You Say Tomayto

I Say Tomahto*

While thumbing (figuratively of course) through the 50 or 60 uncompleted posts in my Drafts folder I came upon this proposed entry from last fall. Though it was written as fresh tomato season was coming to an end it is not inappropriate to the imminent arrival of the first home-grown tomatoes in the local market.


If muttering those words as I wandered through the produce section were a criminal offence I would have been arrested many times over!  There is nothing more frustrating than being confronted by those pale reddish-pink balls of flannel that appear in most supermarkets here in Canada for what seems like ten months of the year.  Nor is there anything more glorious than the multi-coloured displays – purple to yellow to orange to fire engine red – that greet the tomato lover at farmers’ market during the all too short growing season.  Even the later rainbow display has only become the norm over the past fifteen years with the reintroduction of varieties into the market.

A rack of seeds at a beautiful nursery and garden centre just off the piazza in Sorrento – eleven! count them eleven! types of tomatoes!

One of the joys of living in Italy was the constantly changing variety of tomatoes in the market.  You never went shopping for just a tomato or without knowing what you wanted it for.  There were tomatoes for sauce, tomatoes for roasting, tomatoes for stuffing, tomatoes for salads, tomatoes for soup, tomatoes for sun-drying, tomatoes for pizza toppings, and even tomatoes for hanging.  Yes you did read that right – there is a tomato known as  pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio (small hanging tomato of Vesusius) or simply pomodorino Vesuviano. Whole vines are cut and hung up in bunches in a covered but well ventilated area.  They keep fresh for months, thanks to a thick skin and a strong attachment to their stalks.

Pomodorino Vesuviano Roso in the market.

When the tomato reached Europe from North America somewhere in the 16th century what the Aztec’s knew as xitomatl became tomatl. The French originally called the tomato,  pomme d’amour (love apple) before calling simply it la tomate. Perhaps they changed the name when its claims to be a powerful aphrodisiac proved to be false advertising.  In Italy it was pomi d’oro (golden apple) which today becomes il pomodoro.  And of course it was shunned as being poisonous because of its close relative the deadly nightshade.  However somewhere in Southern Italian someone noticed that it was being eaten by livestock with no noticeable rise in the mortality rate.  It wasn’t killing the animals?  Well let’s see what it does to Zia Giuseppina, she’ll eat anything!  And eccolà!

The last of the heritage tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market???

So why all this ruminating about Solanum lycopersicum even as the (extended) season winds down?  Well on a trip to the Farmers’ Market last week I saw what is probably the last of the season’s harvest and  I thought I should buy and use them while I can.   One recipe that I used I first came across back in Warsaw in 1998 and it became a fast favourite there particularly when a tasty amber gold plum tomato was in season.  I think I may have got it from the Times of London back in the days when their young website was free. Note that the quantities are given in metric followed by an approximation in Imperial.)

Tomato and Arugula Tart with Polenta Crust

150g (5.5 oz) all-purpose flour sifted
75g (2.65 oz) fine polenta
100g (3.53 oz) unsalted butter diced
1 medium egg
extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
60g (2.12 oz) freshly grated parmesan
800g (1.39 lbs) vine-ripened tomatoes, thickly sliced, patted dry
100g (3.35 oz) arugula


Preheat oven to 400F.
Briefly process the flour, polenta and butter in a food processor, then add the egg and about 2 tsp oil – enough to bind the dry ingredients. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill briefly. Rollout to fit a shallow 28cm (11″) tart tin, prick the base all over and chill again.

Spread the mustard evenly over the base then top with the cheese. Lay the tomatoes on top in concentric, tight, overlapping circles, so they stand proud. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes then switch off the oven.

Place 75g of the arugula in a processor with 5-6 tbsp olive oil and process until you have a thick but pourable puree. Drizzle this over the tomatoes and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool for 15-20 minutes.

Just before serving season the remaining arugula with salt, pepper, and a little oil. Pile into the middle of the tart.


The recipe also suggested that a mixture of Gruyere and a mild goat cheese can replace the Parmesan. And when I discovered on my return to Canada that arugula, so readily available at our local vegetable stand in Warsaw, wasn’t always available in Ottawa I used Basel and it works beautifully.

Culinary Magic

July 18th is another one of those days we celebrate strange food combinations: Sour Candy and Caviar??? Talk about your “fusion” cuisine!

King Henry’s Tarts

Henry may have lost his head over Anne Bullen but she ultimately returned the favour. This amusing ceramic is by Andrea Kashanipur at Art Knacky. A left click will take you to some of the other creations in her Empire.

No not Tart (a nubile young temptress, who dresses teasingly and provocatively) I mean tart (a small pie filled with cooked fruit or other sweetened preparation, usually having no top crust).  Though if that Tudor series that was so popular a while back is to be believed there were more of the former than the later in Bluff Harry’s 55 year span on this earth.  I’m referring to a tasty little morsel (no not Anne Bullen!  honestly such minds!) that has graced afternoon and high tea tables for well over 500 years in England and even here in her Colonies:  Maids of Honour.

What brought me to investigate this tempting little sweetie (not Catherine Howard either!  Jeesh!) was the passage I quoted from The Good Companions last week.  It described the groaning high tea table at the Second Resurrectionists do in Oxwell as including “piles of jam tarts and maids of honour and cream puffs and almond tarts,”.  So asked a faithful reader in perusing that list: what exactly are Maids of Honour?

Well it turns out that it’s a little bit like a cheesecake and a little bit like a tart.  So what’s the connection with Henry VIII?  Well history – or legend, which is often the same thing – says that on a visit to Anne Bullen during their early courtship the King happened upon Anne and her Maids-of-Honour enjoying a new sweet that a local pastry-cook had offered them.  Eyeing the little tarts (no not Jane Seymour!  You lot are too much!) he ate several and declared them as delicious as Anne and her Maids-of-Honour (Okay maybe even then he was eyeing Mistress Seymour) and immediately demanded the recipe.  There was a rumour that he locked the recipe away and decreed they were for Royal Consumption only – or that he locked the innovative but unfortunate pastry-cook away and only allowed him out to make the tarts at royal whim.   Given the list of ingredients (see below) it’s difficult to imagine who could have afforded to make this little delicacy other than Royals and the nobility?  And  since only the palaces and great houses had ovens – most cooking was still done over, often communal, open hearths – it was to remain a royal treat for a good long time.  Or at least until, according to another story, in the 18th century a lady at court, who had lost a good deal of money at cards, sold the secret to a baker in Richmond.  As with many culinary legends these events are likely apocryphal but they do make for a good story over a nice cup of tea.

maidsAnd that is where they next make their appearance in the history of cookery: in a tea shop.  In 1850 Robert Newens, a young apprentice pastry-cook, took note of their popularity in Richmond  and open a refreshment stop on the road to Kew Gardens serving tea and the royal sweetmeat.   The little tarts were so popular he named his shop after them.  It is only recently that the Newen family ceased to be involved with the The Original Maids of Honour.

Though they have made some controversial changes to the “original” it seems that the Newens family guard the recipe as carefully as did the Royal Gourmand.  Fortunately other cooks are not as secretive and there seem to be as many variations out there as there have been Maids of Honour in the Royal household since Old Coppernose* first consumed them.

The one below is from Traditional Teatime Recipes, a National Trust book  by tea expert Jane Pettigrew  – a compilation from tea rooms at Trust sites throughout the country.  It is unusual in that it is the only one I found that includes cold mashed potatoes in the filling.  This was not unknown as a thickener and filler in many Renaissance recipes – so this may very well be “the original”.

Maids of Honour  – makes 24 tarts

450g (1lb) shortcrust pastry

100g (4oz) curd cheese

75g (3oz) butter, softened

2 eggs, beaten

65ml (2½fl oz) brandy

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) cold mashed potatoes

25g (1oz) ground almonds

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Grated rind of 2 lemons

Juice of 1 lemon

If making your pastry, chill for at least 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease 24 patty tins.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry and cut 24 circles using a 7.5cm( 3in) cutter. Use to line the prepared patty tins. Beat together the curd cheese and butter. Add the beaten eggs, brandy and sugar and beat again. In a separate bowl beat together the mashed potatoes, ground almonds, nutmeg, lemon rind and juice, and gradually mix in the cheese mixture. Beat thoroughly.

Spoon into the pastry cases and bake for 35–40 minutes until risen, golden and firm.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 5–10 minutes before lifting carefully on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Traditional Teatime Recipes – Jane Pettigrew

Once the frenzy of cooking for Thanksgiving is over I’m going to give these a try.

*I had never seen this sobriquet applied to  Henry VIII but it was used derisively by the populace when in 1544 he debased the coinage by reducing the silver content to one third. This had an unfortunate effect: the silver on the nose of his high relief image wore off revealing the copper beneath. This example from the Metropolitan Museum collection seems to be in good condition – on the nose at least.

Henry VIII – Half Groat 1544-47 The Metropolitan Museum NYC

On this day in 1906: San Francisco public school board sparks a diplomatic crisis between the United States and Japan by ordering Japanese students to be taught in racially segregated schools.

Spaghetti Frittata – From Our Christmas Pot Luck

The gang at work did a pot-luck lunch today so I thought I’d bring a touch of Italy to the festivities with a spaghetti frittata.  I first had this quintessential Neapolitan dish at Leon d’Oro, a quintessential Neapolitan trattoria in Piazza Dante.  My friend Wendy loving and accurately described this friendly family run restaurant, that she visited last month,  over at Flavor of Italy.

This is a great way to use up left-over spaghetti, vegetables or whatever catches your fancy.  Its a good buffet dish, a lunch/brunch dish with a salad or as a primi for a more elaborate dinner.

1/2 lb of spaghetti*
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
Fresh ground pepper
Other ingredients can be added – almost anything that you would normally use with spaghetti – bacon, cooked zucchini, roast peppers, basil, canned tomatoes or left-over tomato sauce. 

  1. Cook spaghetti until just slightly al dente – it will undergo further cooking later.
  2. Drain and toss while still hot with butter, Parmesan and parsley and allow to cool completely
  3. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl with salt and pepper
  4. Add the beaten eggs to the spaghetti and mix thoroughly
  5. If you are using other ingredients they should be added and thoroughly mixed in at this point.
  6. Spray a 11-12 inch non-stick skillet with Pam or 2 tablespoons of butter and heat over a medium burner until foam subsides.
  7. Pour mixture into skillet and spread to an even thickness over the bottom of the pan.
  8. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes without touching the pan.  The tilt the pan slightly and bring the edge closer to the centre of the heat.  Cook for  minute or so and then rotate the pan about a 1/4 turn and cook for another minute.  Continue until a full circle has been completed.  This will make sure it is cooked evenly. Lift the edge with a spatula to see if a nice golden crust has formed on the underside.
  9. Place a platter slightly larger than the pan upside down over the pan and turn it over.  Let the frittata plop onto the plater.  Grease the pan again and side the frittata back into the pan.  
  10. Repeat the cooking process above until the second side has formed a good golden crust.
  11. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges.  

It can be served hot, lukewarm or at room temperature but never just out of the refrigerator.

23 dicembre/decembre – San Giovanni da Kety

Marco’s Mother’s Pastiera – Day 2

I was so exhausted from all my culinary efforts – and you will notice there are no photos of the disaster area that was the kitchen or the pastry that had to be scraped off the walls – that though this was meant to be posted yesterday (Friday) I only got around to it today.

In the old days, back when I was an acolyte, I would have been at church by 0900 this morning if not earlier. This morning I was up at 0900 attempting to make short crust pastry for the next step in Marco’s Mother’s Pastiera. I was using lard rather than butter – good old fashioned pork fat that they sell in the stores here not the “vegetable” shortening that we get back in Canada. I had forgotten that it does have a “porcine” smell until it has cooked. That was my first surprise of the morning.

Once the pastry was made and set in the fridge to chill it was time to pick up Marco’s Mother’s recipe where I left off yesterday. The Good Friday portion of the process if you will.

The ingredients for the filling:  6 eggs – seperated; 2 bottles of fiori d’arancia; the ricotta/sugar mixture and the boiled grano prepared yesterday; candied fruit and 4 packets of vanilla powder.

Preheat the oven to 180c. Remove the ricotta-sugar and boiled grano mixtures from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.Separate 6 eggs.Beat the yolks and incorporate them into the ricotta-sugar mixture.

Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer – surprise #2: I couldn’t find our electric mixer, I’m sure we have one but… so I used the whisk – until they form soft peaks. (It only took 7 or 8 minutes with the whisk and actually did wonders in releasing a few aggressions I’d built up.) Fold them well into the ricotta-sugar-yolk mixture. Add the boiled grano-cream and mix well.

Add 4 sachets of vanilla, 3 bottles of fiori d’arancia – surprise #3 just before I started this step a blast of Robin Hood’s horn on my iPhone announced that I had a message from Marco.  He had seen yesterday’s post and noticed I was using the large size of fiori d’arancia and hold off on 3 bottles – just make it 2 and see how strong the smell of orange blossom was.  If I felt it needed more than add the 3rd!!!! Mix well.  Then add the candied fruit and mix well. Note to self:  next time maybe toss them in a bit of flour so they don’t sink to the bottom!  Mix well.

Roll out the pastry (thin) and fit into a baking dish that has been buttered and floured lightly. Make sure you have enough pastry to cut the decorative strips that are essential for a proper Pastiera. Pour the batter in – during cooking the pastiera will grow so it’s important not to overfill the pan. Surprise #4 – I had a whole lot of batter left over!!!! A quick message to Marco to ask exactly how big a pastiera his mother’s recipe makes? The reply: one or maybe two pans of normal size. Thank you Marco! Thankfully I had made enough pastry for two but ended up making another lot as its seems that maybe just maybe Mother Marco’s recipe can make three!!!!

Cut 6 strips of pastry and make a diamond pattern – if they sink in a bit don’t worry it is okay!

Bake in preheated oven for two hours (more or less). Do not open the oven – surprise #5 he tells me this in an e-mail after I’ve opened the oven twice to look!  Once they are cooked – you can tell because the filling will be puffed up and golden brown, mine only took about 90 minutes – turn off the oven and do not – repeat – do not remove until the oven has completely cooled down!  Surprise #6 – this came in a message just before I was going to remove them.

By this time the entire apartment was filled with the smell of orange blossoms, Lionel and Laurent said they could smell it in the lobby downstairs.  Surprise #7 – they came out looking like pastiera!

Now of course they have to be left for 48 hours – covered but not in the refrigerator – NEVER in the refrigerator!!!!! – and presented at pranzo on Easter Sunday.

That will be surprise #8 – will it actually taste the way it should???  And the tasters will be a table of Italians including at least two Napoletani!!!!!!

23 aprile – San Giorgio

I Eat Like A Bird

Or so Laurent tells me; and to be honest quite often I do leave a portion of a meal unfinished. Its not that I don’t enjoy it or that I wasn’t hungry just that I can only eat so much and then: basta! Enough!

Take last Friday afternoon at Triangel, a popular gasthaus, near the Festpeilhaus in Salzburg. I had resisted ordering Wiener Schnitzel since arriving in Austria the previous Sunday – I mean its so predictable. But the warm atmosphere on a cold day and the fact that the lady seated next to me – this is the sort of place where you share tables – had one that looked great wore down my resistance to things traditional. So a Schniztel with garlic-parsley potatoes, wild cranberry sauce and a half litre of beer were ordered and in due course set down in front of me.

When I arose from the table here’s what was left:

Now before you scold me for not finishing my plate let me explain that what I left behind was about 1/3 of what I had been served. I think I did pretty damned good for someone who “eats like a bird”.

Though I do almost wish that I had left room for a desert – I would have particularly liked to have tried that last item on the sweets menu! I’m still trying to figure that one out. (left click for a closer look)

And speaking of sharing tables – as we were finishing off our meal two of my favourite singers came in to the restaurant – apparently it is a bit of an artists hang-out because its near the theatres, its inexpensive and its good. Philippe Jarousky, the French counter tenor came in and sat opposite us followed minutes later by the German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff who asked – in a voice as deep as the one he projects on stage – if the place next to me was free. Then a friend at another table motioned him over to join them and my opportunity to break bread – a very good rye Laurent tells me – with one of my musical idols passed.  He ever graciously said thank you and then sat behind me and proceed to order …  schnitzel!

31 gannaio – Santa Marcella di Roma