Friday, October 2, 2009

Baked Apples

Baked apples say "autumn" to me. I love their sweet intensity! Their aroma fills the house with smells of cinnamon, caramelized sugar, and tart apple. I like big, crisp apples for baking. I tend to stay away from "Delicious" varietals and Rome Beauty or Red Rome apples. They are a little too sweet and mushy for me. Today I chose Jonagolds from California. It helped that I could taste them before buying them. I was at Whole Foods and they had samples of each apple type. I also chose organic. Most important is that the apples don't have that oily wax that some producers put on them to preserve them when shipping. In this instance, size does matter. The bigger the apple, the more flesh you will have and you won't have a shriveled, wrinkled dessert when you pull them from the oven.

I have always made baked apples from memory, adding a little of this and that, whatever I had in the pantry. That doesn't work well when you are trying to show others how its done. This recipe is fashioned after one from the Simply Recipes website, although I doubled the ingredients for the brown sugar/spice mixture. I think my apples were too big for the recipe!

Serves: 4
Start to Finish: About and hour

4 large apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, currents, dried cranberries; any or all)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 Tablespoon butter
3/4 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To prepare apples: wash and, using a knife or an apple corer, core out the apple to remove all seeds and fibrous material. Cut down through the stem area to nearly the bottom of the apple (but don't cut all the way through). A small spoon is handy for removing all the seeds and core material. The holes in the apples should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter. Place apples in a square baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, and chopped nuts (if you're using them). Mix the ingredients until they are well combined. Stuff each of the apples with sugar/spice mixture. Top each apple with a little dot of butter.

Add the boiling water to the pan. Bake for 30-45 minutes, just until the apples are soft but not mushy. Remove from oven and baste each of the apples several times with the pan juices.

Baked apples are best served warm with a little ice cream.

Until next time, I remain:
Foodishly yours,

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce

Nothing says late summer like the bounty of heirloom tomatoes at the market (or, if you’re lucky, from your garden.) This recipe was introduced to me by Tori Ritchie, a San Francisco food writer and cooking teacher. She made the dish on night one of a class I took on food writing, and it was amazing. I wish I could share the fragrance of this dish! The tomatoes give off a perfume that is sweet and earthy, the shallots in their wine vinegar bath are sharp and spicy, and the garlic and basil scent the kitchen air with their particular herbaceous aroma  (I am salivating as I write this!) This entree’ is a delicious and nutritious way to showcase the succulent sweetness of these wonderful gifts from the garden as warm summer days transition to cool autumn nights. Enjoy.
Serves 4 generously Preparation Time - 30 minutes

2 pounds of tomatoes (red heirloom are best, but any meaty tomato will work)
1/2 to 3/4 cup fruity, extra-virgin olive oil
1 fairly large shallot
3 Tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1 fat garlic clove
coarse sea salt
1 large bunch of fresh basil (enough for a couple of handfuls of leaves)
salt and pepper to taste

1 pound pasta (a small pasta like fusilli or penne works best)

2 cups crumbled goat cheese (optional - but delicious!)
Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. 
For the sauce:
Core and chop the tomatoes (no need to peel or seed) and put them in a large bowl. Pour enough olive oil on the tomatoes to make them glisten (several Tablespoons) and allow the tomatoes to macerate in the olive oil.
Peel and finely chop the shallot and put it in a small bowl. Add the red wine vinegar and allow it to soak (this mellows out any harshness of the shallot). Allow the shallot to soak in the vinegar for at least 5 minutes.

Peel and mince the garlic clove. Mash it with a little sea salt to make a paste.
Add the garlic and sea salt paste to the tomatoes. Drain the vinegar from the chopped shallot. Add the shallot to the tomatoes.
Rinse and dry the basil. Remove the basil leaves from the stems and roll several of the leaves together (like a cigar) and then cut the rolled basil to make slivers of the basil leaves. (This is called a “chiffonade”.) Add the basil to the tomatoes.
Stir the tomato mixture (gently) to infuse garlic, shallots, and basil. Taste, taste, taste (add salt and pepper if needed).
Once the water comes to a full rolling boil, generously salt it, then cook pasta “al dente” according to package directions. Drain, but don’t rinse, the pasta, and put it in a large bowl.
To complete:
Pour the tomatoes over the pasta and add the goat cheese (if desired) and fold carefully to blend. Add more olive oil if the pasta seems dry.
Serve with a loaf of crusty bread, a tossed green salad, and a glass of light, crisp wine (a slightly chilled dolcetto or a tangy albarino are two favorites of mine).