On a recent Sunday afternoon, reading on the deck in the shade (a warm September pleasure), stalling about cooking dinner, I thought I’d just sauté whatever the fridge contained (mostly).
Earlier on the radio I’d heard the “Splendid Table” host recommending sage as a fine garden plant with many culinary uses. Unlike thyme, which gets buried in my garden by rampant groundcovers or basil that refuses to live here – my sage plant is huge and old and perpetually produces velvety fresh leaves. The Splendid Table cook said sage can substitute for thyme, and she recommended fried sage leaves. (Kasper says to fry sage leaves in a “shimmer” of hot olive oil quickly, then place on a paper towel and sprinkle with coarse salt.)
That evening by the time we set the table (lighting candles for the first time in months), I thought oh I’ve turned some cooking corner toward Italy! Look at this dish – strozzapeti pasta in a pretty bowl covered with a vegetable sauté of Walla Walla onion, tiny summer squashes chopped, a handful of yellow beans also chopped, garlic, a huge, very ripe tomato added at the end, and fried sage crumbled on the top.
But I don’t get the credit – it goes to the Farmer’s Market or the CSA farmer. The meal seemed Italian and was delicious simply because it was made with such wonderful ingredients.
Trying for one more summer moment in this prolonged season, and because the mother of my young friend kept mentioning it (a memory of her time lived in Italy), I finally made “Pappa al Pomodoro.” My friend also rekindled my reading of Frances Mayes, and her book, “In Tuscany,” contains a recipe for “Pappa al Pomodoro.”
Mayes calls for two onions, one celery stalk with a few leaves, and one carrot – all finely chopped and sautéed in two or three tablespoons of olive oil.
Place eight slices of bread (I used ciabiatta) on top of the sautéed vegetables, and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, which makes the bread break apart, and simmer over low heat. As the bread quickly absorbs the water, add two cups more, then eight chopped and seeded tomatoes, 15-20 basil leaves, and salt and pepper. Simmer another 15 minutes.
You can imagine how this soup came to be, an Italian cook in September faced with a tabletop of ripe tomatoes, so it seems a fitting finale. Outdoors the light turns golden and autumnal now, and indoors the candlelight is golden and, just a little, Italian!