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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pretty in pink
My favorite chapter in Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latté is the one in which Amanda (is it wrong that I feel we should be on a first-name basis?) finds herself home alone with Mr. Latté out of town. She describes several foods she only eats when she's by herself, then goes on to talk about the dishes her women friends make when there's no one else around. Spaghetti with fried eggs, truffled egg toast, polenta with Parmesan. This is a chapter I read over and over, not just because of the recipes, but because (as Hesser says of one girlfriend's solo specialty dish) "it is a model for all single women because it is at heart about taking the pains to treat yourself well."

Tonight, without even consciously thinking about it, I found myself making my own single-girl dinner. Last night, I picked up a bunch of grape tomatoes at the store. I ordinarily don't favor them -- there's just something peculiar about their flavor -- but they were on sale, and I'd been wanting to try the tomates confites from Chocolate and Zucchini. (C&Z, by the way, is a fantastic French food blog with excellent recipes and pictures to match. I can't wait for her cookbook to come out!) The base recipe looks great, but after poking around in my cupboard, I ended up adding paprika and pretty pink peppercorns. The latter are a long-ago gift from Lauren, pink and pepper being two of my favorite things. I stirred the sliced tomatoes together with salt, just a pinch of sugar, a few dashes of paprika, and a bunch of whole peppercorns and popped them into the oven on low heat. When they came out, it smelled like a pizza joint, but sweeter and spicier. I almost ate them right then and there.

I spent my off moments at work today dreaming up ways to use up the tomatoes waiting at home in the fridge. Should I toss them with bowtie pasta? Make a squishy sandwich with fresh mozzarella and some pesto? Eat them by themselves, maybe sprinkled with one of the approximately five million leftover bits of fancy cheese in our refrigerator?

When I got to the store, the answer appeared right in front of my face, in the form of French dinner rolls at an unbeatable sale price. I brought them home, split them open, and spooned some tomatoes into each one. Then I topped them off with plenty of feta and popped them under the broiler. A mere four minutes later, the smoke alarm alerted me that they were done. Very done, in fact. Fortunately, I like my toast burnt and my chicken blackened, so they were just right. I'd waited a full twenty-four hours to try the tomatoes, and they were worth it, sweet (in just the way that tomatoes are supposed to be sweet, and raw grape tomatoes almost never are) and a teeny bit spicy. The feta was just sharp enough to keep the tomatoes from being cloying, and the overdone bread produced a very satisfying crunch.

I could've eaten them with my fingers, flomped on the couch in front of the television, but instead I sat at the table, ate with a knife and fork, and looked out the open window. Something tells me this may just end up on my list of single-girl foods; you could easily serve it at a party, but I think it might be even better for a cool June evening on one's own.

Dinner-Roll "Bruschetta" with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Feta

Tomates confites recipe adapted from Clothilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini

For the tomatoes:

Thirty or so grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil
Pink peppercorns

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Mix tomatoes with a dollop of olive oil (not too much), a fair amount of salt, just a touch of sugar (I used about a quarter teaspoon), a few shakes of paprika, and a bunch of pink peppercorns. They're really too soft for a grinder, but you can crush them with your fingers or in a mortar and pestle, and I just left them whole. Other peppers would work, too, of course; one of those peppercorn melanges (you must say this with a funny French accent, it is the rule) or just some good old-fashioned cracked black pepper would do just fine.

Pour mixture into a baking dish and bake for as long as you want. C&Z recommends two or more hours at 210 degrees; I left the heat a little higher and cut short the baking time to about an hour and a half. This was just right, although I did use grape tomatoes instead of Romas. This recipe actually makes a few more tomatoes than you need, so you could make extra rolls or just save them for something else.

For the bruschetta:

Two dinner rolls
Slow-roasted tomatoes
Feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat broiler.

Tear two nice dinner rolls in half with your hands, squishing them a little bit to make a hollow for the filling. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato mixture to each one. Then top with feta to taste. (My taste is to use a lot of feta, and also to eat some out of the container while you're at it.) Place on a baking sheet and broil for about 3-4 minutes or until your smoke alarm goes off.

posted by shan at 10:11 PM;


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