By Danamarie McKiernan
Throughout my time at ICE, I knew there would be “ah ha” moments when I learned something new about food. But I didn’t expect that the first time this happened, it would come in the form of a tomato.
On “Tomato Day”, we started off with dozens of fruits. Chef Chris explained how they do not need to be perfect tomatoes, bruised tomatoes are beautiful too. We chopped away all morning, without knowing what we were going to make. The tomatoes were then dropped into a VitaMix—one of Chef Chris’ favorite tools—and blended into a silky tomato puree.
I was then sent to the stove, where I was instructed to patiently bring the puree to a boil in a 4 quart pot. Chef Chris then showed us how to completely strain the puree using a chinoise with a linen towel as a lining. Tomato water was the end product. Tomato water! Amazing! It was completely delicious and the aroma filling the room reminded me of summertime in August when my family and I jar our own tomato sauce.
The tomato water was clear with a hint of red. Alone, it tasted like light tomato broth, which I would have loved to pour in a tea cup and sip all day. But in cooking, there are endless possibilities for tomato water: from tomato vinaigrette to sauces and dressings—my personal favorite is to boil pasta in diluted tomato water to add extra flavor. You can also add other ingredients to adjust the spice or seasoning of tomato water. For example, Chef Chris explained how he enjoys adding jalapeños to the tomatoes prior to straining, to create a spicier broth.Once I calmed from my excitement over tomato water, we moved onto the next phase of tomato day: tomato powder! I wasn’t sure how this could be made or used, but I was immediately intrigued. Making use of the leftover strained puree, we spread it on a half sheet pan. The pan was then put into the oven at 150 degrees overnight (12 hours).
In the morning, we found dried tomato crackers. Again, we blended these in the Vitamix, producing a potent, brick red powder—and again, I was amazed at the possibilities. Tomato powder is essentially just another spice to add to your pantry. One of my favorite uses thus far is to sprinkle it over fish or steak; I love the tang it leaves on my palate.
That day, I left school with so many ideas. My first was to make pasta dough with the tomato powder, substituting it for a half cup of flour. Studded with specks of colorful flavor, I rolled out this dough to make farfalle. When cooked, it made for a tangy, slightly salty and balanced little bows, with a texture that held on to my mushroom-thyme butter sauce perfectly. The first, but certainly not the last, of many tomato recipes to come.