I’m very suspicious of tomatoes. Even in July, I raise an eyebrow when I see a beautiful heirloom: “Nice try,” I’ll say. “But we all know you’re not at your best until August at the earliest, most likely September.”
But yesterday I journeyed to Cookbook in Echo Park (you’ll be hearing about that place a lot: it’s pretty much the best food store in L.A.), and there they were: tomatoes that seemed to be peak summer tomatoes. How did I know? The colors were bright, the textures had just the right amount of give, I popped a sungold into my mouth and it exploded with sunshine.
I’ve been really into tomatoes this summer. Every Sunday I’ve been going to the Atwater Village Farmer’s Market, buying some juicy heirlooms, and using them in sandwiches, salads, tomato baths, you get the idea. You might think that now that August is over, tomato season is on the way out… but you’d be wrong! Most chefs agree that the best tomatoes come in September and October. We’re entering PEAK tomato season.
So why am I sharing a recipe for a soup made with canned tomatoes? Answer: sometimes, even in peak tomato season, you feel a little fresh tomato fatigue. Just the words “farmer’s market” and “heirloom tomato” sound annoying on a Sunday morning when you’re hungover, laying on the couch, and happy to be watching PBS cooking shows while pretending to read The New York Times. When dinner rolls around, you don’t have anything except a few cans of tomatoes, an onion, garlic, and that leftover bread from a few days ago. That’s when PAPPA AL POMODORO comes to the rescue.
There’s a corn soup that you need to know about before the corn goes away and, sadly, the corn’s going away pretty soon. Grab some, OK? The sweet stuff. You’re about to make a corn soup that’s so good even people who hate corn soup–CRAIG’S PARENTS–will declare it wonderful. (I didn’t know Craig’s parents hated corn soup when I made this for them…more on that in a bit.) Confession: I took beautiful pictures of this recipe and the process of making it and then lost them, somehow, on the journey from my camera to my computer. So you’re stuck with these ones from my phone, but bear with me. It’s worth it.
Now, into the pantheon, comes this fried chicken which–as you’ll soon discover–has nothing to do with a specific recipe and everything to do with a piece of equipment that costs a minimal amount of money ($33.31 on Amazon) but makes all the difference in the world.
Look, I can’t pretend it’s autumn here in L.A. To be blunt: it’s as summery as it was in July, though the mornings and evenings are cooler. The telltale sign is what I’m seeing at the farmer’s market: sure, there’s kabocha squash–and I made a very excellent risotto out of it–but, way more present still are heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, basil and all of those sum sum summertime ingredients. If I were a disingenuous food blogger, I could pretend I was crunching through falling leaves, sipping cider and humming the theme from “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Instead, I’m going to share this amazing recipe from last week’s trip to the farmer’s market despite its unavoidable summeryness.
A few months ago–what seems like an eternity ago–Craig’s mom, Julee, asked if I’d be willing to donate a cookbook dinner for a charity auction to benefit the Whatcom Center for Early Learning in Bellingham, Washington, where she and Craig’s dad, Steve, live. I said, “Sure” and didn’t think twice about it. Of course I’d be happy to cook a dinner for charity, no biggie. Then I forgot all about it. Months passed and then Julee reached back out: the auction item was a big hit. Two couples had paid money (real money) for a meal that would be cooked by yours truly for them and four other people (they could each bring two more people) based on recipes from my cookbook SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS. This was really happening. Holy crap, what was I going to cook?
Very rarely does a chef get a 4-star review while a critic is still at the table, but in my case our resident critic (that would be Craig) exclaimed, on biting into the fish you see above, “This is seriously the best fish I’ve ever had in my life. You could charge $40 for this at a restaurant!”
You might think Craig was hyperbolizing, but when I bit in I felt the same way. And it wasn’t like I considered myself a big fish expert by any means; because good fish takes more effort to find than good chicken or good produce, I very rarely make it. This dinner was a total anomaly but because it turned out so terrific, I’m thinking it’ll become a regular weeknight staple for us. Why did it turn out so good? Let’s examine.