A Tomato for Every Occasion

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
It's that time of year when the answer to every question is: Tomatoes. Understand? If I ask the lovely wife that is Venus, "what's for dinner?" The answer is: TOMATOES.

What's for lunch? TOMATOES. Breakfast? TOMATOES. What's your favorite drink? TOMATO COLLINS!

With a splash of gin, of course.

The point is -- with an overload of tomato production -- you start looking for recipes that call for fresh heirloom tomatoes and lots of them.

Fortunately -- I found such a recipe. It's pictured above. Yeah, it's fancy alright. But thanks to my San Joaquin Valley tastes -- I lowered it down to proper "valley standards." The official title of this dish, featured in the uppity-duppity New York Times no less, is (and I quote): Penne With Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans and Feta.

Leftover Tri-Tip from Sunday Night Dinner
I'll be honest. I fiddled around with this recipe a bit -- and came up with a new name of: Penne With Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans, Feta AND LEFTOVER TRI-TIP.


The official tomato for this dish? None other than Stupice, which is churning out golf-ball sized tomatoes faster than we can consume or give them away. This is the perfect tomato for a dish such as this, because the Stupice has a zip that goes well with slivered basil and Feta cheese.

Plus, uh, we have a lot of Stupice on the vine. Stupice anyone?

Fresh off the vine Pole Beans
There's another reason why I picked this dish out of the 24-odd recipes featured in the New York Times. It also called for a healthy offering of fresh green beans. What a coincidence, as we have pole beans and bush beans coming out of our EARS at the moment. This is the perfect dish at the perfect time.

Plus -- uh -- we had the leftover tri-tip from Sunday night's dinner.

Hey man -- you go with what you got. To be honest? We could have added squash, eggplant, green onions, carrots and a multitude of other vegetables that are producing like madness in the Bird Back 40 at the moment (pumpkin anyone?).

But we left that for another evening and another dish that I like to call "Hodge Podge Garden Soup." Hodge Podge Garden Soup, by the way, can easily be turned into "Hodge Podge Garden Casserole" and "Hodge Podge Garden Omlet." Those meals are yet to come.

Stupice Tomatoes with Basil and Seasonings
The recipe, which calls for "salt and pepper to taste" was also modified somewhat to include freshly ground black pepper -- because nothing says "fancy" like freshly ground black pepper. Plus, let's be honest here, OK? Freshly ground black pepper is REALLY good -- especially when you combine it with vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes warmed by our famous Sacramento Valley sunshine.

The dish is fairly easy to make -- and Venus and I made this a team effort. While she chopped up the pole beans and basil, I took care of slicing and dicing the Stupice tomatoes and grinding up the black pepper. It seemed somewhat criminal to add a boxed pasta like Penne, but we haven't started growing the fresh ingredients used for fresh pasta yet.

Yet, I say. The Bird Back 40 is an experiment in all things gardening. Who knows what we might be growing in another five to ten years.

Stupice Tomatoes for SNACKING!
The finished dish, which is detailed below, was indeed a slice of heaven. Anything combined with fresh heirloom tomatoes and basil from the backyard garden is usually a slice of heaven. But this dish in particular was pretty darn good -- and also made for a nice lunch at work the very next day.

We don't let good heirloom tomatoes go to waste in the Bird House.

Do you have a favorite dinner/lunch/breakfast recipe that features heirloom tomatoes and other good stuff from the backyard summer garden? If so -- please feel free to leave it behind -- because we're always taking suggestions.

And now -- without further delay -- the recipe for Penne With Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans and Feta (with whatever barbequed delicacy you may have leftover from the night before. Don't be picky. This meal works with anything).

This recipe first appeared in the August 5th, 2009 edition of the New York Times and may be accessed here.

Penne With Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans and Feta


Sweet, juicy heirloom tomatoes lend themselves well to uncooked tomato sauces. In summer, I make quick meals out of chopped ripe tomatoes, pasta and green vegetables.

6 to 8 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed, strings removed if necessary, and broken in half if very long
2 cups chopped fresh ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 plump garlic clove, minced (more to taste-we used more)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I like to use a very good coarse sea salt or fleur de sel for this)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
2 tablespoons slivered basil (we used more)
2 ounces crumbled feta (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 pound pasta (penne or fusilli are good choices)

1. Combine the olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt and pepper in a large bowl, and let sit for 15 to 30 minutes (or longer).

2. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Add the green beans to the boiling water, and boil four to five minutes, depending on how crunchy you like them. Remove with a strainer or skimmer, and transfer to the ice water. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then drain and set aside.

3. Bring the water back to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, about eight minutes. When the pasta is ready, drop the green beans back into the water to heat, then drain the pasta and beans and toss at once with the tomato mixture and the feta. Serve hot or room temperature.

Yield: Serves four.