September, in a bowl
By now, you've probably heard about the blight that has ravaged this summer's tomato crop all over the Northeast. Called "late blight," this pernicious, highly contagious fungus is the same disease responsible for the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. It's no laughing matter. And yet, – farmers please forgive me – there’s something about the word itself that makes me giggle. "Blight." I can't say it without imagining myself in a petticoat and poke bonnet, fretting about things like dropsy and catarrh. Of course, the dreaded thought of a tomato-less summer snaps me right back to my jeans-and-t-shirt reality. Could summer even be summer without drippy tomato sandwiches on crusty bread? Without overlapping rounds of red and yellow heirlooms, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and sweet basil?
Thanks to the fine people at Kimball Farm, I may never know.
If late blight is big news here in New England (and I assure you, it is), the tomatoes at Kimball Farm didn't get the memo. Week after week, not a ten-minute walk from my apartment, flats of beautiful, healthy, tomatoes line the Kimball Farm stand at the Charles Square Farmers' Market. The staggering selection of heirlooms is enough to make you cast off your bonnets and petticoats and declare, "Blight, shmight!" This season, I've eaten Aussies, Green Zebras, Cherokee Purples, Black Cherries, and Pink Brandywines. My favorite, and Eli's too, are the Pineapple tomatoes. They're rich and meaty, blushing in rosy clouds over their bright yellow skins. Pineapple tomatoes are marbled all the way through with streaks of pink and orangey-red. Sometimes, when I slice into one at just the right angle, I feel as if I'm gazing at an early-morning sky, and not a refugee tomato that managed to escape the late blight of 2009.
A fat, shiny tomato on the kitchen counter is the most delicious excuse I can think of to avoid turning on the oven. This excuse is especially appealing in the heat and humidity of a Boston summer, when just the thought of touching a knob on the oven can cause you to melt on the spot. Until a few weeks ago, I ate every one of my tomatoes raw, at room temperature. I'd slice them alongside avocados; chop and toss them together with cucumbers and peppers; or, in a classic move, slide them under downy half-spheres of buffalo mozzarella. When you're leaning over the kitchen sink, biting into a whole tomato, and slurping loudly, it can feel like summer will last forever.
And then, in rolls September.
She wasted no time in announcing herself this year. On September 1st, blue skies faded to grey, and temperatures dropped suddenly into the low 60s. You could smell the almost-autumn in the air. It was a day for pulling on sweaters; for tying on scarves that you didn't really need, but that felt reassuringly soft and snug under your chin. It was a day for turning on the oven. With the slight chill creeping in through the window frames, a little extra heat in the kitchen didn't sound half-bad. The lunch that I threw together that day is a staple in my September kitchen: roasted chickpeas and heirloom tomatoes. I've eaten it at least twice a week for lunch all month long. It has taken me a while to get it down here, mostly because the recipe feels almost too simple to be called a recipe at all. Maybe you can think of it as assembly instructions, only instead of ending up with a swing set or an IKEA bookcase, you get lunch. You start with some canned chick peas, roll them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them just long enough for the outer skins to crisp up. Then, you toss them with a chopped tomato, top with basil, and call it a meal. If you happen to have a hunk of day-old bread on hand, I highly recommend using it to soak up any remaining seeds, juice, and oil in the bottom of the bowl. That part always feels like the grand finale to me, a special treat, like eating the heart of the artichoke, or the bit of ice cream that pools in the last bite of sugar cone.
People tend to talk about September in terms of where we've been and where we're going. We look back on the dog days of summer, cozy up to the idea of tights, hot cider, and evening fires, and brace ourselves for the coming winter. But for me, September is not about being betwixt and between. It's a special time all its own, and deserves to be enjoyed in the moment. Playing cool tomatoes off of warm, nutty chickpeas, this recipe celebrates just that. It's September in a bowl. And with autumn making its first official appearance tomorrow, I'm going to dig in my heels right here and, as long as there are tomatoes to be had, help myself to another serving.
Roasted Chickpeas and Heirloom Tomatoes
Because this recipe involves only four ingredients, it is important to go for high quality. I prefer Goya chickpeas, because – as far as canned chickpeas are concerned – they seem to stand up best to roasting. If you're lucky enough to have a selection of heirloom tomatoes at your fingertips, use whichever tomato is your favorite for slicing and eating raw. I have a feeling that "regular" tomatoes on the vine, and even cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, would also be delicious. If you feel like taking one step further in the direction of autumn, you can try replacing the basil leaves with fresh thyme.
1 15-oz. can of chickpeas
1 large, or 2 medium tomatoes (that have never been refrigerated)
2 T. good quality olive oil, divided
About 6 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
Coarse salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drain the chickpeas, and toss with 1 T. of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spill the chickpeas onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and shake them into a single layer. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until the skins brown slightly and begin to pull away a little from the beans.
Chop the tomato into large, bite-sized chunks. Toss the hot chickpeas with the tomato and the additional tablespoon of oil, and sprinkle with basil. Add a few extra grinds of salt and black pepper, to taste.
Posted by Jess