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Two Fabulous Dinners from One Recipe
John Tullock

One of the things I like most about French country cooking is that the flavor of a superb vegetable is often preserved at its peak by brief cooking, and then used in a variety of ways for several days. Here's an example using the best of late summer and early fall vegetables.

Chilled Heirloom Yellow Tomato Soup With Guacamole, Fresh Tomatoes and Cilantro Oil

and

Grill-Poached Chicken and Vegetable Orzo with Yellow Tomato Sauce

For the Soup/Sauce Base:
Coarsely chop the vegetables, then measure 1 cup celery, 1/2 cup onion, and 1/4 cup carrot. In a heavy soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toss the vegetables briefly to coat. Add 2 tablespoons white wine, 1 bay leaf, and a 6" sprig of fresh thyme. Cover, reduce the heat, and sweat until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover, and add 2 quarts yellow heirloom tomatoes, such as Dad's Sunset, Orange Strawberry, or Della, cored and quartered. (Note: It is not necessary to peel the tomatoes.) Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally with a metal spoon and breaking up the tomatoes, until they are softened and their juices are reduced somewhat. This will take about 30 minutes of gentle simmering. Do not overcook, or you will lose the beautiful yellow coloration of the tomatoes. Remove the pot from the heat, transfer the contents to a blender and allow to cool completely. Puree, strain through a sieve into a bowl, and refrigerate, covered, until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

The tomato puree will make two servings of the soup, and two servings of sauce for the orzo. The recipe can be doubled, if you wish.

Cilantro Oil:
To 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil placed in a small blender jar, add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems. Puree until completely emulsified. Allow to set at room temperature up to 3 hours, then cover and refrigerate overnight before using. (Recipe may be increased. The oil keeps about 2 months in the refrigerator. For immediate use, it is not necessary to strain the oil, but for long term storage, bring the finished oil to room temperature and strain through a fine mesh sieve, coffee filter, etc. into a clean, sterilized and thoroughly dry bottle.)

To complete the soup:
Taste the chilled soup and correct the salt as needed.

Chop into 1/2" cubes a cored, seeded red heirloom tomato, such as Celia, or Brandywine. Prepare your favorite guacamole recipe, or simply mash the flesh of one ripe avocado with salt, pepper, and enough lime juice to make a pleasing consistency. Shred some fresh cilantro leaves.

Ladle the chilled soup into a serving bowl and place a dollop of guacamole in the center. Surround this with some chopped tomato, dribble a little of the cilantro oil here and there, and garnish with fresh cilantro and ground black pepper.

I served this soup as a first course to a Spanish-inspired meal featuring Paella Valenciana, and the leftover chicken from the paella was boned and used in the next recipe. However, you can cook the chicken separately on the grill (see suggestion below) or substitute smoked chicken from the grocery.

To grill-poach chicken:
Success with chicken on the grill in any form can be most easily achieved by selecting only one part of the chicken to cook. I like to use drumsticks, because they are cheap, and, unlike the ubiquitous breast meat, they have enough flavor to stand up to smoke and heavy spicing.

Prepare a hot charcoal fire on one side of your grill only. Select a heavy skillet, preferably of cast iron, that will fit on one side of the grill. When the fire is ready, place the skillet directly over the heat, add a dribble of olive oil, and brown the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, in the hot fat. As the chicken is cooked, transfer it to a platter. Pour off all but a film of oil from the skillet, and in it brown a handful of chopped onions. When the onions are soft and beginning to brown, add the chicken back to the skillet along with enough peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes to cover the bottom of the pan. Move the skillet to the cooler side of the grill, cover with the grill cover, and cook slowly until done, about an hour. Turn occasionally, and stir so that the pan juices poach the chicken. Remove from heat, cool, and debone the chicken. You need about 1/2 cup meat for each serving. For two servings start with four drumsticks.

To complete the recipe:
Cook 1/2 cup orzo according to the package directions. Drain, toss with a few drops of olive oil and reserve. Keep warm.

Dice into 1/4" cubes and measure 1/4 cup each of the following vegetables, varying the selection to include seasonal produce. You need a total of one cup of diced vegetables for two servings of this recipe. Use your choice of carrots, celery, eggplant, boiling potatoes, green beans, winter squash, sweet potato, sweet bell pepper or summer squash. You may also use fresh corn kernels as one of the vegetables. Also prepare 1/2 cup diced onion.

Shred enough fresh basil leaves to yield about two tablespoons.

Bring the yellow tomato puree to serving temperature over low heat, taste carefully and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and saute the onion until it is transparent. Add the vegetables one at a time, in the order given above, and saute each one 2 minutes before adding the next one. As soon as the vegetables are done, toss the chicken into the pan and stir to bring it to serving temperature. Combine the chicken with the reserved orzo and the shredded basil. Toss well.

Place a serving of the orzo in the middle of a plate and surround with the yellow tomato sauce. Garnish with additional shredded basil, if desired. This makes a fantastic lunch if partnered with a simple green salad.


John Tullock is an expert gardener and self-taught cook who likes to develop new recipes using his own fresh produce and the best from the local market. His interest in plants and horticulture begin in childhood, and he holds a masters degree in biology from The University of Tennessee. Now a full-time freelance writer and author of six books, Tullock also co-owns "Gardener and Gourmet," a retail business that specializes in rare plants and fine food products.

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