And what were they, all, all those torments of the past! Everything, even his crime, even his sentence and exile, seemed to him now, in the first impulse, to be some strange, external fact, as if it had not even happened to him. However, that evening he could not think long or continuously of anything, could not concentrate his mind on anything; besides, he would have been unable to resolve anything consciously just then; he could only feel. Instead of dialectics, there was life, and something completely different had to work itself out in his consciousness.
-Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment)
Rereading this quote tonight–something that I’ve read many, many times–I couldn’t help but feel how pertinent it was to my own situation. Not that I’ve committed any crime (certainly not! The only “crime” I could be said to have committed is having a blog when there’s a dissertation to write). It’s more that after an illness, any illness, you feel this surge of life. It creeps up on you slowly, but it’s there. The sniffles may still be present, but your energy returns, you want to work, you schedule meetings, plan projects…and, particularly in my case, you have the urge to make something for dinner (also equally pleasant: you have an excuse to use the pretty new tablecloth your mom presented you with and that you miraculously managed to squeeze into your suitcase; thanks, Mom!).
Oh, it’s good to be back!
It was lovely to pull a cookbook from the shelf, rather randomly, and, after flipping through a few pages, to alight on the perfect thing. I wanted spice, I wanted sauce and I wanted simplicity. Thankfully, the gem of a cookbook that I had stumbled on last summer could deliver on all those things. And all through the clever conceit of savory baking.
I would say that only in the past few years have I learned to appreciate crumbles; there truly is, despite my cake loving ways, something to be said for the combination of oats, butter, spices and fresh fruit that will, upon baking, slowly ooze into something delicious. Somewhat surprisingly (or even unsurprisingly; I can’t quite decide), the formula works just as well when you transform the crumble into an entree instead of a dessert. Maybe my crumble philosophy will forever be changed by this experience, but who needs fruit when you’ve got a base of tomatoes, kalamata olives, garlic and pepperoncini, topped with oats, panko, fresh sage and oregano…not to mention the oh so necessary chunk of butter.
Are you with me?
Should you be afflicted with a summer cold, barely able to taste any and all food and are desperately in need of something to clear the nasal passages, then this is for you. It will penetrate your deadened senses and let you know that your taste buds are alive and well. And even if you don’t have a summer cold, but have a hankering for something a little out of the ordinary and just plain good, remember that tomatoes are your friends. And that the summer is their time to shine.
I’ll also add that, if you’re feeling a little ambitious, you can also wake up the next morning and attempt to top this crumble with the perfect poached egg. It may take you a few tries to get it right, you may disagree with your cooking partner in crime about the way in which the necessary whirlpool should be formed. He may disagree with you about the necessary amount of vinegar to get the proteins to congeal (it’s hard to argue with scientific logic). You may both, after the perfect egg has been achieved and it’s clear that there are enough perfect (and imperfect) eggs to go around, agree that the other one was right all along.
Spicy Tomato Crumble
Yields 4-6 servings, depending on whether it’s a meal unto itself or a side
Adapted from Mary Cech’s Savory Baking
This recipe called for dried spices, but I instead (save for the basil) went with fresh. Also, due to my own preferences, I opted for panko instead of regular bread crumbs; I like things a little crispy. My love of salt led to Pecorino-Romano instead of Parmesan and I also couldn’t resist adding smoky sun-dried tomatoes. I wanted flavor and that’s what I got. These ingredients worked well for me, but there’s always room for more tinkering. Garden-grown tomatoes (if you have some) would probably make this even better than the canned; it would certainly change the texture!
For the topping:
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs, plus extra for a pre-baking sprinkle
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
black pepper, for sprinkling
For the filling:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. finely diced pepperoncini
1/4 cup smoked sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tsp. clover honey
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 cup dry red wine
one 28-ounce can whole Italian tomatoes with juice, roughly chopped or crushed
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
-To prepare the topping, combine the panko, rolled oats, flour, Pecorino, oregano, sage and salt in a medium bowl.
-Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until crumbly.
-To prepare the filling, put the garlic, capers, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, honey, basil, red wine, tomatoes and olives in a medium saucepan over high heat.
-Stir and bring to a rapid boil.
-Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15-20 minutes to reduce the filling slightly.
-Preheat the oven to 350.
-Pour the filling into one 1 1/2 quart (6-cup) casserole dish and sprinkle with the topping.
-At this stage, I chose to add some more panko, both for additional crunch and to cover up some semi-bare spots.
-Sprinkle mildly with black pepper.
-Place the casserole dish in the center of the oven.
-Bake until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 15-20 minutes.