It's solstice,the longest day of the year. I'm looking forward to many things this summer, cooking in a wood fired oven, learning more about Korean food, exploring the art of gluten free baking, swimming under the stars, exploring the art of fermentation, and much more. Tonight's dinner was a taste test of two racks of pork from this week's workshop. One was brined in rosemary buttermilk and the other smoked. They were both surprisingly wonderful though everyone had their favorites. In the picture, the back layer is smoked. Both racks were full of juice. So much juice that it ran off the counter onto the floor. What we realized is that flavor is in the eye of the diner. Both racks were pretty darned amazing. Good is in the tongue of the taster. If you please yourself first, the right audience will find you.
The watermelon rind is marinated with smoked paprika, smoked amino acids and garlic powder. Then we pan roasted it in butter. We let the hot watermelon rest and warmed the lobster claw in the pan drippings. We sliced the melon and put the lobster in place. We dressed the lobster with the melon pan drippings. We glazed the melon with Minus 8 vinegar reduced in the rotary evaporator. These are pieces of a puzzle. They eat well. They could be better. They are missing a uniting element.
It's hot, seriously, above 90°F hot. Today I was tending to a fire in the wood burning oven and cleaning the pool at the same time. By the time the fire was ready, I was on target to jump in the pool. Good thing it's only a stone's throw away. On the bright side this kind of weather brings along its own inspirations. The shave ice machine sees a variety of new and interesting ices and as you can see from the picture above, we take chilled soup to a whole different level. The picture? Green gazpacho from our upcoming book, Maximum Flavor, out in October. The technique, making cold soup into a chilly granita. It literally melts in your mouth. Try it this summer with your favorite cold soup and you'll be inspired too.
This was designed as a warm soup made with a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes to give it a rich tomato flavor backed up by the tart floral notes of the hibiscus. We serve it with slightly warm baby tomatoes and cold buffalo mozzarella cheese. The cheese just begins to soften in the soup and the fresh basil leaves and flowers add aroma and hint of peppery spice. This time of year we've also been known to serve it chilled with delicate pieces of fresh burrata. Its soft texture and creamy flavor is the perfect foil for the tomato and since the herbs are always from our weed patch they somehow taste more vibrant. Either way we like to pair it with slices of grilled bread rubbed with fresh garlic for a light summer supper that will make everyone happy to gather around your table.
Tomato Soup with Baby Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
28 ounces/ 800 grams canned San Marzano tomatoes
9 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon/ 140 grams hoisin sauce
7 1/2 teaspoons/ 15 grams dried hibiscus flowers (or hibiscus tea)
2 ¼ cups/ 500 grams water
3 pounds / 1400 grams fresh tomatoes
4 2/3 cups / 1045 grams tomato stock
¾ teaspoon / 4.5 grams fine sea salt
40 mixed colored baby tomatoes
1/3 teaspoon / 2 grams sea salt
8 ounces / 225 grams fresh Buffalo mozzarella
40 Thai Basil Leaves
40 Thai Basil Blossoms
8 teaspoons / 40 grams extra virgin olive oil
To make the tomato stock, put the tomatoes, hoisin sauce, hibiscus, and water in a 6-quart pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Alternatively, combine all of the ingredients in heavy bottomed pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer gently, skimming the foam off the top as needed, for 1 hour. Remove the pot from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the finished tomato stock through a fine mesh sieve lined with damp cheesecloth into a metal bowl set over an ice bath. Let the stock cool completely, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
For the tomatoes, put the fresh tomatoes in a vacuum bag. Seal them in a vacuum sealer on high pressure to compress the tomatoes. Divide the vacuum compressed tomatoes and the tomato stock between two fresh vacuum bags. Vacuum seal the tomatoes with the stock and let marinate overnight. Alternatively, toss the tomatoes with the salt and then put them in 2 large zip top bags with equal amounts of the tomato stock and let marinate overnight.
The next day, open the bags and put the tomatoes and stock in a blender. Puree on medium speed for 90 seconds. The lower speed will coarsely chop the tomatoes without blending the seeds and skin into the soup. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. The soup can be finished immediately or it can be chilled and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, fill a large bowl with ice water. Blanch the baby tomatoes in the boiling water, 5 to 6 at a time, for 5 seconds and transfer them immediately to the ice bath. Be careful not to overcook the tomatoes, or they will become mushy. When the tomatoes are ice cold, remove them from the ice bath. Use a paring knife to peel the tomatoes, starting from the stem end of each one. Put the peeled tomatoes in a container in a single layer and season with the salt. Gently mix the tomatoes to coat evenly with the salt. Cover and reserve in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve the soup, or up to 6 hours.
Pour the soup into a large pot set over medium heat and bring it to a bare simmer. Put the baby tomatoes, along with any juices, in a saucepan large enough to hold them in one layer. Set the pan over low heat and just warm them through, about 5-8 minutes. Cut the buffalo mozzarella into a ½-inch dice. Put the cheese in a small bowl and dress it with the olive oil. Arrange five assorted tomatoes and some of the cold mozzarella cheese in center of each of 8 serving bowls. Pour the soup into the bowls, garnish with 5 Thai basil leaves and 5 basil blossoms, and serve immediately.