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Play with your food

September 26, 2013
Tomato conserva salad dressing on heirloom tomatoes

Tomato conserva salad dressing on heirloom tomatoes

I had the most delicious experience last week. My vegetarian daughter was in town and we checked off an item on our bucket list and dinned at the very veggie centered restaurant, “Natural Selection” in Portland. This restaurant has been on our list for a while since it received many awards shortly after its opening in March of 2011. Now many of you might know that drawing attention in the abundant Portland culinary scene is impressive, but to get this highest praise and be a vegetarian restaurant…. Astounding.

The distinguishing feature about Natural Selection is that the dishes are all vegetable based, which is different than vegetarian, but kinda the same. Let me explain… the dishes are comprised solely of veggies, not tofu, tempeh, grains or any manner of vegetarian “protein”. They are made completely of local veggies in colorful and delicious combinations. You can tell the chef Aaron Woo has fun developing these playful dishes and it is paying off, the place is wildly popular.

This is an indication of an undercurrent that has been surging forward in the culinary scene for a while. Chefs are getting into playing with veggies and not just treating them as a “side” dish. Now I’m not talking about whipping up a salad or steaming some groovy haricort verts with goat cheese to be on the side, nay, we are talking vegetables as a main dish, presented in the same glory and love as a hunk of prime rib.

Some of the veggie centered dishes I have had the pleasure of enjoying lately are eggplant fritters with zucchini “noodles” in an orange heirloom tomato sauce, grilled cauliflower steaks with olive and tomato relish or how about the cucumber avocado salad with edamame, togarashi and nori, then the astounding nettle and chestnut croquettes. Humm, I’m drooling. Who says eating veggies has to be boring??

This time of year it is easy to get creative with all the abundance of veggies dancing around us. This has been a fine year for tomatoes (finally!) and boy oh boy have I been having fun with all the delicious heirloom tomatoes that are glutting the farmer’s market. They have been a part of almost every meal served in our house for the last two weeks. Ah, why oh why is it such a short season?? Every time I eat one of these colorful and tasty delights, I morn just a bit at how it won’t be much longer.

Then I read an article in “Fine Cooking” on how to save the season with slow roasting tomatoes in a bit of olive oil and garlic. I decided to give it a try and was more than pleasantly surprised! The tomatoes are deep and richly flavored with an intense “tomatoey” taste that might rival a fresh tomato. They are easy to chop and add to anything that you want to add a flavor kick to like salads, pizza, polenta, eggs, in sandwiches and on your ice cream. (Well maybe not the ice cream)

Making these flavor nuggets is easy but takes about 4 hours of slow roasting, so take that into account, but they are worth it! This Friday is the last farmer’s market, so get down there, stock up on sun filled tomatoes and make some tomato conversa to play with and save some summer in the freezer.

Tomatoes conserva

Tomatoes conserva

Tomato Conserva
These rock. You can use them up on anything you like. I like them chopped and added to salads or on steamed veggies.
4 pounds of juicy red tomatoes like beefsteak
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced into thin pieces
1/3 cup of high quality olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

First off, buy your organic tomatoes at the farmer’s market and revel in their beauty. When you are ready, position the racks in the oven to the top of the oven. Turn on the oven and heat it up to 350 degrees. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick rounds and place in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle the oil over the red ripe beauties so they are all oiled, place a slice of garlic on some of the tomatoes then sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the oven.

Lower the heat to 225 degrees and slowly roast 4-5 hours, only peeking in on them a few times to rotate the pans. The tomatoes will start to look wrinkly and like juicy sun dried tomatoes. Watch them closely towards the end as they can burn easily at that point. Let them cool for 10 minutes before using. Eat slowly and with relish. Will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week and frozen for up to a couple months. Longer if vacuum sealed.

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Heirloom tomatoes with tomato conserva salad dressing
The dressing is amazing and can be used on any salad. I really like to use the marinated fresh mozzarella bite sized balls in this salad. You can get them most anywhere. Fine cooking suggested burrata, which is a fresh mozzarella with soft creamy insides, but I haven’t found that in our small town anywhere.
The dressing
1/4 cup of tomato conserva, chopped
1/4 cup of Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper

The salad
1-2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 oz of fresh mozzarella or burrata
10 or so basil leaves, chiffonade
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon’s for serving

Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar with a tight lid and shake it up. Shake it good!
Layer the tomato slices on four salad plates and then add 2 oz of the cheese to each plate, sprinkle with the basil and sea salt, drizzle with the dressing and serve. Voila! Fun with veggie

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. LunaCafe permalink
    September 28, 2013 4:28 am

    Wonderful post, Dana! Love the emphasis on creative vegetable dishes. Can’t wait to try this restaurant and your tomato conserva dressing. Yum! :-)

    • ziabaki permalink*
      September 29, 2013 12:23 am

      It is yummy! Love Natural Selection! You will too.

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