Potato, Tomato & Cheese – Oh, my!

March 25th, 2011 / Comments 3

It rained all day yesterday, a cold, gray, ‘can’t go out to play’ rain. I finished reading a mystery set in Victorian England, began reading a book set in Singapore in the mid 1940’s, played games with Matthew and Charles, and tried to comprehend what was happening in Japan via  an extraordinarily slow internet connection. Charles picked up a pizza for dinner and I went to sleep hoping that Monday would bring lots of sunshine and good news.

simple breakfast4 Potato, Tomato & Cheese   Oh, my!

Since I hadn’t been to the open-air market on Sunday and the small, nearby markets were closed, breakfast resources in the fridge and pantry were limited. Charles decided to stop for coffee and a pastry on his way to the library so it was just Matthew and me for breakfast. Although, there were no strawberries, bread, milk, cereal, eggs or yogurt in the kitchen, there was one banana, some fresh ricotta, two blood oranges, honey and a shaker of cinnamon that Matthew had brought with him from the UK. I carefully peeled and sliced the banana and oranges and arranged them on a plate, added a scoop of ricotta, topped the ricotta and oranges with honey and squeezed a bit of orange juice on to the banana before dusting it with cinnamon. There was enough sun to capture this colorful breakfast in a photograph before we ate it.

I went to the market looking for inspiration and ingredients. San Marzano plum tomatoes from Georgio were a start. I choose a few waxy new potatoes, a bunch of broccoli and spring onions from the vendor next to him. Unfortunately, he is so grumpy that I’ve never asked him his name. I think his canary’s name is Elvis because that’s what’s painted on the cage. My final stop was to get cheese. Andrea was serving samples to passers-by but stopped long enough to wrap a ball of fresh mozzarella for me. I hurried home with a clear plan and everything I needed for a wonderful veggie dinner – a potato and tomato torta and steamed broccoli seasoned with garlic and dried hot pepper flakes. I would create a new recipe for dinner. Unfortunately new does not always mean good. Here’s what I did:

Potato & Tomato Torta

I wanted the toaster oven to be medium hot but the numbers on the dial are too small to be useful so I turned the knob to nine o’clock. I washed three tomatoes, scrubbed three potatoes and cut them all into quarter inch slices. I made stacks by alternating tomato and potato slices and arranged the stacks in three horizontal rows in an aluminum baking pan. I sprinkled a thinly sliced green onion on top, added a generous sprinkle of dried oregano, fresh black pepper and drizzled a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on top. After the torta had been baking for forty minutes, I added two tablespoons of white wine to the pan. I topped the torta with thick slices of fresh mozzarella after it had baked for fifteen more minutes and turned the oven control to broil to melt the cheese. In three minutes the cheese was melted and the torta was ready.

I peeled the broccoli stems and steamed it while the torta baked. Matthew minced a few cloves of garlic, sauteed it along with a generous pinch of dried red pepper flakes in a tablespoon of olive oil. He tossed in the broccoli, cooked it for a couple of minutes and we were ready for a wondrous feast.

Charles poured the wine and lit the candles. It was instantly obvious that two spoons were not up to the task of scooping out the torta. The potatoes and tomatoes were swimming in a pool of unappetizing milky pink liquid and the mozzarella was forming meter long strings that I snipped with a pair of scissors.

Charles bravely tasted the liquid in the pan, and said with a grimace, “It tastes pretty bad, a bit burned. Here, have some.” We laughed at his comment, remembered other cooking experiments and made do with a dinner that was less than splendid. Two candy bars from the corner store meant that we didn’t go to bed hungry.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about what I should have done:

Baked Potatoes

I should have layered the raw potatoes in a baking pan, added two tablespoons of olive oil and a grind of pepper and baked them in a medium hot oven until they were tender and beginning to brown.  Adding wine to the potatoes made them mushy and it would have been better sipped between bites of crispy potato.

Tomato Mozzarella Salad

Rather than cooking the tomatoes with the potatoes, I should have arranged slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella on a platter and topped them with generous splashes of olive oil and fig flavored balsamic vinegar.  The texture and flavor of the uncooked tomatoes is a perfect foil for the creamy, fresh, un-stringy mozzarella.

Failure in the kitchen happens and it’s not the end of the world.  We had a good laugh, enough to eat and shared a meal I’ll never forget and won’t repeat.

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