You ‘red’ it here first — a simple way to cook fish

Using a bed of chopped tomatoes and onions keeps fish moist while it cooks. Photo by Laura Groch

Using a bed of chopped tomatoes and onions and low heat keeps fish moist while it cooks. Photo by Laura Groch

Lots of people are frightened by fish — by cooking it, to be more exact. It can be intimidating — and easy to dry out — but I think I have a way to keep it moist and cook it more easily.

The idea is to poach the fish over a bed of juicy vegetables so it can’t burn, be overcooked or otherwise become unpalatable. It’s also a way to make use of some of those bushels of tomatoes everyone seems to still be harvesting.

This recipe came from seeing other recipes that called for cooked-down cherry tomatoes. Continue reading

What’s red, and red, and red … 3 ideas to use tomatoes

Fans of farmers markets are enjoying the bounty of fresh, flavorful tomatoes, but if you’ve run out of ideas, I have a few standbys from the kitchen files.

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Nothing is so tasty as a glorious ripe tomato. Or two, or three … dozen … try these ideas to use some of the crop.  (Photo copyright Laura Groch 2015)

First up is my favorite, panzanella, the Italian bread salad. The juices from chopped tomatoes moisten day-old Italian bread (or other sturdy bread, like country white or wheat bread).

I keep it simple, using day-old Italian bread and toasting about half a loaf’s slices to dry them further. I let them cool before tearing them into bite-sized pieces, then add two good-sized juicy tomatoes, cut into chunks, unpeeled.

Next into the bowl goes half a peeled cucumber, chunked; two thinly sliced green Continue reading

A chili without tomato totality (just in time for the Super Bowl)

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I love tomatoes, but the totality of tomato in most chilis is too much for me. Here’s a chili recipe that tones down the tomato factor. (Photo copyright Laura Groch 2015)

Super Bowl season brings up visions of other ‘super’ bowls — hearty soups, stews, chilis and gumbos that can be left in a slow cooker for dishing out at halftime and beyond.

I’m not a fan in general of most chilis, finding them way too-tomatoey, which tends to knock out most of the other flavors. But hey, that’s me. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys chili with plenty of tomatoes.

What to do to keep us both happy? Well, I recently adapted a recipe that makes Continue reading

Seeing red, and what to do about it: Panzanella

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Above: One of my panzanella salads. This one has cucumber and white beans in there too.

About this time of year, gardeners (and their lucky friends) are becoming awash in lovely ripe tomatoes. And once you’ve made multiple salsas and pasta sauces, and your freezer is full, well, it’s time to put a little panzanella into your life.

Panzanella is best described as a tomato-bread salad, originating in Italy. (I’ve also seen it called Tuscan bread salad.) “Bread salad” may sound a little strange, but I can assure you that it’s delicious — and a cooling change of pace, especially in hot weather.

To make panzanella, you need good, sturdy bread, preferably a bit stale. Italian or French or country white bread are all good choices. You can probably find a suitable loaf on the day-old rack at your local bakery or grocery store. If not, you can slice or tear a fresh loaf into chunks or cubes, leave it out for a few hours to stale a bit, and then use it. (I’ve even toasted my bread chunks to get them dry in a hurry.) If the bread is a bit dry, it won’t get overly soggy as it soaks up the tomato juices.

You’ll also need two or three large, juicy-ripe tomatoes; about three tablespoons each of olive oil and vinegar (I like red-wine or balsamic); about a quarter-cup of thinly sliced red onion; a clove or two of garlic, chopped or put through a press or microplane grater; and some fresh basil would be nice. (If you only have dried basil, it will work too. But really, you should have some fresh basil on hand! It’s summertime in California!)

Here’s how to make it: Cut or tear about half your loaf of bread into bite-size chunks or cubes. Put them in a large salad bowl. (Some people moisten the bread with water beforehand, then squeeze it out and proceed. Others drizzle the cubes with olive oil and bake them, cooling them before adding to the salad. I prefer the simpler method of letting my tomatoes do the moistening.)

Cut the tomatoes into chunks and pour them and all their juices over the bread. Add the olive oil and vinegar (or use a bottled Italian dressing), the onions and the basil — about a half-dozen shredded leaves if you have fresh, a half-teaspoon of dried if you don’t — mix it all up, and add salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.

You can let your panzanella sit at room temperature if you’ll be eating it within an hour or so; otherwise, refrigerate it until serving, especially if you’ve added meat and cheese to it.

What I like about panzanella is that it takes so well to leftovers and improvisation. Don’t have red onion? Use white ones, or sliced green onions. Can’t live without chopped celery? Go ahead and add it. How about those leftover beans from the other night? Sure, toss them in, along with some black or green olives. If you prefer the taste of fresh thyme or parsley to basil, go for it.

Other foods that play well in panzanella:

— Diced ham, salami, Canadian bacon, or regular cooked crumbled bacon;

— Diced cheese, like mozzarella or provolone;

— More vegetables, like radishes, artichoke hearts, bell peppers, garbanzo beans, green beans, shredded carrots, fresh peas, cooked edamame.

Using about a half-loaf of bread should give you three to four side-dish servings, or two large dinner-size servings. Leftovers make a nice lunch on top of a bed of lettuce the next day. (And you’ll have turned your bread salad into a salad salad!)

When you’re ready to serve the panzanella, the bread chunks should be nicely chewy and moist. If they seem dry, add a tomato, or more dressing.

This just in (to my brain, that is): I bet you could create a Mexican-flavored panzanella by using cilantro instead of basil, a chopped jalapeno pepper, black beans instead of white, and about a half-cup of canned (or fresh) corn. Add cubed Monterey jack cheese or your favorite Mexican cheese, and sprinkle with a few crushed tortilla chips.

Or even Greek-style: Lemon juice instead of vinegar, plus black olives and chunked peeled cucumber; canned tuna instead of ham or salami; feta cheese; and flavor with oregano instead of basil.

That’s the beauty of panzanella. There’s no one way to make it, and it can be different every time, depending on how you feel and what’s in the fridge. What a perfect summertime dish! Enjoy!

P.S. Got variations? Share them in the comments, please!

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2013

What’s new: Sun-dried tomato ketchup

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Summertime (and we’re rapidly approaching it) is picnic time, barbecue time, get-together time for many of us. And many of us will be cooking burgers, hot dogs and other foods that just cry out for some good ketchup. Something new to top them with is California Sun Dried Tomato Ketchup from Traina. It’s made, yes, with sun-dried tomatoes reduced down to a ketchup with a thicker texture than many other ketchups. According to the Patterson, CA-based company, that’s 4 pounds of Roma tomatoes in every 16-ounce bottle! The taste is still sweet, but not sugary, deep and richer. (Comparing the label to that of my other store-brand ketchup shows it has slightly less sugar and sodium overall.) A 16-ounce bottle retails for $4.99. You can find it in San Diego at Gala Foods on Grape Street, or order it online at http://www.traina.com.