Friday, August 22, 2008



The story of the tomatoes pictured on the plate above is one of those jigsaw-puzzle tales that complete themselves totally at random, justifying a good memory for trivia, if you happen to be so blessed. You never know which bits of trivia will coalesce into actual knowledge.

They're Jersey tomatoes up there. I had never heard of them until Maureen, a beloved boss of mine, started waxing rhapsodic about the exquisite fruit she was looking forward to gorging on as she headed off for a vacation in her home state, about 10 years ago. It was one of those random factoids I filed away until just last year, as we took our first drive to the North Carolina Outer Banks from Delaware instead of the usual route from here in Arlington. The new route took us in a straight line south down the entire Delmarva peninsula as we headed for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. In the Virginia part of the peninsula we saw tomato farms, acre upon acre of vines uniformly tall at about knee height, with uniform globes of bright red fruit, millions of tomatoes ready to be picked from what looked like factory-produced vines in all their regimented, knee-high sameness. I filed that factoid, too, in the "tomato" drawer and moved on. Some months later, enter my friend Dennis, a tomato farmer from way back. I described this Virginia tomato phenomenon to him and he said, "Right. They're Jersey tomatoes. That's about all they grow in that part of Virginia." Aha! So that's what the vines look like, I thought. A hole in the picture was filled. Then, two weeks ago, our Delaware next door neighbor, Paul, showed up with a bag filled with uniformly red tomatoes, of a uniform size and shape somewhere between a tennis ball and a softball. Circle closed! "These are Jersey tomatoes!" I exclaimed. Paul said no, they were from right there in Delaware--he was obviously as ignorant of the Jersey connection as I had been. Since it took me 10 years to complete that picture, I didn't stop to explain things to Paul. He looks like he has at least a good 10 years left on him. I decided to let him enjoy his own discovery if he's so inclined.

Anyway, I bit into one of Paul's beauties right away and finally knew what Maureen had been talking about in the office back in 1998. They taste exactly the way you want a tomato to taste. Firm to the bite, sweet, with just enough acidity to give a little interest, and very juicy. There was only one way to honor a load of deliciousness like this, and that's what today's recipe does. It's a simple and delicious vegetarian main course, with the beans adding some texture and completing the protein.

Since you're using such good tomaotes, it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that the rest of the ingredients should be just as good. Don't scrimp on the olive oil or the cheese.

Peel and seed tomatoes as you wish. I don't bother and see no detriment.

If you don't like onion, leave it out. I like to bite down on something sweet and crunchy.

2 pounds good, summer tomatoes
1/2 cup sweet white onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
A handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon non-iodized salt (kosher or table)
1 teaspoon sugar

1 15-oz can canellini beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly

1 pound string-type pasta: spaghetti, fettucini, linguine
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated parmegiano-reggiano cheese

Halve tomatoes pole-to-pole, then cut halves into quarters, then halve the quarters, to make uniform bite-size pieces. Put tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, salt and sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine. Pour mixture into a wire mesh strainer and place strainer over the bowl. Allow to drain for 2 hours, collecting juice.

Give a final stir to tomato mixture in strainer to remove as much juice as possible, then move tomato mixture to a serving bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta. Stir in drained canellini beans and set aside.

Pour accumulated juice into small saucepan, bring juice to a boil and reduce to 3 tablespoons--start checking after about 5 minutes. Remove juice from heat and whisk in olive oil. Pour over tomato mixture in bowl, stir to combine.

Cook pasta according to package directions. When done, drain and pour, still very hot, directly over tomato mixture and toss to combine thoroughly. Serve immediately, passing parmegiano-regianno.


Mim said...

Good recipe.. I can taste it this morning. Funny i wrote about produce today too.
Loved the tomato story.

Anonymous said...

This one may help me get through the week. Doc says pasta and eggs, rice, lots of jello for starters. I will have to have my wife look at this recipe. Maybe make enough to batch so I can eat off it often. What do you think about your new to be gov getting on the Obama ticket?

Ralph said...

Hello! Yep, if anything goes down easy, it's this stuff. And it easy. Basically chop, sit, and boil pasta.

Not sure if you're talk
ing about my would-be Delaware senator who was chosen and I hope does become veep, or Va. Gov. Kaine, who wasn't tapped. He may be responsible for making VA a swing state, but he hasn't nearly the gravitas that Biden has. I'm happy with the pick.