The first of my Sunday Dinner series…
Last night, Milan Djordjevich from Stoney Paradise brought me a gift. Not just any gift to mark my new direction in life, but the tomato to end all tomatoes. Twelve years we have known each other, and there have been many fine specimens to grace my kitchen, but none quite as impressive as this. I opened the paper bag to see what was inside, and there was THE tomato, a 2 1/2 lb Striped German. It sat on the counter for the remainder of service while I contemplated its fate, knowing we were having friends over for dinner tonight, and wanted to see how that one tomato could inspire a meal.
I woke this morning to see it proudly perched on my kitchen counter at home, and decided that I would hollow it out and use it as a vessel to serve an appetizer, reserving the flesh for something, perhaps the filling. A trip to the market in the morning provided a few complimentary items; peppers, sweet onion, and basil. I had picked up a few chickens in the hope of barbecuing, and figured we had a good start. Once home again, I noticed quite a few windfallen apples on the ground from one of our two trees, and went out to gather them. Not quite perfect, but great for applesauce or something along those lines. The tomato plants provided a few cocktail sized red tomatoes suitable for roasting along with the peppers and onion to add to the filling, and by now, the menu was starting to take shape.
Roasted vegetable relish (served in the Striped German, with fresh baguette)
Roast chicken of some description ( I had given up on the barbecue as it looked pretty gloomy outside)
Something with apples, still under consideration
Half a dozen cocktail tomatoes, halved, one sliced sweet onion, and two peppers, seeded and quartered made their way onto a sheet pan and into the oven with a splash of olive oil and salt. An hour or so at 300 degrees, I figured, and started carving the tomato. The flesh was soft and sweet, so I chopped it lightly, salted it, and placed it in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of chopped basil.
I let it sit while I split the chickens and removed the thigh bones, and put them into a large pyrex pan to marinate. A couple of tablespoons each of honey and grainy mustard whisked together with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a quarter cup olive oil provided a good rub down, topped with a few sprigs from the garden: rosemary, oregano flowers, and thyme, followed by a healthy pinch of coarse salt and about teaspoon of chili powder. Birds comfortably in the fridge, I returned to the tomato flesh, decided to puree it and go from there. The resulting liquid was magic, and it seemed a shame to toss it in with the roasted veg, fresh out of the oven. Maybe just a shooter of cold tomato soup? By the time it was strained, there was only about 10 ounces, not quite enough for the eight of us, so I decided to make some gnocchi, and toss them in the golden elixir.
Back to the roasted vegetables, now cooled to room temperature: a brief chop, a splash of balsamic, a healthy dose of chopped basil, a pinch of salt, and into the shell of the German. Potatoes on, things really were shaping up. The windfallen apples were peeled, into a pot with some brown sugar and cinnamon they went, just a splash of water to keep them from sticking, and onto a low simmer. I figured a bit of fun would be nice for dessert, so settled on making some sweet cinnamon waffles, topping them with the applesauce, vanilla ice cream, and caramel. Popped the waffle batter together quickly and put it in the fridge, brought out the birds to be transferred to a sheet pan to go in the convection oven for an hour or so, and took the potatoes off the stove, strained them and allowed them to cool and dry out for a bit.
By this time, our guests were arriving, so I sliced the bread to go with the tomato relish, and sat down for a drink and a visit. Only the gnocchi to make yet, so we were in good shape. Once cooled to room temperature, I riced and weighed the potato, gather the prescribed amount of flour (1/3 the weight of the potato), a couple of eggs, and put the dough together while I waited for the water to boil. There was still a couple of tablespoons of chopped basil there, so I tossed it in, and rolled, cut, and shaped the gnocchi, laying them out on a sheet pan. By this time, the water was boiling, so in they went in batches (so as not to crowd the pot), and once they floated to the top they were cooled in cold water, strained, tossed in a touch of oil, and set aside.
The chicken was looking pretty good by this point, so I pulled it from the oven to rest, cleaned some yellow beans, and went back to our guests. the tomato shell was all that remained, and it looked quite juicy once all the roasted vegetable relish had been spooned out of it. As I carried the platter back to the kitchen, it seemed a shame not to make good use of the rest of the German, so I diced it up and threw it into the food processor, and strained the resulting liquid to add to the previous batch from the flesh of the fruit.
Beans went into the steamer, and two large saute pans were brought out for the gnocchi. Once heated to medium-high, I baptized them with a splash of olive oil, and divided the gnocchi among the two. Just a nice browning, then I tossed in the golden tomato puree and just cooked it enough to heat through. Dinner was served!
Following a respectful break for digestion, it was time to move forward on dessert. The waffle iron was heated, plates were laid out and the waffles cooked and quartered. A generous helping of the not too sweet applesauce on the hot waffle, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and a fair drizzle of caramel sauce over everything put the finishing touches on a great Sunday dinner, the last before school starts and the first in my new-found existence. The kids went back for seconds, thirds even, polishing off the rest of the waffles and applesauce.
What a way to end the summer with good food and good friends, and to think it all started with one tomato, but what a tomato it was! I can’t wait for next week, I’m starting to get hungry again. Actually, there may still be some gnocchi left in the fridge…..