MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NORRIS: There's 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 - good stuff. 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 local farmers' market.
So today, we're going to serve up a little advice on what do to do with the tower of summer tomatoes so many of us have stacked on kitchen counters or ripening on our windowsills.
For help, we've turned to a couple of guys named Frank. Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo own a popular Brooklyn restaurant called Frankies Spuntino. Along with Peter Meehan, they have just published a new cookbook called "The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual." Hello, Frank, hello, Frank, welcome to both of you.
Mr. FRANK CASTRONOVO (Co-owner, Frankies Spuntino): Thanks for having us.
Mr. FRANK FALCINELLI (Co-owner, Frankies Spuntino): Happy to be here.
NORRIS: I hope this will be a frank conversation.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: We'll be frank as we can.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: Both of you have worked in all kinds of restaurants. You've worked in sort of high-end, top-dollar, white-tablecloth restaurants, the kind of restaurants where people go to celebrate big events and spend a lot of money in doing so.
What are you trying to do with this restaurant, with Frankies Spuntino, and with the book?
Mr. CASTRONOVO: We wanted to share what we had been brought up with, which is after seeing the best of the best around the world, we realized that what we had growing up, you know, simple, southern Italian, even peasant food, was amazing.
And 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.
NORRIS: And you say Grandma never broke a sweat, and neither should you.
Mr. FALCINELLI: Yeah, and if you could imagine, you know, doing that with a restaurant, the idea with the book was really to have a guide for people to get that grandma flavor in their home, you know, anytime for their family or their friends or their loved ones and to be able to, you know, have those go-to recipes that really work.
You know, if I want to make the braciole or the tomato sauce, or if I want to live like an Italian, or if I want to redux my Italian recipes and then not to be like the gimmicky Italian red sauce thing, like: Hey, I'm going to cook some Italian today.
You know, these are really serious recipes that work. You know, we serve thousands of people a week that love the food, that come back for it. And from the book, you can recreate it at home, and you can realize how good it is and how inexpensive it is at home.
NORRIS: So Frank Falcinelli, is this a season of opportunity or a season of responsibility for you when you've got all these tomatoes?
Mr. FALCINELLI: It's the opportunity. You really want to just eat it all. It's like picking the money tree. You want to eat as much tomatoes, but you also realize that you can't eat them all. So you need to start canning them, or jarring them as we do in our case.
Frank Castronovo is big on, you know, towards the end of the summer, leading the brigade and getting everybody psyched up to work with hot water and jars for a couple days, getting them put up for the winter.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Yeah, they taste good all year long. It's like a little reminder of what that day was like in August and when it was hot, and how beautiful it was.
NORRIS: So let me ask you what people who have all these tomatoes could do if they want to prepare dishes for the here and now, and maybe we could go through a day. Let's start with tomatoes for breakfast. Frank Falcinelli, what should we do if we want to tick through some of those tomatoes at the breakfast table?
Mr. FALCINELLI: I like actually putting sugar and pepper on tomatoes if I'm going to eat them before 10 o'clock. So I'll sprinkle it with a little bit of sugar, a little bit of honey, a little drizzle, and then a crack of pepper or some crushed red pepper. So it doesn't feel like you're eating something that's...
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Savory.
Mr. FALCINELLI: ...savory in the wrong time period, like what happens when you put pineapple and pepper, or you put salt on watermelon. You know, you get a juxtaposition in your mind of eating something that isn't normally eaten as a savory or sweet product.
NORRIS: Okay, Frank Castronovo, you've got lunch. What are we serving up?
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Well, that's the perfect time for the tomato and avocado salad, which Frank coined the phrase "gazpacho in the mouth." It's fresh tomatoes from the garden, juicy, delicious and sweet, avocados, onions, salt and pepper, olive oil. There you have it.
NORRIS: And easy.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Yeah, we're all about easy. We're all about practical, utilitarian recipes that everybody can make. You don't need to be a four-star chef.
Mr. FALCINELLI: Yeah, if you're driving home from work right now, you could be listening to this. Think about the tomatoes. Think about the onion. Think about the avocado. Stop and pick it up. Go into the garden, grab the olive oil, and in 10 minutes, you and your family or your girlfriend or your wife or whatever are eating a delicious something.
NORRIS: So let's move on to dinner. And I guess in our ping-pong tomato game, Frank Falcinelli, we're back to you.
Mr. FALCINELLI: We're serving the crab pasta. It's an anticipated favorite of Frank and myself and our partners Tony and Travis and the guys. We love when the fresh crabs, the young crabs come in in the beginning of August.
It's very Neapolitan that, you know, you take in those crabs, and you're just sweating it in a little bit of olive oil. You're adding the tomatoes on top. You're cooking maybe for 25, 30 minutes for a quick infusion of that delicious ocean flavor, and then you're taking the crabs out and picking the meat and cooking a fresh pound of pasta or - I mean, we cook fresh pasta at the restaurant, but you could easily make it with dry pasta, al dente, and then you mix it with the sauce and fresh olive oil and salt and pepper, and you're in heaven.
NORRIS: So how are you cooking the crab? Are you actually cooking it in the sauce, or do you cook the crab ahead of time?
Mr. FALCINELLI: Yeah, we're cooking in the sauce, and as Frank always says, we cook everything in tomato sauce, and we use it in this sense as an infusion technique as opposed to the braciole. When we're cooking the braciole in there, which is a rolled-up piece of pork, basically, we slow braise it for its tenderizing effect, where you wind up with a delicious, pork-infused gravy.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Yeah.
Mr. FALCINELLI: You wind up with a delicious crab-infused sauce.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Yeah, the beauty of crab or any fish is that it infuses its full potential in a short period of time, whereas a meat will take a long time to really get the flavors in there.
The crab is in season at the same time as the tomato. So it's natural for them to be together.
NORRIS: Now, Frank Castronovo, you get the bonus round. Can we figure out how to serve tomatoes in a dessert?
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Well, we can, actually. There's an amazing ice cream or actually not an ice. It's a granita.
Mr. FALCINELLI: Delicious.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: It's so delicious. You're basically just pureeing the tomato with water and adding some sugar, and then you're freezing that, and you're scraping it over a piece of bread. It's almost like the a.m. dish, but it's frozen and sweet.
NORRIS: Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. FALCINELLI: Thank you so much for having us.
Mr. CASTRONOVO: Thanks for having us.
NORRIS: Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo are the authors of a new cookbook called "The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual." If you'd like to try any of the dishes they just talked about, grab your tomatoes and head to our website. You'll find recipes for tomato granita, tomato avocado salad and spaghetti with crab. That's at npr.org.