Pasta with Italian sausage and stewed fresh tomatoes


If you’re looking for ways to use up the last of the season’s tomatoes (I got three in my box this week… that’s two more than last week… maybe late ripers?), this is a dinner we’ve eaten all summer, a few times a month. It’s easy, quick, and a little different every time you make it. The recipe below is just a guide, as I’m sure I varied the proportions each go-around, depending on what I had on a Sunday night.

Inspired by a dish I was served at my friend Megan’s house last June, it relies on ripe tomatoes (for once, the quality can be a little lacking and it won’t hurt much), fresh Italian sausage, and will benefit lots from fresh herbs and good-quality parmesan cheese. My current favorite source for sausage is Whole Foods; I buy a ton of it when it’s on sale ($3/pound) and freeze it in half-pound portions. It’s my favorite because it’s full of black pepper, but not too heavy on the fennel (the sausage I used to buy from Earth Fare was fennel-packed, a little out-of-balance). Of course I love getting fresh sausage from The Goose, and his tastes the best, by far; but for some reason (probably a good one) it falls apart very easily when it cooks a bit, and I prefer nice chunks of sausage in this dish.

I’ve used everything from romas to cherry tomatoes; the only difference would be to seed larger tomatoes if you desire (skipping this step will just make a soupier sauce). Since, in September, your garden basil might have long-ago flowered (and therefore turned funky), you can replace it with Italian parsley (a great herb to always have on hand… it’s cheap, and if you buy it at the grocery it’ll keep in a jar of water on your counter for a week or more). Add red pepper flakes if you want a kick; this is an easy supper that can handle heavy customization.

Pasta with Italian sausage and fresh tomatoes
serves 3-4

  • 1/2 pound (about 2 links) fresh Italian sausage
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • about 1 pint roma or cherry tomatoes, or 2-3 slicers, chopped  (seeded if large)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 pound short pasta (bowties, rotini, penne)
  • fresh-grated parmesan
  • chopped fresh basil, for garnish
  • olive oil

Fill a large saucepan or dutch oven with water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing, and crumble into the saucepan. Cook until brown, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until fully cooked (about five minutes). Remove the sausage to a plate, and pour off all but a couple tablespoons fat from the pan (you might not have to pour off any, if your sausage was on the lean side).

Add the onions to the pan, and cook until beginning to soften but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes plus salt and pepper to taste; reduce the heat to low, and let cook gently for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, when your water has come to a boil, add salt (1 Tbsp for every 5 quarts) and cook your pasta to al dente. Drain well.

You’ll know your sauce is ready when the tomatoes are soft and cooked down a little; just add your pasta and cooked sausage right to the skillet, and toss to coat. Serve, topped with basil, grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.


Thinking about Johnny Appleseed


When I was in sixth grade, my school put on a presentation of a musical called Johnny Appleseed. I’ve never been a huge fan of musicals, but at the tender age of twelve it didn’t occur to me that singing and stage acting a story about a lifelong bachelor that went around planting apple orchards and wearing second-hand clothing was a bit, I don’t know, strange?

To answer your question, no, I didn’t play a part (though I do have an unfortunately still un-repressed memory of singing in the choir). What I did do was draw pictures of apples. See, as far as identities go in middle school, I had managed to garnish the reputation as “artist,” meaning: I could draw an apple. The stage-dressing powers-that-were decided to have the walls of the cafeteria/auditorium lined with drawings of apples. I agreed to accomplish the task, and set to figuring out how to draw, oh, a dozen or so different-looking apples.

Since at that time I was only aware of two kinds (red delicious and granny smith), I had some research to do. I’m sure I ended up with drawings of McIntosh, Cortland, and the like; I honestly couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it. But I have a distinct memory of thinking that I would never eat the apples I was drawing… that they must’ve died along with Mr. Appleseed himself.

Well, it just so happens that I now live in one of the states where Johnny planted his trees. Not that a great variety of apples can’t be found in many other states, but I’ve never lived in them; and in my life I’ve never seen the variety I was met with last Saturday at the farmer’s market. There are a few orchards who sell their apples and pears, but one in particular has the best selection. They had no less than 25 varieties on display, and 2 guys who were willing to discuss the subtle differences between them all. These guys knew their apples.

I wanted apples for both sauce and eating. For the sauce, they pointed me in the direction of the Summer Rambo. A good size, easy to peel, and great flavor for sauce. They also suggested I use a mixture of varieties for sauce-making, and suggested the ol’ standby, McIntosh (or, “macs,” as they called them) as a good partner. For eating, I was immediately steered toward the (apparent) favorite in Great Britain: the Cox New Pippin. This was a solid eating apple: great texture, very juicy, and good flavor, not far from a Gala (in my extremely limited apple-tasting opinion). The Honeycrisp is by far the best-seller, with other orchards selling out of their entire supply within 20 minutes of the market’s opening. It’s also the priciest (gotta love good ol’ macroeconomics); and for a dollar more per pound, it was going to be a hard sell. But this woman walked up, and started going on. And on. For an eternity, gushing, really, almost embarrassing herself, about how good these Honeycrisp apples are. I’ve had them, from the grocery, but my most recent memory of them was hearing a woman on NPR talk about them like they were the cheap hussy of the apple world; a ‘new’ apple, all glitz, but no real character. But this woman at the market, the way she was singing its praises… I sort of felt like I had to try them. So as I’m putting a few in my basket, I ask the guys about their feelings on the Honeycrisp. They admit that, sure, it’s a thin-skinned, juicy, sweet apple. Great for eating.


See? I knew it!

This one over here, the Sweet Sixteen? It’s better.

As the gushing woman starts to gasp and sputter her disbelief, I just quietly walk over and throw a few in my basket. An apple-tasting was in order.

When I got home, it took a while to re-decipher which apples were which (I thought I had it totally figured out at the market, even separating apples into different bags… but when I got home, they magically homogenized into a bunch of apples that looked remarkably similar). Once I knew who was who, I succumbed to my curiosity and grabbed a Sweet Sixteen as I ran out to do more errands. One bite, and I knew what those guys meant. It was sweet, juicy, with that longed-for texture, like the made-up Honeycrisp. But there was a depth and subtlety of flavor that I’ve never tasted in an apple. It was almost like drinking a glass of wine and considering tasting notes; there were hints of pear and grass, in my apple. The complexity was eye-opening; I was having a real apple, perhaps for the first time.

As I crunched happily, I couldn’t help but think about those drawings that hung on the wall of our school. I wonder how they would have been different, even better, had I tasted the apples I was drawing. I was doing the equivalent of painting from a photograph; it’s just not the same as painting an object in real life. At that time, though unaware, I did not know a real apple. I only knew the photographic equivalent, the shiny grocery-store red delicious (it’s no wonder I didn’t like apples).

Johnny Appleseed: he was an odd guy. But I can think of worse things to do in this life than going around the country planting apple orchards; especially if he was planting the likes of the Sweet Sixteen. Now that I think about it, perhaps a group of tween-aged performers singing and dancing in his honor wasn’t such an inappropriate form of paying homage. And while I don’t regret a lack of stage presence in my participation, I do wish that it had taken something less than 25 years for me to finally get a taste of what all the fuss was about.

Out with the old, in with the new


It’s not New Year’s, I know. But in some ways, I feel like my own personal year begins in autumn — how long I await the crisp, clear sky and long, sharp shadows. I want to fill my house with winter squash and apples, and honor the season by toasting it with the only flavored coffee that ever touches my lips: Pumpkin Spice (I’m sipping the year’s first, as I type).

Today’s photo represents a metaphorical turning point: these were the partial contents of our CSA box this week. For the last month, we’ve been opening the box to a welcome bounty of tomatoes. Heirlooms, of widely varied colors and shapes. I’ve made two tomato pies, a few batches of fresh salsa, and our favorite quick-dinner of late, Pasta with Italian Sausage and Fresh Tomatoes (a post and recipe are coming). We’ve had enough basil in the past two boxes for me to make several cups of pesto, now nicely put up in the freezer for winter pizzas and pastas. But I was surprised when yesterday’s box had a single tomato, and only a handful of basil. What replaced the void in summer fare was a beautiful butternut squash.

Please don’t mistake surprise for disappointment: while I love good garden tomatoes, I love autumn more. It’s more just changing 30-something (ahem) years of a seasonal clock. My Georgia friends are probably still neck-deep in ripe tomatoes, giving them away to whomever will take them, with enough leftover to make 3 more pies by the end of the month. Here in Indy, it’s a different story; it is unabashedly autumn here, complete with pumpkin-laden porch steps. I love it; I made a kabocha squash soup this week, and it was seasonally appropriate. In September. That’s new to me.

The other thing that’s new: I’m so close to switching to my new blog site.  The good news is that I didn’t end up changing the name after all; the bad news is that well, I’m still not done. But the change is imminent, and while you are probably not nearly as excited as I am, I do hope that the new site will offer better usability and more features (and it will be so… so… SO much easier to update and backup). Hold me to an October launch, won’t you?

Wherein I proceed to get all Kingsolver-esque


In what way? The photo above is of ten pounds of roma tomatoes. I bought them to freeze.

Why? Because Barbara Kingsolver’s account of the myriad ways to preserve tomatoes for use during winter months was so romantic — in a self-sufficient, finger-to-the-storebought-can, empowering sort of way. I found, however, that to utilize all her poetic methods, I was lacking a few things:

  1. The utensils or desire to can them. Someday, I will do this. Maybe after I’m no longer wiping the rear ends of cute children.
  2. A food dehydrator, to dry them (confession to The Internets and My Husband: I’m about to bid for one on ebay).

But a freezer? That, I have. I had been thinking about trying to pick up a few pints of roma tomatoes from the farmer’s market, but until last Saturday the cheapest I could get them was $2/pint. Not a great price. Last week though, I was purchasing beets and red peppers from one of my regular stops: the Mennonite farm stand in the corner (I keep trying to catch them off-guard so they’ll confess to being bogus in some way, since they sell lovely certified organic produce for relatively dirt cheap — but they stay on their toes, and keep coming back with very convincing and honest answers — go figure). He had this huge box of romas, sitting underneath his table. I asked how much they were, and he replied that they’d be 50¢ a pound, if I bought the whole box. Well, the box probably weighed at least 50 pounds, and I had walked to the market. I wavered, and confessed my predicament. He told me I could take as many as I could carry, for $1/pound. Sold.

There is that small matter of actually freezing the tomatoes. It shouldn’t be so bad, and I plan to do it tomorrow. The rundown:

  • Fill a large stockpot or dutch oven with water, and bring to a rolling boil.
  • While waiting for your water to boil, rinse the tomatoes, and score a small “x” just through the skin on the underside (i.e., not the stem end) of the tomato. This will help you peel them.
  • Fill a very large bowl with ice water (lots of ice).
  • When your water comes to a boil, lower 8-10 tomatoes (however many you can without overcrowding) into the water, and immediately start a timer. After 30 seconds, remove the tomatoes and immediately put them into the ice water.
  • After a minute or two in the ice water, you can slip the skins right off the tomatoes. Repeat the whole process (make sure your water comes back to a boil before each addition) until all your tomatoes are skinned.

At this point, I cut them in half, pole-to-pole, and remove any large cores. I also seed them — many people don’t do this step, but it’s really easy (although a little messy), and makes for much thicker marinara when it comes time to cook. Seeding them is easy: after cutting them in half, give a gentle squeeze over the sink, and run your finger quickly through the seed cavities to remove. You don’t have to get every single seed; just get out what you can without much fuss.

Then, you just put them in freezer bags. I’ll probably try to put a pound in a bag, just to help me when thawing. Squeeze out as much air as you can (or get really anal, like certain people who shall rename unnamed, and use a drinking straw to suck all the air out before you seal. It’s not unlike drinking tomato-flavored air… or at least, that’s just what I’ve heard).

To be honest, I have no idea how well this is going to work. I’ve never made marinara from frozen tomatoes. When I settle on a method that falls under the category of delicious, you will be the first to know.

Waste not, want not


These chocolate-dipped macaroons were an indirect byproduct of the fresh mint ice cream I made last week (this time I used the smaller-leafed mint variety that is closer to peppermint, but it still had a greenness that I am not sure I love in that flavor of ice cream). A custard-based ice cream requires 5 large egg yolks. Usually, I try to get a cheap dozen for this purpose, rather than using five of my prized and pricier local pastured eggs. I didn’t plan well, though, and time was not on my side, so I carefully separated five bright-orange yolks from their whites. I just couldn’t throw them down the drain — that was a dollar’s worth of egg whites (any inkling at this point at just how far my thriftiness-compulsion can go?)!

I remembered from David’s site that he had given folks in my position some helpful suggestions. I didn’t see a single recipe for an egg-white omelet, but I did immediately notice one for these coconut-chocolate macaroons. I’ve never made macaroons, and was delighted to discover that they are not nearly as finicky as meringues (both include egg whites, but the meringues can take on a personality of their own, and just up and decide to never dry out, remaining a disappointing blob of stickiness just to spite you). It’s not quite as quick as whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, since there is a small amount of pre-cooking required; but you can do that days, even months ahead, and then they come together quite quickly.

I’ve found that most people can be weird about coconut. A good percentage of the population will emphatically exclaim that they don’t like it, and refuse to taste a morsel such as the ones pictured above. But my anecdotal experience says that, once you convince someone to try, they often change their tune. Their previous association of the tropical seed involves an overly-sweet, fake-tasting, piña-colada-mix, almond-joy sort of coconut. And these cookies? They would blush and scoff at the insinuation.

The moral of the story? Waste not the white, want not for dessert.

Twenty-six bucks

That’s what I paid this morning, at the Farmer’s Market, for all of this:


Does that seem crazy, to anyone else but me? The apples are the only thing that weren’t either certified organic or pesticide-free (after much searching, I still haven’t found an apple farmer who doesn’t have to spray at least once). Is this all a hoax? I keep thinking I’m going to wake up one morning to headlines telling me of the Great Farce discovered at the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market. How do they sell this stuff so cheap?

The priciest item was the half-peck of apples, straight from the orchard outside Indianapolis. Those totaled $7 (one bag is for eating — the Golden Delicious and Galas, and one is for applesauce — the Cortlands). The acorn squash was $1, purchased from the same farmer who sells me $1 yukon gold potatoes (I am feeling safer with each passing Saturday that the price remains the same — I even refrained from running away after my purchase this morning).

Seriously. Where am I?

And you must understand that I’m not complaining — I’m just nervous. Waiting for this mirage to disappear before my hungry yet unwaveringly frugal eyes.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Indiana.

At last!

Today I made my first Tomato Pie of 2009. After the chaos of the past, oh, four months, this feels a little like a symbolic and edible sigh of relief.

We’ve invited some new friends to dinner. They, as far as I know, are completely unawares. They are TPVs (tomato pie virgins).

I snapped a quick shot of the cast and crew, some heirlooms that came in this week’s CSA box:


They are gorgeous, aren’t they? And they made a tasty pie — although I regret to say that it wasn’t as good as last year’s, the tomatoes just don’t have the flavor punch held by the famous sun golds. While I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the unusually mild weather in central Indiana, it’s apparently been a little too mild for the tomatoes, and everyone says it’s not a good year for them.

But the sun has nothing to do with good gruyere, and that’s the second important ingredient in TP. Today, I trimmed a lot of excess gruyere-infused pie dough before crimping the edges, so I made pie puffs (my nomenclature), a savory take on pie cookies. My mother-in-law taught me how to make pie cookies with leftover scraps of dough: for a dessert pie crust, you brush the scraps with melted butter, add a little cinnamon sugar, and roll them up. Cut them into mini-cinnamon rolls, and bake them with your pie (they finish cooking in about 10 minutes). Today, since I had a savory crust laden with nutty gruyere, I brushed the tops with soft butter and stacked them up. They puffed up into nice little cheesy treats:


The last important ingredient in TP is fresh basil, of which I am currently sorely lacking (the movers wouldn’t take live plants, so all of my forward-thinking herbs-in-pots had to stay in Athens). I couldn’t bring myself to pay $3 at Whole Foods for a wimpy pack of untouchable, un-smellable, un-knowable basil, and I knew there had to be some around here, somewhere. So today the kids and I went on a “basil walk.” We knocked on a neighbors door, a few houses down, where a little bird told me there was basil to be had. No one answered, and I didn’t feel like breaking-and-entering the fenced backyard with the kiddos. So we moseyed another block to the “community garden #1,” a totally neglected and overgrown idea that went sour. I knew there was row after row of basil that had long-ago flowered, which meant the flavor would be more in line with licorice — not what the TP needed. But after thorough searching, I found 2 plants that had miraculously not flowered enough to lose their fresh flavor. I “appropriated” what we needed, stuffed little fat hands full of green leaves, and we walked home.

It was a great night. The weather was, really, close to perfect. We ate outside, and enjoyed a really good IPA from a microbrew in Fort Wayne (really? Fort Wayne?). I can’t quite remember the name, since I was so focused on the fact that it came from Fort Wayne (I don’t mean any disrespect to the town, it just struck me as strange, and as a newcomer to Indiana I have no idea why). But it was a really good IPA, which gave me hope for our future here, since our case of Terrapin Rye Pale Ale is only 4 bottles shy of history (the movers didn’t mind loading and unloading a case of beer).

Fall is upon us. There will be some Indian Summer days interspersed, but overall we are turning a seasonal corner. It’s been a little strange; my seasonal clock says that when the weather is like this, I’m supposed to be icing a Barbie’s Chocolate Dream Cake, or planning Thanksgiving dinner. And yet it’s not even Labor Day. I’m ok with that.