Carbo Loading

Recently, my husband and I have both challenged ourselves to doing new things. My challenge has been this blog and I’m feeling pretty good about things thus far. Ironically, while my challenge has been about cooking, eating and sitting on my couch, writing, his has been a little more active.

My husband is one of those people that is notoriously difficult to shop before because he never seems to want or need anything (don’t worry, I balance that out quite well.) The famous story involves a shopping trip when he was a child. His grandmother took him and his sister shopping and told them that they could pick out one toy each. His response: “no thank you grandma, I don’t need anything.” His sister, who is a little more like me, took the opportunity to ask if that would enable her to get two gifts!  For this reason, I always try to note when he says he likes something so that I can add it to my list for birthdays and holidays and so that I can tell others what he would like.

This past Christmas, we decided to keep gifts very low key. After a lovely dinner and small gifts, my father-in-law called everyone into the kitchen for one last gift. I assumed it was something for his wife, but we walked into the kitchen to see a huge, bulky item covered with a sheet. He then announced that he wanted to give his son something that he had not had the opportunity to give him as a child–he lifted the sheet and exposed a beautiful Trek bike with clipless pedals for a serious bike rider. Now, my husband has always enjoyed cycling (and we have numerous bikes and bike parts in our basement to prove it.) His father, on the other hand, is a cycling fanatic. He is in amazing shape and competes in races and triathlons on a regular basis. In fact, he just placed second at a triathlon this weekend. What an inspiration! My husband was extremely touched by this gesture and thus set out to learn how to ride this new style of bike (clipless pedals are the type that you have to buy a special shoe that clips onto the pedals and is supposed to create a smoother and more powerful ride. I’m still not sure why they’re called clipless though.)

This isn’t really reading like a food blog, is it…

Fast forward to this summer. My husband has mastered the clipless technique and has been going on long rides 4-5 days per week. When he saw an advertisement for the Gran Fondo, he knew it was something that he wanted to attempt. Gran Fondo is Italian for big ride and it is an “Italian-style mass ride” with increments of 30, 60 and 100 miles. My husband decided to attempt the 60 mile course. For days in advance, he prepared his body, including hydrating, no drinking and getting plenty of sleep. The night before the ride, it was carbo loading time (cut back to food blogging.)

One of the most amazing pasta dishes I’ve ever made has been a fresh angel hair pasta tossed with local baby arugula, heirloom tomatoes and fresh chevre from Green Aisle Grocery, an awesome little grocery on Passyunk Avenue. If you haven’t been there, check it out! The owners, Adam and Andrew Erace are super nice and the store is dog friendly. You can’t beat that! They’re also the only store in the city at which you can buy Zahav hummus. YUM! Anyway, I was hoping to recreate the pasta dish but didn’t get a chance to stop at Green Aisle before dinner so I made do with what I had.

I started by roasting grape tomatoes in the oven at 400′ with lots of garlic and olive oil for about 30 minutes. The picture isn’t the best, but the caramelization that occurs in the oven is absolutely out of this world (not to mention the smell!) You also end up with a sort of tomato-infused olive oil. I know it’s the height of tomato season so please don’t hate on me for using grape tomatoes that probably came from somewhere far away. We usually eat tomatoes from the Farmers Market only, but there’s something about roasted grape tomatoes that drives me crazy–and the sale at Iovine’s didn’t hurt either.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I boiled water for the capellini and prepared my greens. I used baby arugula and some sort of impulse buy microgreen mix from Iovine’s. Aren’t the microgreens gorgeous?

After draining the pasta, I simply tossed in the greens and mixed until they were slightly wilted.

Then I added the tomatoes

Oh wait, can’t forget the cheese. Goat cheese makes everything taste better.

Top it with a generous splash of olive oil from Fattoria Fibbiano, the amazing agriturismo where we were engaged in 2008, and we were ready to eat!

The next day, my husband woke up early and joined almost 2,000 of his closest friends to ride the challenging 63 mile course. He finished the hilly ride in just over 5 1/2 hours and I couldn’t be more proud.

Scalloped Tomatoes

Ever since I saw this post on Tom Foodlery’s blog, I’ve been interested in the idea of making a tomato-y bread pudding. I’m not normally the biggest tomato fan in the world, but there’s just something magical about market fresh tomatoes in the height of the summer. Coincidentally, a few days after I filed that in my mental “to make” list, I came across this post on Smitten Kitchen. It was kismet. I was destined to make this dish. At Sunday’s visit to the Headhouse Market, we picked up a large container of tomatoes from…I forget which vendor. They were very nice and I enjoyed our informative conversation about where I got my shirt (Old Navy) and how to best store corn (moist, in the fridge.)

I intended to make the dish last night with a leafy green salad, but instead spent the night scrubbing our kitchen and storing all counter items in plastic tubs in preparation for the exterminator. Woo hoo! Instead of cooking, we ordered from Taqueria Los Jalapenos, which has–hands down–the best burritos in the area. We order from “Three Jalapenos” (that’s our nickname for the spot due to their website) a couple of times per month.

With a stale baguette and five ripe tomatoes in hand, I knew that tonight would be my make or break night for the Scalloped Tomatoes. Something you will come to learn about me is that I have difficulty following directions.  Whether it’s Ikea furniture (to my husband’s dismay,) speed limits or recipes, I always tend to find my own, shall we say, adaptation. This is one of the reasons that I have struggled with the concept of blogging my cooking. I will *almost* never be able to share an accurate recipe with my readers.

You have been forewarned. What follows is the recipe that I used as an outline. I will do my best to share my minor personalization of the dish as we go along.

Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
Adapted, only slightly, from Ina Garten (by Smitten Kitchen)

3 tablespoons olive oil (
2 cups bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed (I went closer to 3 cups and used a stale baguette from Acme)
2 1/2 pounds plum whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and stir so that they are evenly coated with oil. Cook cubes, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are toasted, add the tomato mixture and cook them together, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the basil. Fresh basil on top of this tomatoey goodness? Yes, please! This deserves its own photo.

Pour into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. I mixed some of the parm into the dish (probably about 2 tbsp) and topped it with panko as well. Why? Because that’s how I roll. This picture is pre-parm and panko crusted.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly.  It should look a little something like this.

If you’re so inclined, eat it with some fresh (stored moist and in the fridge) corn and a leafy green salad. But only if you’re so inclined.

Smitten Kitchen also suggests topping it with a poached egg for brunch. Too bad I won’t get a chance to do that. Maybe next time. This dish was well received by all (my husband and myself, that is.) We enjoyed the opportunity to try summer’s bounty in a new and unique iteration. I especially loved crunch that remained on some of the croutons while others got a little soggier with tomato yumminess. The basil also imparted yet another reminder of summer. I was too lazy to snip herbs from out front (basil is kept out back, the rest are out front. Don’t ask.) but would probably add some fresh oregano and thyme next time around. Or maybe not–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Overall, scalloped tomatoes receive an enthusiastic 2 thumbs up!