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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Produce and Panzanella

This was our first tomato from our plants, an oversized grape:

The bug picks them as soon as there's a hint of orange on them, and eats them one after another straight off the vine. Sometimes I can wrestle them out of her grip and put them on the counter out of reach to finish ripening.

All of our tomatoes this year will be on the sweet side—these grapes, the Golden Egg, and the Cherokee Purple. (Not sure about the Manalucie.) I'm actually not a fan of sweet tomatoes, much preferring ones that have an acidic bite, which to me tastes more like tomato than the fruity varieties popular among tomato fanciers. I've realized, though, that while the sweet tomato has no place in a traditional tomato sauce for pasta, or on a pizza, or in a salsa, and is just barely acceptable in a tomato sandwich as long as there's a thin slice of onion to balance it, there is one excellent use for them (besides eating out of hand, for which they're just fine), and that's panzanella, the beauty of which I was recently reminded of by a friend. Somehow the sweetness is less cloying here?

I was able to save from the bug enough tomatoes for a lunch of warm panzanella yesterday. I used a dark, seedy multigrain bread (storebought) instead of the usual Italian bread, and it was perfect.

Warm Panzanella

Serves 1 or 2

2 thick slices bread, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic, sliced
4 plum tomatoes or 5 large grape tomatoes (or whatever), chopped
4 sprigs fresh basil, torn
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, stemmed
Large handful of fresh spinach, stemmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 slices fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Put the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler, turning the cubes to toast both sides until well browned. Set aside.

In a sauté pan, cook the oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic is soft but not browned, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the bread cubes, tossing to coat with the oil. Cook, tossing frequently, until the garlic is golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and spinach and cook, tossing frequently, until the spinach is wilted and the tomatoes are just heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the mozzarella. Cook, tossing constantly, until the mozzarella is just starting to melt, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.
The other night I had a supper of corn from the Comer farmers' market. It was only $2.50 a dozen, but the ears were very small and exceedingly wormy, and the corn was not very good. Still, with Plugra and salt I'd ground very fine in a mortar (for better sticking) it was a nice meal. The bug and I ate ten ears, just because it was corn. I'm hoping for better as soon as it's available from the farm on Sorrow Patterson Road. That is, I hope the corn I get there this year is as good as it was the first time I got it there last year—subsequent batches were underwhelming.

In other news, but still in the production category, the bug has been helping me with the chicken tractor. Here she is painting one of the door studs or whatever they're called:

I neglected to take any in-progress pictures, but you can see it in the upper right corner here. Damn thing is all lopsided and out of alignment (to put it mildly; I realized too late that I was building it on a slight incline), and in its almost-finished form it is extremely heavy, but I think it'll work okay. I still have to put wheels on (no way can it be moved without wheels) and do a little bit more futzing, then I'll finally be ready to think about actual chickens. (Honestly, I've been more excited about building the coop than having chickens to put in it. I mostly think of them as fertilizers so I can have a decent garden next year. For good corn.)

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