I've never been one to drink my dinner.
A nice glass or two of wine to accompany a steak or fillet of salmon? Absolutely. But a stiff gin and tonic could never replace a meal.
If I had to make an exception, however, it would be for a Bloody Mary. The crunch of celery, the subtle heat of Tabasco-spiked tomato juice, the horseradish undertones -- it's pretty much perfection in a glass, as far as I'm concerned.
Faced with an overflowing bag of plum tomatoes that were nearing their demise, I decided to see whether the Bloody could work in the saucepan as well.
It turned out to be an ideal summer dish -- good served hot if the weather calls for a warming dinner, or even better served chilled the next day.
You can saute the onions and celery while the tomatoes roast, and after quickly removing the skins -- they should slip right off when hot -- puree it all together. I like a double hit of horseradish: once in the soup and again stirred into creme fraiche to garnish. Alongside serve the traditional cold stalk of celery -- or pickles or olives, if that's your thing.
Roasting summer vegetables also is the main step in the second recipe. The heat turns them into a sauce that holds up against nutty-tasting whole-wheat pasta.
It's a great way to use up leftover zucchini, peppers and eggplant that are abundant at the markets right now. Cooked until caramelized, the vegetables are perked up by the addition of ripe cherry tomatoes and the small fresh mozzarella rounds called bocconcini, which melt into the hot pasta.
The recipe requires a solid 10 minutes of prep at the beginning, but once the vegetables are in the oven and the pasta water is boiling on the stove, you'll have plenty of time to kick back and relax with a drink.
Just be sure to save room for dinner.
BLOODY MARY TOMATO SOUP WITH HORSERADISH CREME FRAICHE
If you have the time, go ahead and make this soup a night or two before you plan to serve it -- it's very good hot, but even better chilled when the weather is warm. Depending on how ripe and juicy the tomatoes are, you'll need to season accordingly; add a shot of vodka if the mood strikes. A crisp piece of celery is all you need for garnish, but Bloody Mary fans might like olives or pickles as well.
1/4 cup creme fraiche
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3 pounds tomatoes, tough cores removed, halved if large
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup diced celery, plus 4 (3-inch) pieces for garnish
1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce plus more to taste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce plus more to taste
3 tablespoons lemon juice plus more to taste
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water plus more for thinning
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix the creme fraiche with 1/2 teaspoon horseradish, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Toss the tomatoes with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Spread out on a sheet pan, and roast until the skins are peeling away and tomatoes have softened, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then slip off the skins and discard them.
While the tomatoes are roasting, pour the remaining olive oil into a skillet over medium heat; add the celery and onion and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften and the onion is translucent, 4-6 minutes. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce and red wine vinegar; cook, stirring, until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 30 seconds more.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the tomatoes, celery mixture, Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons horseradish and water or broth, and process until mostly smooth. Thin with additional liquid if desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper, plus more Worcestershire, Tabasco and lemon juice, if needed.
Spoon the soup into serving bowls, drizzle with the horseradish creme fraiche, and garnish with a piece of celery, and olives or pickles if using.
Per serving: 149 calories, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat (2 g saturated), 4 mg cholesterol, 75 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.