when tomato sauce tastes best raw

My body has been bruised by summer: two wasp stings, many more mosquito bites, a summer cold, red shoulders and blotches of pink on those bits of skin that the sunscreen missed. But summer bruises are bruises that I don't mind. The berries, juicy tomatoes, cold bottles of white wine, and even colder lakes more than make up for any itches and scratches.

When it is 34 degrees Celsius (like today), I can understand why some relegate their ovens to the task of storage between the months of June and September. Although in these temperatures I too live mostly off of salads, berries, and cheese, I don't abandon my oven and stove completely. I need both in order to roast plums, boil eggs, potatoes and green beans for salad nicoise, bake tarts, and cook pasta.

This recipe is somewhat of a compromise. And brilliant. Tomatoes obviously shine in summer and when they are as good as they are right now, they don't any heat. But pasta still does. In Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, he admits that he can no longer recall the saint who taught him to make this dish "but if you have good fresh tomatoes and good basil, there is no higher use for them than this dish (446)." 

I couldn't agree more.

This is summer cooking at its best: simple and satisfying. It requires almost no effort, but tastes amazing. Raw tomato sauce has had a guaranteed spot on my summer's greatest hits list for several summers now. I've made it with all sorts of pasta and, although long pasta seems to get along best with the sauce, any pasta will do. The buffalo mozzarella is optional, but a very good option.

Linguine con Salsa Cruda (Linguine with Raw Tomato Sauce)

adapted from Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything Vegetarian' 

serves 2

1 cup cored and roughly chopped ripe tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes)
1 clove garlic, lightly smashed
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt 
black pepper
half a pound (about 250 grams) linguine, or other pasta
1 ball buffalo mozzarella

In a broad bowl, put the tomatoes, smashed clove of garlic, half the basil and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then use a fork to mash everything together. Leave for at least half an hour at room temperature for the flavors to mellow. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and generously salt it. Cook the pasta in the boiling water, following the package instructions, until al dente. Just before straining the pasta, spoon out a tbsp of the cooking water to add to the raw tomato sauce.

Remove the garlic from the sauce and add the buffalo mozzarella, torn into small chunks. Toss the pasta with the sauce and top with the remaining basil.  



food, time and tapenade with figs

A couple of months ago I started a cooking journal. Maybe to call it that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the idea is to keep a list of things I've been cooking. It isn't about recipes. There are no photos or illustrations. It is just a simple, straightforward list. An inventory of cooking and eating - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I was inspired by Georges Perec's "Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four." Forever intrigued by archives and memory, Perec's inventory got me thinking about how we remember the larger picture. It is easy to flirt with details and to linger on a memory of one particular dessert, but how do we compose our memory of the whole?

I also like how one can read a list. At first it is like poetry, structured prose with pauses and stops. And then it becomes numbers and clear statements, such as that Perec drank 181 named bottles of wine, as well as an unspecified number of unnamed bottles, in the course of a year.

Now that, in addition to eating, I spend more and more time reading, studying, researching and observing how and what we eat and the cultural histories of food, I have less time to cook. This is precisely why I started this cooking journal of sort, this list, this inventory. I want to keep cooking, to record it, and better understand how I cook, what I cook, and how my cooking is influenced by the research I do about food.

Although I am not quite ready to record how many bottles of wine I drink, I like that this inventory will give me a clear answer should anyone ever ask how many times I cook pasta in a year.

I started my inventory in April. After a good start, my entries for June are rather sad. I am an exceptional list maker, so this does not reflect neglect in writing. Instead, it reflects a lack of cooking. June was, by far, the busiest month of the year for me, so I have been trying to make up for it by enthusiastically cooking my way from the end of June to the beginning of July.

In other words, I am sorry for the silence this past month. Please accept this Fig-Olive Tapenade as my apology.

The figs make this classic dish a little sweeter, a little more unexpected. Eat it with bread, crackers or pita toasts. Smear it on sandwiches or, as David Lebovitz suggests, even on grilled tuna steaks or chicken breasts. 


Tapenade aux Figues (Fig-Olive Tapenade)

adapted from 'The Sweet Life in Paris' by David Lebovitz

makes 6-8 servings


1/2 cup (85 g) stemmed and quartered dried figs
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup (170 g) black olives, rinsed and pitted
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 anchovy fillets
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp finely chopped thyme (or rosemary)
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Place the dried figs in a small saucepan and add the water. Simmer over medium heat, with the lid askew, until tender, about 10 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool and then drain.

If using a food processor, pulse the soaked figs, olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard, thyme and lemon juice to create a thick paste. Pulse in the olive oil unti the paste is chunky-smooth. Good tapenade should have a slightly rough texture, so do not overmix. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, to taste.

If using a mortar and pestle, mash the olives with the garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard and thyme. Pound in the figs. Once the figs are broken up, stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 


* * * * * 

The summer issue of Chickpea has just been released online. Between great summer recipes, I've shared a story about snacking on palm sugar in Myanmar. The digital issue is available here, and the print issue is also available for pre-order.

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