Creole Tomatoes and Sweet Basil
Summer is the season
If you like fresh fruits and vegetables, June is your month. You name it, it’s in season.
At our house, we’ve gone to containers for both flowers and vegetables so, needless to say, our vegetable-growing days are waning. But, at their peak right now are four tomato plants and two giant basil plants. Put these two together, and you’ve got my favorite dish.
I think it was “The Silver Palate Cookbook” (1979) that turned me on to fresh tomato pasta dishes; the recipe in particular, its linguine with tomatoes and basil. But, for quick meals, I don’t even need the warm brie melting over the hot pasta. I’m fully satisfied with chopped Creole tomatoes, sweet basil, a quality Parmesan and good extra-virgin olive oil to create my masterpiece.
So many vegetables are at their best in our sunny climate. Farmers markets throughout the area are loaded with tomatoes, corn, eggplant, green beans, okra, sweet peppers, spinach and summer squash. Plus watermelons and blueberries with peaches soon to come. Blackberries are growing wild on the other side of the levee, and I’m thinking - ooh, cobblers!
The only markets I like better than ours are the ones in Alabama. Coming home from the beach, we pass several that have peas and butterbeans in the shell, something I can never find here. I inherited the love of shelling these wonderful Southern jewels from my mother, whose hands were never idle. She watched an occasional television program but not without shelling peas, working on a cross-stitch or hulling pecans from our big tree.
For many of our seasonal vegetables, roasting is the way to go. Corn, eggplant, peppers and even okra are quick, easy and delicious when roasted in the oven. Place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder and roast at 400 degrees, turning occasionally, until they are slightly browned and tender. Tastier yet, If you have the time, place veggies on a metal grilling basket and roast them over the coals. Serve as a side, or mix them with pasta for an entrée. Or, add them to a bowl of brown rice, quinoa or couscous, sprinkle with chopped nuts, and you have dinner-in-a-bowl.
And, just for the record, a Creole tomato is any tomato grown in our river-kissed New Orleans-area soil.
ON THE SIDE
Two peas in a pod
Field peas and butterbeans are prized in Deep-South cooking but not so much in citified Creole cuisine. For best results in cooking these summer favorites, simmer them with chunks of lean ham and onions. Most importantly, they should be served with cornbread. Who knows? They could become as fashionable as the old country favorite collard greens.
Tomato Basil Salad
3 large, fresh red-ripe Creole tomatoes
1 cup, packed, fresh sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus 8 whole leaves for garnish
3 large cloves garlic, minced
½ good-quality cup extra-virgin
Coarse salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound angel hair or other pasta
1 cup freshly grated, high-quality Parmesan cheese
1. Chop tomatoes into ½-inch wide cubes and place in medium bowl. Add chopped basil, garlic and seasonings and toss.
2. Cook pasta in lightly salted boiling water until just done. For angel hair, this takes a few minutes; for larger pasta, a little longer. Always pull out a piece and taste it for doneness. Drain and place in large serving bowl.
3. Add tomato mixture to pasta and toss. Sprinkle with Parmesan and toss. Adjust seasonings, and sprinkle top with extra Parmesan, if desired. Garnish with whole basil leaves. Serves 4 to 6.
Note: To add a special taste, replace the Parmesan with ½ pound of brie cheese, rind removed and torn into pieces. Add to hot pasta before adding tomatoes. You can still garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan.