Frank Falcinelli (left) and Frank Castronovo
Frank Falcinelli (left) and Frank Castronovo
There is nothing like a summer tomato — red and plump and plucked right off the vine so the juices inside are still slightly warm from the sun.
But by the second week of August, even the most ardent tomato aficionados find that they have too much of a good thing — if they are growing tomatoes in the yard or if they can't resist the urge to fill up their baskets when they head to the farmers market.
So what do you do with the tower of summer tomatoes stacked on your kitchen counter or ripening on your windowsill?
Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, who own a popular Brooklyn restaurant called Frankies Spuntino, have some tips for incorporating tomatoes into everything from breakfast to dessert. Along with Peter Meehan, they have just published a new cookbook, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual.
"After seeing the best of the best around the world, we realized that what we had growing up — simple, southern Italian, even peasant food, was amazing," Castronovo tells NPR's Michele Norris. "It had everything: The nutrition, the flavor, the freshness, the simplicity, the love, it was all in there. And we took the lessons that we learned and the experience that we had and we applied it to Grandma's food."
The book is a guide for people to get that flavor, Falcinelli says. The idea is "not to be like the gimmicky Italian red sauce thing, like 'Hey, I'm going to cook some Italian today.' These are really serious recipes that work," he says. "We serve thousands of people a week that love the food, that come back for it, and the best thing about the book is you can re-create it at home and you can realize how good it is and how inexpensive it is at home."
To enjoy tomatoes at breakfast, Falcinelli suggests topping them with a little bit of sugar, honey and a sprinkle of cracked pepper, so "it doesn't feel like you're eating something savory in the wrong time period." For lunch, Castronovo suggests the tomato and avocado salad — especially because it's easy. "We're all about easy, practical, utilitarian," he says. Later in the day, you could try a spaghetti with crabs or meatballs with tomato sauce. And then, for dessert, the tomato granite.
At the end of August, Falcinelli and Castronovo suggest canning or jarring the tomatoes so you can have them in the winter.
"They taste good all year long," Castronovo says. "It's like a little reminder of what that day was like in August when it was hot — how beautiful it was."
Frank Falcinelli loves to say that this salad "makes gazpacho in your mouth." It's funny, because there are no avocados in gazpacho, but true because the experience of eating it — it's all lush and creamy with superfresh tomato flavor — is gazpacho-like. The sting and the acid from the raw onion keep it from going flabby.
2 large ripe tomatoes 1 small (or 1/2 medium) red onion, thinly sliced Fine sea salt 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 Hass avocados Freshly ground black pepper
1. Core the tomatoes and slice into wedges. Combine with the sliced onion, a large pinch of salt, and the olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Gently toss, and divide among four serving plates.
2. Halve, pit, peel, and slice the avocados and divide among the four plates. Sprinkle the avocado with a small pinch of salt and drizzle each plate with a little olive oil. Finish with a few grinds of black pepper just before the salad goes to the table.
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more to finish the dish 3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped Two 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, or 8 cups tomato sauce (with meatballs recipe, below) 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley Large pinch (or two) of red pepper flakes 8 meaty blue crabs Fine sea salt 2 pounds spaghetti 1 cup fresh basil leaves Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a wide, deep pot over medium-high heat. After a minute or so, add the garlic and cook it for a minute or two, just until it's fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, parsley, and red pepper flakes, stir well, and bring to a simmer. Let the sauce cook while you clean the crabs.
2. Turn the heat under the pot up to high, add the crabs, and wait for the sauce to come to a boil. When it does, turn the heat down, medium to medium low, so the sauce simmers gently. After 30 minutes or so, remove the crabs from the tomato sauce and put them in a large, deep serving bowl. Cover to keep warm.
3. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well.
4. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook it for a minute less than its package directs: crab sauce likes extra-al-dente pasta. Drain the pasta.
5. Put the pasta on a large serving platter and dress it with a generous hit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Tear the basil leaves in halves or thirds and scatter them over the pasta. Season it with as much black pepper as you can stand. Serve the crabs on the side of the pasta (with another bowl for the shells) and have plenty of napkins around.
4 slices bread (2 packed cups' worth) 2 pounds ground beef 3 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano, plus about 1 cup for serving 1/4 cup raisins 1/4 cup pine nuts 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt 15 turns white pepper 4 large eggs 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs Tomato sauce (see below)
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Put the fresh bread in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it soak for a minute or so. Pour off the water and wring out the bread, then crumble and tear it into tiny pieces.
2. Combine the bread with all the remaining ingredients except the tomato sauce in a medium mixing bowl, adding them in the order they are listed. Add the dried bread crumbs last to adjust for wetness: The mixture should be moist wet, not sloppy wet.
3. Shape the meat mixture into handball-sized meatballs and space them evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The meatballs will be firm but still juicy and gently yielding when they're cooked through. (At this point, you can cool the meatballs and hold them in the refrigerator for as long as a couple of days or freeze them for the future.)
4. Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a saute pan large enough to accommodate the meatballs comfortably.
5. Dump the meatballs into the pan of sauce and nudge the heat up ever so slightly. Simmer the meatballs for half an hour or so (this isn't one of those cases where longer is better) so they can soak up some sauce. Keep them there until it's time to eat.
Use good Italian canned tomatoes and high-quality olive oil when making this sauce, and take your time — there's no rushing it. When you're cooking the garlic, you want to very, very slowly convert the starches in it to sugars and then to caramelize those sugars. Slow and steady. Then get the tomatoes in and let them simmer. Not a ton happens over the four hours — no epic deepening of color or furious reduction — but it cooks as much water out of the tomatoes as possible without turning them into tomato paste.
Makes about 3 quarts
1 cup olive oil 13 cloves garlic One 96-ounce can (or, if you can find it, 1-kg) or four 28-ounce cans Italian tomatoes Large pinch of red pepper flakes 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large deep saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring or swirling occasionally, until the garlic is deeply colored — striations of deep brown running through golden cloves — and fragrant. If the garlic starts to smell acrid or sharp or is taking on color quickly, pull the pan off the stove and reduce the heat.
2. While the garlic is getting golden, deal with the tomatoes: Pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands. We like to pull out the firmer stem end from each of the tomatoes as we crush them and discard those along with the basil leaves that are packed into the can.
3. When the garlic is just about done, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and cook them for 30 seconds or a minute, to infuse their flavor and spice into the oil. Dump in the tomatoes, add the salt, and stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, get the sauce simmering at a gentle pace, not aggressively, and simmer for 4 hours. Stir it from time to time. Mother it a little bit.
4. Check the sauce for salt at the end. The sauce can be cooked with meat at this point, or stored, covered, in the fridge for at least 4 days or frozen for up to a few months.
2 pounds of fresh ripe summer heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. (Do this on a plate to try to save as much juice from the tomato cleaning process as possible) 1 1/2 cup simple syrup or agave 1 sprig of lemon thyme Aged balsamic vinegar
Puree tomatoes in a blender until very smooth. Add simple syrup or agave, blend again.
Strain through a chinois or fine sieve into a bowl, and refrigerate until cold. Stir one more time and then freeze.
To serve: Using an ice shaver or potato peeler, shave the granite into small bowls, sprinkle some brown sugar, garnish with lemon thyme leaves, drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar.
Recipes excerpted from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo, and Peter Meehan (Artisan Books). Copyright 2010.