Handy Tomato Recipes From A Celebrity Chef

Scott Conant, renowned chef and host of the Food Network series 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, shares some of his favorite tomato recipes with guest host Jacki Lyden.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Tomatoes are ubiquitous in Italian cuisine, and renowned chef Scott Conant joins us now with some of his favorite tomato recipes. He's the owner of the Italian restaurants Scarpetta and Faustina, and the host of the Food Network's prime time series "24 Hour Restaurant Battle." And he joins us on the phone from Toronto where he's opening another restaurant.

Congratulations, Chef Scott.

Mr. CONANT: Thank you very much for having me.

LYDEN: Now, we're speaking to you as an expert in Italian cooking, so I'd imagine you know a thing or two about tomatoes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONANT: I'd like to think so. I, you know, the thing I love most about tomatoes is the versatility. A good tomato raw, with a little bit of salt and a touch of olive oil, is just one of the world's most simple pleasures, for me. But also, when you cook them, they take on such a different form and really full-flavored.

LYDEN: So what are some of your favorite tomato dishes?

Mr. CONANT: One of the things that we're really known for is a very simple tomato sauce - spaghetti with tomato and basil. And we take those tomatoes and we peel them and seed them, and then we just cook them for about 45 minutes with a little bit of salt and infuse the olive oil with garlic, basil and crushed red pepper, and then we very simply crush it with one of those big potato mashers that you see. And then we just serve it with a little spaghetti that we toss and add a touch of basil to, a little Parmesan cheese. And its one of those dishes that people come back to the restaurant for all the time.

What I love about tomatoes in general is that you can do something so simple with them and achieve such a great product with it.

LYDEN: You know, your recipe got my mouth watering. But I was thinking of a friend of mine who has a similar recipe that she makes, and she's Italian-American, but she doesnt cook the tomato. And I guess the garlic almost kind of cooks it. Its just tons of garlic in her recipe.

Mr. CONANT: Wow. That sounds delicious.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONANT: (Unintelligible) with pasta?

LYDEN: Yes, of course.

Mr. CONANT: There's also a very traditional tomato pasta recipe called Pasta LaCaka(ph). And what they do is they take beautiful tomatoes and they cut them into maybe half inch dice and they mix it with a little bit of mozzarella, good extra virgin olive oil, a little bit of sea salt, and torn fresh basil. And they'll keep that in a bowl, room temperature cold. And then they'll take hot pasta and just toss that directly inside a bowl. And then it's served and eaten straight away. And its just a beautiful summer dish, I think.

LYDEN: It sounds like Italy's got to be a place you go to a lot for tomato fare.

Mr. CONANT: Yeah. You know, its unique because the tomato isn't indigenous to Italy, which some might think it would be. It was introduced to Italy from the New World. I just think the Italians seemed to have mastered tomatoes. So even though it's not indigenous to that area, it really seems like they own it outright at this point.

LYDEN: I'd agree. Chef Scott Conant owns the Italian restaurants Scarpetta and Faustina. He's also the host of Food Network's "24 Hour Restaurant Battle." And he joined on the phone from Toronto. Last night he opened a new Scarpetta in Toronto.

Thanks so much for taking some time with us.

Mr. CONANT: Thank you so much for having me on.

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