Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Far From Perfect

It's so easy, sometimes, to imagine that another person's situation is better than ours. When I was in my early twenties and barely making the rent, I had dinner at the home of a couple who were in their 40's. They recently had decided to become active in a religion where you gave a good portion of your income to the church. At first I thought that they were very generous, but then I realized that it was only future income that was going to be donated...still generous, but they had accumulated quite a lot of nice material goods and property before this time and keeping those things meant that they would still have a far more luxurious life than I would at the time. So it seemed to me that their situation was better than mine. In retrospect I might not think so because the religion was quite restrictive about what they could think and I value the ability to learn, discover, argue, contemplate and make up my own mind.

Another time I was quite envious of a friend who was changing a fence and not sure what different material to use, plus they were concerned about the cost. All I could think of was how lucky they were to have a home where they could change things to make them the way they wanted them to be...I was still renting a smallish place. Still, as a renter, I was determined to grow things, even if I had no land. One year I planted corn and tomatoes in a tiny chunk of land between the sidewalk and the street in front of the building. The space was also shared by a telephone pole, so the actual land was maybe 3 feet by 3 feet.

The corn grew tall and the tomato plant blossomed and set fruit. The unexpected thing (remember I was pretty young and innocent) was that someone picked the corn, even before it was ripe, and took some of the tomatoes, too. Undefeated, the following year I filled plastic crates with plastic bags and dirt, then with carrot seeds and more tomato plants, then placed them on steps that went up to the apartment building's roof. Hardly anyone went there and the sun was good, so that year I had a harvest.

So for all of you who wish you had the bounty that I've had this summer, I wish that for you, too, but you can often find a way to plant seeds or seedlings for yourself to have your own harvest next year. There is something very satisfying about putting seeds in soil, tending and nurturing them, and harvesting something that you had a hand in growing. I know that apple trees and quince bushes take more room than a bucket or crate, but veggies (like the yellow pear tomatoes below) can be crammed in small places and so can herbs. All it takes is a container & some soil (available as potting soil in bags many places), sun, water, and seeds, plus a little attention from you. There are also community gardens in many cities.

The harvest continues, although we have been getting rain, so the tomatoes are far from perfect (you knew I'd fit that in somewhere, right?), with split skins and even a few spots chewed by the snails. Snails just love this misty weather! This is my view at work lately.

So one of the things that I've done with those less than beautiful tomatoes is to make fresh tomato sauce for pasta.

Recently I had three colors of tomatoes: green zebra, yellow pear, and red costolluto. I cut them into chunks, made a fresh sauce, and then stirred in tri-colored tortellini that had been cooked al dente. With some fresh Parmesan cheese grated over, it made a wonderful side dish for the local salmon that Sweetie had grilled. Some lightly steamed green beans filled out the plate.

Tri-Color Tortellini with Tri-Color Fresh Tomato Sauce

1/2 medium onion, chopped
1-2 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive or safflower oil
3-4 cups tomato chunks from red, green and yellow tomatoes. Cut cherry or pear tomatoes in half, cut the others into chunks about 1 inch in size
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary
(fresh herbs, chopped, can be used...about a tablespoon of the oregano and basil and 1/2 tablespoon of the rosemary, or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound tri-color tortellini
Boiling water

Saute the onions and garlic in hot oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5 minutes to release the juices and soften the tomatoes. Remove cover and stir, then add the herbs, pepper and salt, and stir to combine.

NOTE:This sauce includes the skin and seeds. If you prefer your sauce without those, skin and seed the tomatoes before adding to the onion mixture.

While the tomatoes are simmering, cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling water. When the tortellini are al dente, drain well, then add to the tomato sauce. Stir well to coat the tortellini with the sauce. Serve, grating Parmesan cheese over each serving. Serve hot.

Serves 5 (or two hungry adolescents)


  1. Elle, I think in a way I am in an unsettling mode like you years back. I am still renting, too. But I did grow some herbs in the balcony. It is such a rewarding experience....

  2. This looks brilliant. It's also encouraging to her your experiences with growing in small places as all I have is deck area. Did I mention in addition to my basil and peppermint I bravely potted some arugla starts? We'll see... Looking forward to Saturday.

  3. Anonymous7:16 AM

    Will the tomatoes retain their color if they were peeled? Looks delicious! I'd like to try this but I don't have very colorful tomatoes such as yours... we have different kinds in the market but almost all are red. I'd add some olives for more contrast and flavor. Thanks!

  4. Oh my dear Elle, It looks wonderful, but what is the fish next to the pasta? It looks delicious!

  5. I just have to add that some things can even be grown indoors - I transplanted some of my herbs to pots inside, and they are flourishing even now when it's too cold to grow outside!! Your tomatoes are gorgeous - I hope to plant lots of varieties next year.

  6. Death in sauce form...but it does look beautiful and colorful.

  7. Ahn, The growing of any kind of plant really is such a great thing. Glad that you could do the herbs...maybe soon there will be more space.

    Anna, You, too have found a way to grow plants in a limited amount of space. We'll see if your arugla or my beans produce anything. See 'ya soon.

    Allen, Most tomatoes are colored all the way through, so removing the skins is fine. This sauce would taste fine with tomatoes all one color. The addition of olives is very appropriate, too.

    Jerry, my friend, that is fresh, local King salmon. The season is almost done. Since I like salmon better than almost anything but chocolate, I'm in heaven during salmon season.

    Deborah, Great idea to grow the herbs inside. I should try that this winter. Do try some different tomatoes next year...I highly recommend the Black Krim!

    Peabody, That sounds like the title of a mystery novel...Death by Pasta Sauce. Soon the deadly fruit will be done with immature green ones in the compost pile. Hopefully that will make things it will be time to BAKE for the holidays.Woot!

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Elle. You are so right.

  9. It is easy to think others have a better life than we do, but everyone has problems, and a small problem to one is a major issue to another!

  10. Anonymous7:34 PM

    The grass is always greener...right?
    Not always true, as you know :)

  11. Cynthia, Guess so.

    Kelly-Jane, Perspective is such a great help.

    Kristen, That is so true! Sometimes the grass on the other side is just astro turf.