I’m hosting my very first Feastly event in San Francisco on Wednesday. I’d be honored if you attend.
there must be, between us and the fish which, if we saw it for the first time cooked and served on a table, would not appear worth the endless trouble, craft and stratagem that are necessary if we are to catch it, interposed, during our afternoons with the rod, the ripple to whose surface come wavering, without our quite knowing what we intend to do with them…
proust, within a budding grove
Many many weeks ago, when summer had already reached its peak and days were at their longest, I’d wanted nothing but tomato stories to fill this space, which you may have noticed have been laid barren and neglected. Instead, I’ve been traveling with only the memory of these recipes, their photos, filed away in my digital folder. I am finally digging them out and re-introducing myself – even if they do feel caked with dust, barely timely, and of course last-minute. I am saying this as I am returning to my home turf, stuffing my market-bag full of summer tomatoes in the midst of autumnal preparations, turtleneck weather, and dwindling sunlit hours that’s far from corn and nightshades… as I prepare for my first public meal at Feastly, as I prepare for less hours of sleep and more hours of doing what I love, that is, cooking and sharing food. It’s all a’whirl and I wished I had enough hours to write more words describing the sort of brain activity I’ve been devoting to my new adventures, but that’s a story for another day. First, I wanted to get this recipe to you before it’s too late, in case you’ll find that there is still belly-room for tomatoes, perhaps it will be in this form, and with these cakes made of corn, which are worth the effort of homemade flour, even if they are not filled with sage or pumpkin spice. If after hearing that you will need to make your own flour to create them, and you still have the stamina to roast and smoke your own tomatoes for a savory pesto, I might likely think you as crazy as I am.
Now that we’re both acquainted with my style of crazy, let me share that I’ve a habit of serving dishes to dinner guests when I am making them for the first time. For some this might make for a meal of anxiety, but I find the challenge interesting, to say the least. Imagine: something goes terribly, irrevocably wrong and you have to order Chinese deliveries or the likes. That has never happened before of course, but I always tell myself so when I get the jitters from a la minute preparations. The meal must go on! Mistakes must be eaten! The kitchen gods have been more than merciful because I tend to, nearly always, make the worst ones when I am by myself. In the company of hungry friends and famished strangers, fortune has been more kind, gentle even, in steering me away from burnt toasts, and yes, I do burn my toasts periodically. That’s the circumstance that led me to selecting these corn cakes, which are, at the very least, a genius specimen from Erin Alderson. Her book, The Homemade Flour Cookbook caught me in a year when home milling, and just local milling in general, have been on my mind – it’s been there and hasn’t really made the permanent leap because I’m crazy-slow and I break everything, nearly. Luckily, I had to attend an event with eager eaters. I gathered up my efforts and milled away! I broke my hand-grinder, but it’s no bother, because now I just know: you should really not hand-grind things too often.
The cakes utilize flour of the lowly split pea, which, admittedly are not my go-to source of anything. I’m a terrible snob when it comes to legumes so if it’s not fresh, I generally try to forget it ever existed. I also run away from pea soup. So, thank you, Erin, for introducing me to the idea of reducing it to a fine powder and using it to make something incredible of corn cakes, which I made the night before making the acquaintance of some food bloggers at a predictably chilly picnic in San Francisco. I’m forever grateful because, despite my own small catastrophe, the cakes were a marvel to eat.
If you’ve never milled your own flour, this recipe might appear a bit impossible at first, but let’s forget the word mill and skip straight to what not-to-do. First, do not use an expensive ceramic coffee mill and grind the peas by hand, as I did. That will break your grinder, and then you will certainly be as sad as I was. Instead, use a spice grinder or food processor (yes, it’s possible!!!). I chose the latter. I had decided to make these cakes for a food blogger picnic and alas I broke my hand grinder at night. Secondly, be sure to keep an eye on the temperature of your appliance, as the long grinding process can make it overheat. I stopped my processor it periodically to sift the pea-bits and return the tiny pebbles back to the grind to get the most of my peas. You’ll only need a small portion of flour for this recipe. It’s really simple, but it does take a bit of patience, so do this as you’re in the kitchen working on some other things, like roasting tomatoes!!
2 TB olive oil, divided
1/4 c minced red onions
kernels from 2 ears of corn (or, 1 3/4 c frozen corn kernels)
1/4-1/2 c of split pea flour
1/4 c chopped, fresh cilantro
1/4 ts baking powder
1 egg yolk
1 TB honey
1 TB lime juice
1/4 ts sea salt
+In a large skillet, heat 1TB of olive oil and cook the onions until soft: about 6-7 minutes. +Stir in the corn and cook for an additional 6 minutes. +Then, remove the corn and onion from the heat into a large mixing bowl. Then, stir in the remainder of the ingredients. You should use enough flour to bind the cakes, but you might find that you won’t need to use all 1/2 c. +Then, cook the cakes in a well-oiled skillet over medium heat for about 5-6 minutes on each side. +This recipe makes 6 cakes.
I am including Erin’s sauce here because I think it’s invaluable and super simple to put together. I know you won’t always have the time to roast and smoke tomatoes.
1/2 c of packed spinach
1/4 c fresh cilantro
1 clove of peeled garlic
1TB olive oil
1TB fresh lime juice
2 ts honey
1/4 ts sea salt
+Puree the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Serve with cakes.
If at this point, if you’re still reading and wish to know how to make smoked tomatoes, here goes – I use three types of tomatoes for this: dried, roasted, and fresh. I love how they each add a unique texture and flavor to the pesto. I’ll keep this simple as you may want to wrap the concept around your mind a bit and take it easy, because I always make pesto without a recipe.
How to make smoked tomato pesto without a recipe:
3 part smoked, roasted cherry tomatoes (how-to below)
1 part sun-dried tomatoes (rehydrate by soaking in hot water for 5 minutes, then drain)
1 part fresh tomatoes, deseeded
1 part pine nuts
1 part garlic
good olive oil
+Pulse tomatoes, nuts, and garlic in a food processor until the desired consistency. Then, add olive oil until smooth. Salt to taste.
How to make smoky, roasted tomatoes
+ Heat oven to 325 (F)
+Prepare tomatoes by halving and deseeding. Then, coat in olive olive. Lay the tomatoes in a single layer in a glass pan and roast for 2 hours. +When done, they should be very shriveled, with very little moisture left. +To smoke, use this method from my smoked sea salt recipe, but use only wood chips. You’ll want to use only very fine, small wood chips made for stove-top smoking. The ones made for the grill are too large and will not be adequate for this style of smoking. Be careful to not over-smoke, as that can introduce sour, bitter notes to your food. To add more smoke flavors, smoke the fresh tomatoes, the dried tomatoes, and possibly even the oil, but do not re-smoke the roasted tomatoes or smoke them beyond 15 minutes.