There are only three more weeks until summer is officially over and I am desperately clinging onto this season's bounty of heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs, berries and stone fruits. It is during this time of year when the vibrant flavors of summer explode, the aroma of fresh herbs are more intense, the tomatoes are sweeter, and the variety is so extensive that there never seems to be enough time to explore all the possibilities in each year's harvest.
This brings me to my thoughts on home gardeners. The top thing I miss most about living in suburbia is having my own vegetable garden. I recall how deeply fulfilling it was to watch my strawberry patches proliferate, tomato plants thrive from the seeds I had carefully saved in the prior year, and the many flowers whose blooms would stretch out so wide I felt like I was receiving a hug every time I looked at them. It may seem odd to dote on plants, but as every avid gardener would agree, they can be very much like your children.
One other aspect that I enjoyed about being a home gardener was the opportunity to work with the Earth, touch it, feel it, smell it, and nurture it. It was also to me a miraculous experience to be able to watch an entire life cycle progress before my eyes. In many ways gardening is very similar to life with myriad risks and rewards, plants are a reflection of the respect, care and protection you give it. Each year brings new surprises and sometimes devastation, but at the end of all of it, you're wiser for it.
While I am absent a garden today, I continue to save seeds for my friends, celebrate in their successes, commiserate with their challenges, and savor those wonderful summer flavors vicariously during their harvest.
During this time of year, gardeners are likely harvesting tomatoes, eggplants and squash faster than they can give them away. I've created a pasta recipe that integrates these summer vegetables with the warmth of a popular Indian spice blend called garam marsala. If you have never tried this warm spice blend, a recipe is available here.
This recipe requires a bit of idle time as it calls for drying cherry tomatoes in the oven. If you're pressed for time you may use 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes reconstituted in hot water for 15 minutes. Otherwise this is a good method for preserving tomatoes, which can be stored in a jar with olive oil and placed in the refrigerator for a later date. The eggplant in this recipe is semi-dried drawing out its natural liquids to better soak up the flavors of the pasta sauce.
Mediterranean Eggplant and Tomatoes Pasta
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons capers
- 3-5 fillet anchovies, chopped
- 2 teaspoons garam marsala
- basil (optional)
- Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
- salt and pepper
- Rinse and dry the cherry tomatoes. Slice each fruit in half and place into a medium-size bowl. Drizzle roughly one tablespoons of olive oil over the tomatoes, and lightly sprinkle salt and pepper, and toss. Spread the tomato halves onto a cookie sheet, cut side up. Bake in the oven at 200 F for three hours on the bottom shelf.
- An hour before the tomatoes are done drying in the oven, slice the eggplants horizontally into 1/2-inch rings. Salt each side, and place flat on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet onto the top shelf of the oven with the tomatoes.
- Once the eggplants have been in the oven for roughly 30 minutes, remove them from the oven. Allow them to cool before dicing into 1/2-inch cubes. While you allow the eggplants to cool, dice the shallot finely and mince the garlic. Chop the anchovies coarsely.
- In a large saute pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and heat two tablespoons of olive oil until hot. Add the minced shallots and garlic, saute until the garlic is almost golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the anchovies, thyme, garam marsala, and dried tomatoes and continue to saute for another 2-3 minutes. If it gets too dry add another tablespoon of olive oil. When all of the flavors appear to have melded together, taste, and add salt and pepper accordingly. Toss in the diced eggplants and stir for another 2 minutes and turn off the heat. Also, don't be afraid to add more olive oil, the eggplant does a really good job of absorbing extra liquid, so a little extra oil may help.
- Serve over cooked pasta with an extra drizzle of olive, top with thinly sliced basil and grated fresh parmesan, if desired.