dinner BLAT so sincerely that anything else on the menu is almost a distraction. Me and you, baby. Mano a sandwich.
Around here lots of folks have chickens in their yards, making it easy to get your hands on free range eggs at good prices. All those feathered ladies increase their output in summer, making eggs for supper a low-effort way to deal with dinner. Raid the garden for some spinach, green onions, a tomato or two, and some herbs, and a supper frittata is only a few maneuvers away.
Not long ago it was a drizzly, cool evening, and I was looking at a pile of cherry tomatoes, some youthful-sized zucchini, and a big bunch of fresh basil. My oregano and parsley plants were looking flush, and it seemed only right to put all these players together. The coup de grace would be a final drizzle from a precious bottle of Enzo olive oil made by the Ricchiuti family in California. I was lucky enough to meet Vincent Ricchiuti at an Eat Retreat, and he was generous enough to send a bottle of his Arbonsa variety oil the following Christmas. It’s rich, deeply fragrant, and deserves to be shown off. For this meal, it was the grace note that elevated all the flavors in the dish, surrounding and supporting them, making all the parts sing a celestial flavor chorus.
The base notes in the dish are the caramelized onions and roasted cherry tomatoes. Both provided a rich, jammy vegetable note that amply demonstrated that sauce need not apply at this meal. Roasting fruit is all the rage now, and cherry tomatoes are in that camp, botanically at least.
It was a simple combination of ingredients that were all at hand, all transformed and elevated by the application of heat. Roasted tomatoes, garlic, and zucchini, caramelized onions, and linguini, all tossed at the end with fresh herbs, a bit of asiago, and the coupe de grace, the Richhiuti’s olive oil.
I am a pretty dedicated carnivore, but I almost think that meat would have been in the way in this dish. It was just perfect as it was.
Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta
If it’s too hot to use your oven, you can use a cast iron skillet on the outdoor grill to caramelize the onions. Take them out, set aside, and reload with the tomatoes, garlic cloves, and zucchini.
3 tablespoon (7/8 ounce, 25g) olive or vegetable oil, divided
2 cups (10 ounces, 280g) peeled, sliced onion
1 quart cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups (16 ounces, 454g) diced zucchini
2 to 4 cloves garlic, to taste
½ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley if you have it
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano if you have it
1 pound dried linguini pasta
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce, 25g) good quality extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup (2 ounces, 57g) grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
For the onions: Place a large, heavy skillet over medium low heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onions, stir to coat, and let cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally at firs and more frequently as the onions begin to take on some color. When the onions are medium brown and about half their original volume, remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F for a still oven, or 375°F in a convection oven. Set up a large pot with salted water for the pasta.
For the tomatoes: Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and put in a shallow rimmed baking sheet or dish. Drizzle with another tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are wrinkled-looking and begin to caramelize. Remove from the oven and keep warm.
For the zucchini and garlic: Cut the zucchini into ½” cubes. Put in a bowl with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Drizzle the last tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss all to coat, then pour out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, until the squash begins to color. The garlic cloves should be soft to the touch. Remove from the oven, take the garlic cloves off the tray, and put the zucchini with the tomatoes to hold warm.
For the pasta: While the zucchini is roasting, bring the pasta water to a full boil. Cook the pasta until it’s al dente. While it’s cooking, slip the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and chop the softened pulp. When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to its pot with ½ cup of the cooking water. Stir in the onions, roasted tomatoes and any accumulated juice, zucchini, chopped roasted garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and ¾ of the chopped herbs (reserve the rest for sprinkling on top). Portion the pasta into 4 heated bowls, sprinkle the top with the remaining herbs, and serve with grated cheese on the side.
In culinary school there was a lot of hooha about how to make ever-so-thin ribbons of basil leaves. After washing and drying the leaves, we were told to stack 2 or 3 together and roll them up in a tight roll before slicing. Subsequent years and experience have taught me that simply stacking the washed and dried leaves (about 5 at a time, or as many as you can handle without them sliding around), and slicing them is easier and keeps the leaves from turning black longer.