It started with a text. My friend wrote, “bumper crop of tomatoes! you want?” I quickly responded “yes” and within hours I was biking across town with bags of tomatoes hanging from my handlebars.
I know you’re probably thinking how delightfully summery that is. How it conjures images of Italy. How there I’d be replaced by a deeply tanned, lithe girl dressed in a vibrant flowy skirt so impossibly long that the gears would threaten to eat the hem with each push of the pedal. And, how she’d be attraversando the piazza with a basket of picture-perfect tomatoes.
But that was not me. I was zigzagging across Hollywood after sundown, whizzing along back streets on my single-speed bike, and clad in a reflective ski helmet that logs more time on my bike than it does on the slopes. And rather than crossing a piazza, I was doing my best to avoid potholes that were more or less the size of my small apartment. Needless to say, I arrived home to find the tomatoes were far the worse for the wear. To salvage them before the fruit flies took over, I embraced their squished state by charring them until they blistered and tossing them with pasta.
Now, when I think char, I can’t help think of the eastern Mediterranean. I cooked there last year and was intrigued how food would be charred within an inch of its life and I saw it over and over again be it almonds for garnishes, eggplant for dip, or onions for a stew.
Sure, I lightly toast food to amp up the crunch factor and nutty flavor, but taking it to that extra charred state lends a smoky almost bitter note to things. I’m now hooked and have come to desire a hint of bitterness in my savory dishes. Like sour and tart, bitterness is one of those underutilized flavors that adds layers of complexity and depth. So, I took those toasted memories and came up with this charred tomato pasta. One bite and it was clear these under-appreciated tomatoes found their moment in the spotlight.