I began peeling tomatoes at 7:00 this morning. By 8:00 the scent of boiling oregano-spiced sauce was wafting upstairs into the bedroom. (I won't lie. Even this early the smell sparks a pang of hunger cereal cannot compete with...)
After a few not-so-successful attempts to preserve raw-packed tomatoes, pizza sauce has become the preferred method of canning the San Marzanos that have just begun ripening.
As the canner was bubbling away this morning, I was pondering the act of preserving food. As the notion of eating local, seasonal items is such a hot topic these days, I wondered, even if these items come from your own backyard and were packed away months ago, is it odd to eat tomatoes in middle of January? Blueberries in October? Does doing so confuse our sense of the season?
Best not to think too hard so early in the morning...
But rather to share a recipe that celebrates some of these local, seasonal goodies while they are still abundant:
(adapted from Joanne Weir's recipe for Tuscan Bread Salad with Tomatoes and Basil in From Tapas to Meze)
1/2 loaf of day-old rustic bread (about 1/2 pound)*
3/4 cup water
4 tomatoes (I used a variety of carbon, San Marzano and orange-fleshed purple smudge), seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 small cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons capers (rinsed if they are salt-packed)
handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 ounce extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Slice the bread into 1-inch thick slices and place on a large plate. Sprinkle both sides of the slices with the water and let sit for 1 minute. Gently squeeze the slices with your hands to dry the bread. Tear the slices into rough bit-sized pieces and place them on paper towels to dry for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, garlic, capers, basil and parsley. Add the dried bread and toss gently to combine.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the balsamic and white wine vinegars with the olive oil. Add to the bread mixture, tossing gently to combine, and season with salt and pepper.
*If your bread is not quite stale, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and place the slices directly on the center rack for about 5 minutes or so just to dry them out a bit (not toast them) before sprinkling them with the water.