Did You Know This?

“States now in the voluntary recall for ground beef purchased [from Whole Foods] between June 2 through August 6, 2008 include: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington D. C. and Wisconsin.”

You can get more information from the Whole Foods website or from Beyond Blueberries blog.

According to Whole Foods, “the beef in question came from Coleman Natural Beef (now owned and operated by Meyer Beef), which used Nebraska Beef for processing.” I’m shocked, shocked that Whole Foods trades with factory farms. Makes that pricey chicken from the Hastings Farmer’s Market seem even more worth it.


The Time of the Season

We usually visit family in California in the late summer, which means the amazing Sacramento Farmer’s Market is in full swing. One of my favorite parts of the trip is when Iron Chef Maurice and I make the short trek to the market under the underpass and weave our way through the maze of stalls looking for the best tomatoes, melons, and peaches. This being California and more specifically the Central Valley the place is truly a cornucopia of the freshest and most beautiful food imaginable.The heirloom tomatoes, of every possible color, are the big prizes, and they get prominently displayed on the kitchen counter as we unpack and plan the meal.

We all weren’t able to make the trip West this summer, so only Evan sat down to the traditional meal, pasta with fresh tomatoes. Maurice sent along the recipe, so I was able to do my best to replicate the summer ritual. It’s called Caprese with Penne, and it’s from Viana La Place & Evan Kleiman’s wonderful Pasta Fresca, which according to Maurice everyone should have a copy of on their cook book shelf.

The recipe itself is pretty easy; the secret is that you have to have incredible tomatoes. Maurice says “Never, ever try to make Caprese with store-bought tomatoes. They must be red all the way through.” That means that this is a summer recipe, more specifically a dish for August.

One basic rule of cooking is to completely read your recipe before you even think about starting. Dinner would have been earlier if I had read the part about having the tomatoes, garlic, and basil marinate in the olive oil for about 2 hours. Dinner was after eight, but believe me—it was worth the wait.

Here’s how to make it:

4 large and incredibly beautiful tomatoes, skinned and chopped into 1” pieces
2-3 T fresh basil, chopped (or torn or in a chiffonade)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Olive oil (recipe calls for fruity) to cover
1 lb. penne rigate pasta
1 lb fresh mozzarella (recipe says to rate the mozzarella, but Maurice has a lot to say about this)*

So yes, mix the first 5 ingredients and let them all sit an incredibly long time while everyone gets hungry and you sip gin and tonics and eat salted nuts.

Then when it seems that everyone is getting cranky and starts giving you the eye, tell them to start boiling some water for the pasta. Cook the pasta in salted and oiled water until it is al dente (about 11 minutes) because if you let it go any longer, people like My Girl (who has inherited this from her grandfather) will start telling you that you don’t know how to cook pasta. Over-cooked pasta, according to Maurice will ruin the dish and everyone will scowl.

Invite anyone who looks really hungry to slice up the mozzarella with you. They can swipe bites of it, and that should keep them happy.

Put the tomato mixture in a serving bowl. When the pasta is done, drain it (reserving some of the cooking water in case things get a little dry) and add to the tomatoes in the serving dish. Stir it up and when everything is cooled down a bit, add what’s left of the fresh mozzarella.

Serve and sing praises to summer, give a clink of your glass to Iron Chef Maurice, and decide to get the Pasta Fresca cook book from your favorite independent bookseller.

*“ Fresh, made-in-California, mozzarella in a plastic container with some of the cheese water is far better than the shrink-wrapped, rubber ball kind that is usually found in supermarkets. Taylor’s Mkt on Freeport and 4th Ave has it and so does. Corti Bros. [both in Sacramento]. Both also have Italian Buffalo mozzarella. The rubber ball stuff will work in an emergency, but the best by far is the Mozzarella da Bufala from Italia I actually don’t grate the mozzarella, but cut it into little matchstick-sized pieces and add it after I have added the tomatoes to the pasta and it has had a chance to cool down a little. If you add it before then it tends to melt and clump together. Take your pick, a highly respected chef and author, or me.”

Image from Bountiful Garden: http://www.bountiful-garden.org/strains.html