When I first met my husband I never realize he came with the most wonderful cousins, in addition to his amazing immediate family. Nearly every summer there was the family picnic. Back in the day, as we say, the elders were in their elderly prime. Each family would prepare their specialties or family favorites. For those living in South Jersey it was a trek up the Garden State Parkway amongst that notorious shore traffic! Our car was packed with dishes made with love by my mother-in-law. Her menu consisted of her picnic stables and loved by all the family. There was oven fried chicken, summer macaroni, zucchini poverella, foccia and cherry crunch. We had a cooler for drinks however, no insulated bags to keep the chicken and macaroni warm. My ingenious mother-in-law however had a method that, I too used for years. She had wool mini blankets from Italy with which she tenderly wrapped around each dish. Then each bundle was placed in paper bags that had been doubled and were then tied closed with string! And Yes, those dishes arrive warm.
Summer Macaroni was coveted by all at the picnic and it was family lore that Aunt Rae made the “Best!” As each family member made their way to our table for a visit my mother-in-law would offer a sample of her fare. Each and every one would say, “Are you sure you have enough?” Her answer was always the same,” Of course, take a plate and help yourself.” There was never a hesitation and I swear I could see their mouth’s watering. Scoops of summer macaroni, a piece of golden brown chicken along with chunk of fresh baked foccia graced their plates. Later they would return for a square of Cherry Crunch to go with their coffee fresh from the thermos.
So the main event of our picnic food was Summer Macaroni. A combination of Jersey tomatoes scalded, peeled and sliced, pasta cooked barely al dente, olive oil and a mixture of garlic, grated cheese, chopped fresh basil and bread crumb. These ingredients would come together in a baking dish layered together and then baked until the breadcrumb topping was beginning to brown. For years now every summer, even after the passing of the family matriarch we have all made Summer Macaroni. Then one winter day we came upon a recipe of Lidia Bastianich, Fusilli with Roasted Tomatoes. It was like a deconstructed Summer Macaroni and quite delicious with that same flavor. However my husband and I knew that a summer version with fresh Jersey ingredients would be superb.
This year after a trip to the Collingwood farmers market I knew this recipe was in my future. I purchase Jersey field grown plum tomatoes from Les Viereck Farms; then fresh beautiful basil, long hots, and fresh garlic from Formisano Farms. Here is this delicious recipe that I know will become a family favorite!
1/2 cup dry bread crumb (I use Schar gluten free)
2 tablespoons of small capers rinsed and chopped
6 to 8 large basil leave chopped
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes ( I used a tablespoon of a fresh long hot pepper finely diced)
1/2 cup Pecorino cheese
Place all ingredients in a small bowl and drizzle with a 1/4 cup EVOO. Set to the side
In a another small bowl place
2 to 3 large plump garlic cloves finely chopped (If you have never tried fresh garlic please do It has a soft, sweet flavor)
Cover the garlic with 3 to 4 tablespoons of EVOO and a pinch of salt Set to the side
Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees
Prepare a baking sheet by covering with parchment paper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil
1 1/2 lbs (5 – 6 ) ripe Jersey plum tomatoes washed, cored and cut lengthwise in 3 slices. (if they are on the smaller size in half)
Take each slice and press about 1 tablespoon of bread crumb mixture on the cut side and place on parchment paper. Use all the bread crumb. Roast tomatoes for 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs are browned. Remove from oven and cool about 10 minutes. Then cut the the tomatoes in half right through the crumbs.
1/2 pound fusilli pasta (I like LeVeneziane corn pasta from Italy)
In the meantime cook the fusilli in boiling salted water according to package directions. I prefer my pasta al dente. Once the fusilli are cooked, drain and place in a large pasta bowl. Dress the pasta with the garlic oil and toss well. Now slide the tomato pieces off the parchment and on to the pasta. Toss again. Dress the pasta with some fresh chopped basil and grated cheese.
Enjoy this deconstructed Summer Macaroni! It easy, delicious and brings memories of summer to me all year round.