As Time and Tomatoes Pass By

these are a few of my favorite summertime things, along with beach days, birthdays, and September swims

Last week, I turned thirty-nine. The day before my birthday, I finished uploading the last of the photographs for the Poor Girl Gourmet cookbook to my publisher, Andrews McMeel‘s ftp, and on my birthday, JR and I made our 2009 maiden voyage to the beach, a disturbing and previously unknown late start – and, I suppose, end – to our beach days this year. Regardless of the tardiness of our travels, the beach was at its most stunning; the Rhode Island water pristine, so clear that the bottom was readily visible (a rarity, as those of you who swim the Atlantic know all too well), the white caps surreal in their contrast against the robin’s egg blue sky and evening sky blue sea, cotton balls of white clouds complementing the waves and sand below.

JR and I swam at four o’clock on my birthday, a rallying cry of, “hell, you only turn thirty-nine once,” compelling us on, though in the high heat of August, we’re unlikely to bother with a four p.m. dip. On our exit from the beach – a damp and slightly chilly hour later, I collected rose hips obsessively, JR stopping occasionally – 100 yards ahead – just to be polite. It was my birthday, after all.

Over the weekend, we celebrated with my brother and sister-in-law, a festival of corn transformed into chowder and bread, and piles of native steamers (clams, for those of you not in the know) with Fall River linguica. A fitting late-summer dinner, unencumbered by the pesky appetite suppression that those humid days earlier in the season are subject to.

Before affixing our clam feed bags, we had an appetizer of rescued-from-late-blight tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, accompanied by basil pesto that I had made the day after my birthday. We’re down to five brown paper lunch bags of ripening tomatoes from the salvage efforts I made back in July, and it saddens me so to see the tomato season – trying, challenging, and unusual as it was – come to an end, though I am thankful to those brown bags of rescued tomatoes for this dish that JR and I have been able to enjoy with great frequency, yet no weariness, for the last month or so. It will undoubtedly come to the point in the next few weeks where I have to purchase tomatoes to get this dish done, and I will gladly incur that extra cost, so addicted have I become to it in both its simplicity and its substance.

those noodles are not long for this world

Gemelli with Fresh Tomatoes and Pesto


  • 1 pound gemelli pasta (or similar short yet thick pasta with grooves for catching tomato bits and pesto)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped and seeded
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto (approximately 2/3rds of a 6 ounce jar)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano


  1. Bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente, or firm to the bite, but cooked through. No gnawing on undercooked pasta do we want here.
  2. Once the pasta has been added to the water, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it is just becoming fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to let it burn (stirring frequently will help this cause). Add the tomatoes and continue cooking until softened and, yep, a sauce-like substance is beginning to form. If your pasta isn't quite done at this point, remove the saute pan from the heat until the pasta is ready to be added. Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to the tomato-garlic mixture. Stir in the pesto, being sure to distribute it as evenly as possible. Salt and pepper to taste, place one-quarter of the pasta on each of four plates, sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Pecorino Romano cheese over top of each if you so desire, and serve it forth. So quick and easy, yet satisfying a meal, it's sure to gain a spot on your summer dinner short list.

Estimated cost for four: $8.13. The gemelli is a Barilla product that is frequently on sale for $1.00 per box, which happens to be what I paid, but if you were to purchase it at regular price, it would run you $1.39, and so we’ll use that number in our math. The olive oil costs 48-cents and the garlic approximately 10-cents. Purchased field tomatoes should cost no more than $3.25/pound, and purchased pesto will run around $3.99 for a 6 ounce jar of Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value store brand, so $2.66 for this use, though homemade, or even a splurge purchase of Sauces n’ Love‘s basil pesto is highly recommended if you have the time, or the extra $1.83 to spare. The Pecorino Romano costs 25-cents, and that’s that. Homemade pesto would run you around $3.72 if you were to purchase the basil, and a mere $1.73 if you have shrub-like basil plants growing at your house, so $9.19 with homemade using purchased basil, or $7.20 with garden basil. Sauces n’ Love basil pesto costs $4.49 for 4.5 ounces, so we’ll roll that whole amount into the total, which gets us to $9.96 – hey, still under ten bucks, people, still under ten bucks.

Dinner tonight: Exactly as described above, only for two people, with rescued garden tomatoes, and with homemade pesto with from-the-garden basil. Estimated cost for two: $3.60 (though if I subtracted the cost of the purchased tomatoes, and factored in the sale-price pasta, it would run us $1.59 for 2. Gardens are good.). JR and I will each enjoy the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and probably into the next day, for a quarter pound of pasta is hefty enough at dinner time, never mind bogging yourself down with that quantity of noodles at lunch.

10 Comments to As Time and Tomatoes Pass By

  1. Jess says:

    That description of your birthday dip made me want to run from my office cubicle as fast as I can, straight for the ocean! Too bad it is Jersey shore for me, not beautiful New England :)

  2. Amy says:

    Hi Jess!

    Oooh, then you have a little more time for the late summer, early fall swim at the shore! If there was one consolation to it being our first and last visit this year, it was absolutely perfect. One of those days you’re just amazed at how beautiful the world can be. *sigh*

    Take care,

  3. Angry Asian says:

    absolutely stunning description of how your spent your birthday, so glad it was such a lovely one for you!

    i am a fan of simple dishes like this one, it reminds me of the time i lived in africa and we basically had to make our sauces (of any kind) from scratch. that’s when i realized pasta sauce doesn’t have to come out of jars or cans.

  4. Amy says:


    I am totally coming to Baltimore because we need to have drinks while I listen to you tell more “life in Africa” stories. I’m intrigued more and more with each comment!

    (and birthday was amazing – thank you!)


  5. Kitty Kaufman says:

    Hi Amy,
    Happy Birthday!
    You are a terrific writer.
    Have you seen the paperback “My Life in France,” that Julia wrote with her nephew?
    It might be especially relevant to you as you finish up your book.

  6. Amy says:


    Thank you SO much! That is so nice of you! I haven’t had a chance to read “My Life in France” yet, but expect to get back to regular reading soon, and that is definitely on my list. Perfect timing, really – cooler nights, earlier sunset (so less time in the garden before dinner), and the book will be wrapped up in the next two weeks or so!

    Thanks again!

    Take care,

  7. Rebekka says:

    Ok….I am SOOOO glad you left a comment on my blog, because I am so glad to have found yours! This is exactly what I need for inspiration!!!!

  8. Amy says:

    Hi Rebekka,

    Oh good! I’m so glad! I love your blog – AND, I know you’ll create some amazing things, even on a budget! Can’ t wait to read all about it and see your lovely pictures.

    Take care,

    p.s. for other readers, Rebekka’s blog is Nom de Plume, it’s in the list of blogs I like or click:

  9. Daniel says:

    Happy birthday and congratulations for several things: you hard work on your new cookbook, your wonderful summer’s end, and your gift for writing this wonderful blog. I’m a big fan of anyone who helps spread the truth of how it can be amazingly inexpensive to create healthy and delicious food at home. Keep it going!

    Casual Kitchen

  10. Amy says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Thank you so much on all counts! It’s extremely important to promote inexpensive but good food. As you point out, there’s a mythology that good food has to be expensive, or prepared by chefs, when, in fact, we are all capable of making quality meals at home.

    Thanks again!

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