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Fun with tomatoes

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In our house, it's already started: the annual feast of the tomato sandwich. It may be simple eating, but it sure is good. What this means is that tomatoes are in abundance and the time is ripe to get creative with them. Fortunately Chef Jerry Pellegrino has a few novel ideas on how we can have some fun with our summer tomatoes.

Here are several recipes for tomatoes that are certainly off the beaten path.

Vera Cruz Tomatoes

4 firm ripe tomatoes

3 slices bacon

¼ cup chopped onion

8 ounces fresh spinach, stems snipped

½ cup sour cream

¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce

salt to taste

½ cup shredded cheese – Monterey Jack or your favorite

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish.

Cut tops from tomatoes; remove seeds and membranes. Place tomato shells upside down on paper towels to drain until filling.

Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate, reserve drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside. Return 2 tablespoons of drippings to skillet.

Cook onion in the bacon drippings until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach; cook and stir until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream, reserved crumbled bacon, and hot pepper sauce.

Sprinkle tomato shells with salt; fill evenly with bacon and spinach mixture. Place tomatoes in prepared baking dish.

Bake in preheated oven until hot, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove, and top evenly with the shredded cheese. Return to the oven; bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

Cheese Tortellini with Charred Tomatoes & Roasted Garlic

The basic pasta recipe

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups AP flour

4 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the eggs and olive oil and mix until the dough has been formed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for approximately 5 minutes. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough and cut it according to the pasta maker’s directions

For the tortellini filling

1 cup fresh ricotta

1 cup grated parmesan

1 cup goat cheese

Mix all of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl until soft and well combined. To make the tortellini, cut 3 inch squares out of the sheets of pasta. Place ½ teaspoon into the center of each square. Brush the edges of the square with water and fold over to seal. Fold back around your finger and turn down the edge to form a tortellini. Cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling water until they float. Remove and toss in some extra virgin olive oil. Keep warm.

To make the Sauce

6 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes

12 cloves confit garlic (see below)

1 cup yellow onion cut into ¼ inch dice

4 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup white wine

¼ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Extra oil from the garlic confit

Cut the tomatoes in half and char both sides over a hot grill. Let them cool and cut into wedges. Alternatively, cut the tomatoes into wedges and char with a torch. In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium high heat until just smoking. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Let the wine reduce until almost dry. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until the tomatoes just start to break down. Add the basil and the tortellini. Toss a few times to coat the pasta and divide up into bowls. Top with grated parmesan and some extra oil from the garlic confit.

Garlic Confit

25 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with the olive oil. Cook the garlic cloves at 150°F for two hours. Allow to cool to room temperature. Place in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Tomato Pie

(A traditional Maryland recipe)

1 9-inch pie shell (see pie crust recipe for homemade version)

1/2 cup chopped yellow or red onion (about 1/3 onion, diced)

3 to 4 tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield approximately 3 cups (700ml) chopped tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup sliced basil (about 8 large leaves)*

2 cups (8oz, 225g) grated cheese (combination of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack, or Gruyere or Mozzarella)

1/2 cup (120ml) mayonnaise

1 teaspoon (or more to taste) of Frank's Hot Sauce (or Tabasco)

Freshly ground black pepper

Pre-bake the crust:

Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).

If you are using a store-bought pie shell, follow the directions on the package for pre-baking, or pre-bake it in the oven for about 8 to 10 minutes (a little longer for a frozen pie shell), until lightly browned.

If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then press a sheet of aluminum foil into the crust to keep the sides of the pie crust from falling down as it cooks. Fill the pie with pie weights such as dry beans or rice to help hold the foil in place.

Pre-bake the homemade crust for 15 minutes, then remove the foil, use the tines of a fork to poke a few small holes in the bottom of the crust (for venting), and bake for 10 more minutes.

Salt and drain the tomatoes:

Lightly salt the chopped tomatoes and set them in a colander over a bowl to drain while you are pre-baking the crust.

Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer.

Layer pre-baked pie shell with onions, tomatoes, basil:

Sprinkle a layer of chopped onion over the bottom of your pre-baked pie crust shell.

Spread the drained chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.

Make cheese mixture, spread over tomatoes:

In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, Tabasco, a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

The mixture should be the consistency of a gooey snowball. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.

Bake:

Place in oven and bake at 350°F (175°C) until browned and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.