“Fragrant and summer-savory, roasted tomatoes are a sometimes underused sumptuous accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats, in pastas and soups, on pizzas, sandwiches, bruschettas or crostinis. The tomatoes caramelize in both versions to a certain sweetness. To life’s simple pleasures.”

(Shame on me—reached for the can. Was that tra-la-la-la-la or what? What was portrayed in that blurb was not inaccurate, but it seemed to clang like a clumsy TV jingle. A sign of sloth?…a memento to the Heidi-in-the-meadows like palaver found in too many cooking manuals including this one? Probably just a bad habit. Not that the expectations are lofty, literary or poetic. But, in this milieu, sometimes it is difficult to shed triteness when simple food speaks aloud. Food writing is about the interplay, ratios, and balances of the scents, flavors and textures of damn good food…but it is ironically displayed in two dimensional words. Is it more about cultures? history? regions? geography? clans? techniques? Why is the superficial layer chosen too often? Or is just that bone deep comfort which is mired in the sheer simplicity of ingredients, imagination and creation that we crave in cooking which does not demand elegant prose? I have my doubts and insecurities.)

SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES

Fresh local cherry or grape tomatoes, halved horizontally
Plump fresh garlic head, halved horizontallly
Extra virgin olive oil
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 250 F

Arrange tomatoes and garlic halves on a parchment or aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in the oven until slightly shriveled and wrinkly on the outside and juicy on the inside, about three hours. The time will vary depending on tomato size and ripeness.

Serve immediately or let them cool, drizzle with some more olive oil and refrigerate in a shallow covered bowl.

PROVENCAL ROAST TOMATOES

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
8 firm fresh local heirloom tomatoes, seeded and halved horizontally

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Herbes de Provence
Fresh parsley, chopped finely
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 400 F

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. When shimmering, add the tomatoes, cut side down. Do not crowd, so you may have to cook in batches. Sear the tomatoes until browned, almost caramelized, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cook remaining tomatoes in the same fashion. Transfer the tomatoes, cooked side up, to a large baking dish. Pour the juices from the skillet over the tomatoes evenly, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the Herbes de Provence, parsley and garlic.

Place the baking dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, until browned on top and sizzling, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano.

I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.
~Mae West

Carrots (Daucus carota) are root vegetables that have been traced back to ancient Roman texts of the 3rd century. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family along with neighboring parsnips, fennel, caraway, cumin, and dill. Ancestors of today’s cultivated carrots likely originated in present day Afghanistan about 5,000 years ago, probably as a purple or yellow root.

Do you suppose more carrot consumption over past centuries could have avoided the collective myopia inherent in Afghan invasions and the seemingly endless conflict? (See below).

Coming in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, carrots are a true multitasker—raw, steamed, roasted, in soups and stews, mirepoix, cakes, puddings, juices, and so on.

Mama reminded that you should down your carrots. Although some debate exists over this maternal advice, it may not have been just intuition or urban legend. Carrots are a potent source of antioxidant compounds, and contain healthy doses of vitamin A carotenes. If your diet is unbalanced and deficient in vitamin A, carrots have been found to help preserve or improve vision. In a five-year study, scientists in Ireland showed that the intake of high levels of carotenoids preserved macular pigments, slowing down the progression from early to late age related macular degeneration. In addition to improving vision, carrots have been traditionally known to treat digestive problems and parasites.

MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD

1 lb carrots, peeled, julienned or halved lengthwise then sliced diagonally into 1″ pieces

1 t ground cumin
1 t paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 t cayenne
3 t honey
2-3 t white wine vinegar
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

1/2 C flat leaf parsley, chopped

Bibb lettuce leaves

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the carrots until just tender. Drain and cool to room temperature. Set aside.

Combine the cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne, honey, wine vinegar, olive oil and whisk vigorously. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the carrots and parsley, then toss to coat well.

Marinate for a few hours, then serve over lettuce.

MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD II

2 large carrots, peeled

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, puréed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 t coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 t sweet paprika
2 pinches cayenne

2 t sugar or honey
2-3 T fresh lemon juice
1/3 C flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Kalamata olives, pitted

Slice the carrots in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife or corer, remove the carrot cores and discard. Then, slice carrots diagonally into 1″ pieces. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil, salt and then cook carrots until just soft but not mushy, about 8-10 minutes. Drain in a colander and then plunge carrots into an ice water bath to halt cooking. Drain and dry on paper towels.

Meanwhile, purée the garlic cloves with the side of a chef’s knife or a mortar and pestle with a little salt. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet and add the garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, and cayenne. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until the garlic and spices just become fragrant, but do not burn. Remove from heat.

Whisk together sugar or honey, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper and then add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in a stream while whisking. Heat skillet with spices again and then add the carrots back to the pan with the garlic and spices and stir for a few minutes. Add the honey/lemon juice/oil “emulsion” and stir together for a few more minutes, until the carrots are just glazed. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Transfer to a platter, and garnish with olives. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

ROASTED CARROTS

1 1/2 lbs organic baby carrots,* washed, with greens cropped
1 yellow onion, peeled, cut into 8 wedges
2 T fresh chopped rosemary
1 head garlic, cut across in halves
3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Gently toss together the carrots, onion, rosemary to coat with the olive oil. Arrange the carrots, onion, and rosemary in a baking dish (line with aluminum foil to ease clean up). Gently tossed so they are evenly coated with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast until nicely browned, about 30-40 minutes.

*Use organic local carrots which are the smaller sticks (4″-6″ long) with greens still attached, and not the commercial thumb sized variety that comes in a plastic bag.

A man taking basil from a woman will love her always.
~Sir Thomas Moore

This is admittedly not in keeping with the Tour, but it is a seasonal offering. Tomorrow is the next to last stage with the critical climb up Mont Ventoux, so I will return to France—always the migratory instinct. Oh, to be a tern.

GRILLED AHI TUNA WITH TOMATO, MINT & BASIL VINAIGRETTE

Fresh ahi tuna fillets, thickly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper and white pepper
4 T fresh basil leaves, chopped
8 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

3 ripe medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
4 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 T fresh lime juice
1 T sherry vinegar
1 T minced fresh parsley
2 medium shallots, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt

Basil sprigs and nicoise olives, to garnish

Season the tuna fillets all over with black and white pepper. In a shallow dish, stir together 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons each of the mint and basil. Coat the tuna pieces in the oil and herbs to coat them. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4 hours.

In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes and garlic with the remaining mint and basil, lime juice, sherry vinegar, parsley, and shallots. Drizzle in remaining olive oil, whisking vigorously, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate so the flavors coalesce.

Preheat the barbeque grill to medium high. Retrieve the tuna and the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and allow them to rest at room temperature until the grill is ready for cooking.

Lightly sprinkle the tuna pieces all over with salt. Grill the tuna about 2-4 minutes per side until seared on the outside and still rare in the center.

To serve, spoon a layer of the tomato mint mixture onto the centers of the serving plates. Slice the tuna filets and fan them over the vinaigrette. Garnish with basil sprigs and olives.

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
~G.K. Chesterton

Nestled in the Haute Savoie region is the scenic canal-laced town of Annecy which borders one of the most striking pure azure lakes of Europe with the Aravis and Bauges alpine foothills framing the backdrop. The waters simply stun. A university town, Annecy is also renowned for its cultural landscape with the International Animated Film Festival held each June.

Yesterday, Lac d’Annecy was the site of the second individual and final time trial (TT) of the Tour. In the Contre-Le-Montre, sometimes called the “Race of Truth,” the riders have an individual staggered start and compete solely against the clock without the drafting benefits of the peloton.

Haut-Savoyard cuisine includes a hallowed house denizen, gratin dauphinois—that velvety, sumptuous potato au gratin which is savored hot that night and/or cold for lunch the next day. (See Obama Fare — Gratin Dauphinois). An au gratin treatment with leeks is likewise luscious.

LEEKS AU GRATIN

Preheat oven to 375 F

10 leeks, rinsed thoroughly, roots trimmed, white and green parts cut into 2″ pieces and then quartered
1/2 lb bacon, cut into 2″ pieces
1 C chicken or vegetable stock
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of dried thyme
2 T unsalted butter
2 T all purpose flour
1 C whole milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
1 T Emmenthal cheese, grated
1 T Gruyère cheese, grated

Sauté the bacon in a heavy skillet until browned. Pour off some of the rendered fat and then add the leeks, stock, salt, pepper and thyme. Cover tightly and cook until the leeks are tender and the stock has evaporated, about 25 minutes.

Make a béchamel—over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour until smooth, add the milk and cook while constantly whisking. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes. In a bowl, mix the egg yolk and cream together, then whisk them into the sauce. Add to the leek mixture, stirring constantly.

Pour the entire mixture into a shallow glass baking dish, sprinkle with the cheese, and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

A simple summer aside which dwells well with grilled meats. A delectable subordinate, sort of.

ROASTED ZUCCHINI WITH HERBES DE PROVENCE

4 zucchinis, sliced lengthwise in half
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 T herbes de provence

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 450 F

Brush olive oil over both sides of the zucchini slices. Season with salt, pepper and
herbes de provence on both sides. Align the zucchini pieces in a baking dish, flesh side up.

Roast 8 to 10 minutes, until tender and lightly golden brown. During the last minute or so, top with grated parmigiano reggiano.

He give her a look that you could of poured on a waffle.
~Ring Lardner

Carbo loaders unite!…but for the butter.

Waffles are leavened cousins of the ancient communion wafer which were once baked in irons and likewise displayed a honeycomb pattern. Waffles were first introduced to this continent in the 17th century by Dutch settlers. Even Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron from France at considerable trouble and expense when “waffle frolics” became the fad. Quite the image. Sounds like a scene from La Grande Bouffe, a controversial early 70’s film with its scatological humourous depictions of sex and over eating. Picture President Jefferson with his slave-lover-baby-mama Sally Hemings, batter, syrup and butter…an early 19th century 9 1/2 Weeks. A waffle frolic, to be sure.

BUTTERMILK WAFFLES WITH PECANS

2 C flour
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 T sugar
1/2 t sea salt

4 organic egg whites
4 organic egg yolks
2 C buttermilk
12 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 T pecans, roughly chopped and toasted

Preheat waffle iron

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside. Beat egg whites until they hold about a 2″ peak. Set aside.

In another bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks, add buttermilk then the melted butter and whisk further until combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients except for the egg whites. Gently whisk them together with several swift strokes. Gently fold in the toasted pecans and then the egg whites. The batter should have a thick pebbled, unincorporated appearance much like muffin batter—it is preferable to undermix than to overmix.

Pour between 1/2 to 3/4 cup batter (or the amount recommended by the maufacturer) onto the preheated waffle iron. Spread the batter to within 1/2″ of the edge of the grids. Close the lid and bake until the waffle is light golden brown.

Serve with unsalted butter and pure maple syrup.

The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
~Albert Camus

Yesterday, the Tour field opened up (perhaps hemorrhaged), with many of the men being separated from the boys on a steep finishing climb in Switzerland. Today is a no-rest-for-the-weary day which does not always translate into better performances tomorrow as riders can fall out of psychic and physical sync.

The next stage (numéro 16) mercilessly traverses 160km up and down the majestic Alps of Switzerland, Italy and France. After a precious few flat miles, riders will crawl up the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard (HC), the pinnacle of this year’s Alpine summits (8,114 feet). The final 5km is tortuous and never ending, with an average 6.2% grade, and some pitches as steep as 10%. Pains my quads to even tap, tap about it. After cresting the peak, the riders will descend into Italy at breakneck speed heading toward the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard (Cat 1—a smidgen less steep) for another punishing ascent. Really? Again?

A symmetrical, buxom, double breasted race profile—the myth of Sisyphus times two, except unlike the tale, there is a finish to the stage.

The brief run through Northern Italy in tomorrow’s stage warrants a risotto recipe…a dirty, rustic one to be savored with the lights on.

RISOTTO SPORCO

8 C chicken broth

1/4 lb pancetta, chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
1 C porcini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 t dried thyme

1/3 lb chicken gizzards, chopped
1/2 lb chicken livers, patted dry and chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2 C poblano chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 C Arborio rice
3/4 C red wine
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
1 T Italian parsley leaves, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until rendered, about 4-5 minutes. Pour out some, but not all, of the pancetta fat. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat some more olive oil and butter in the same large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and thyme, and sauté until just browned and the juices begin to exude, around 2 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels.

Meanwhile, melt more butter and olive oil in the same large skillet over medium high heat. Season livers and gizzards with salt and pepper. Add gizzards then livers a little later to skillet and sauté until not quite cooked and still pink in the center, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels.

In a large heavy sauce pan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat, add the onion and poblanos, and sauté until tender, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Ladle in 1 cup of the already simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, about 1-2 minutes. Add another ladleful of stock, and stir regularly until all of the stock is absorbed. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. The risotto should be smooth and creamy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms, pancetta, livers, gizzards and most of the parmigiano reggiano. Transfer the risotto to shallow serving bowls. Garnish with the remaining parmigiano reggiano and parsley and serve immediately.