School has started, and the weather is oddly un-summerly.
Summer? Some of us are thinking, “What summer? When? Did I miss it?”
There is a good chance that we’ll have more warm weather, as September and October are often the hottest months of the year in Northern California. And we may or may not have Indian summer, which does not come until after the year’s first frost. With luck, it won’t come any time soon, as I’ve not had my fill of tomatoes and I’m still waiting for the year’s best local melons.
At times like these, sometimes the best thing to do is simply cook and let everything else take care of itself. When you’re preparing two or three meals a day, life’s other aspects fall into place. It sounds suspiciously simple, I admit, but the truth of it is reinforced every time I shift my focus from worry — about money, the news, the weather and assorted other problems, big and small — to what’s on the menu for the next meal.
It is not possible, of course, for everyone to prepare three meals a day, given the distance between home and work for so many of us. But if you never or rarely cook, or if you think of cooking as a tedious chore or as something better left to others, you might be surprised if you give it a try.
Today’s recipes are offered in this spirit. They are simple, seasonal, flexible and require no special skills, just good ingredients that are readily at hand.
This is one of the simplest summer side dishes imaginable and is a perfect way to use garden tomatoes when you have an abundance. Be careful not to overcook the tomatoes or you’ll end up with sauce.
Simple Fried Tomatoes
Serves 4 to 6
6 large, firm-ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (any combination of Italian parsley, chives, basil, thyme and oregano)
— Sourdough hearth bread, sliced and lightly toasted
Slice off the stem end and blossom end of each tomato and save these pieces for another use.
Cut the tomatoes into ¼-inch-thick rounds.
Set a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, add the butter and olive oil, and when the mixture is hot, add the garlic; saute about 90 seconds. Add the tomatoes in a single layer, working in batches as necessary, and cook for 2 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 minutes more. If working in batches, use a spatula to transfer the tomatoes to a platter, leaving behind the pan juices.
When all of the tomatoes have been cooked, pour the pan juices over them.
Season with salt and pepper, scatter the herbs on top and serve immediately, with the bread alongside for sopping up the juices.
Brown butter has a nut-like flavor and aroma quite similar to hazelnuts; pairing the two creates a lovely resonance on the palate. This dish makes a lovely main course, especially with a big green salad alongside. It also makes a great accompaniment to roasted chicken.
Zucchini with Black Pepper, Brown Butter and Hazelnut Polenta
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