Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.
That’s the summer in my mind.
I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.
But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.
ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA
Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.
I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.
A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.
SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD
One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.
We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)
Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.
MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT
What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.
This one is barely a recipe.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.
Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.
I first encountered these engaging little confections in a now long-extinct bakery in Nashville called Bokay’s. Its owners were Hungarian, and they specialized in towering, elaborately decorated wedding cakes, the sort that made children stop at the display window and gape with longing.
It was a bakery of celebrations. In the springtime, I can remember finding braided egg bread challahs, and coffeecakes in a cunning Easter Bunny shape. In December, Black Forest cakes and stollen took the fore. And these twisted cream cheese pastries, Rugelach, filled variously with cinnamon sugar and walnuts, chocolate, apricot or raspberry jam.
Something betwixt a cookie and a pastry, they were delicious-bite sized treats.
The origin of the word is interesting: It is Yiddish for “twists” and resembles (and likely influenced) the Polish word for “horn.” In either case, these little crescents are rich, yet light and flaky, its dough layered with equal parts of butter and cream cheese.
The dough is easy to make, and not dissimiliar from these crescents that I made a few Decembers ago. What is especially appealing about them—-outside of their delicate size and their flaky, not-too-sweet taste—-is that they lend themselves to a spectacular array of fillings.
That dough makes one terrific pastry canvas.
Rummaging through my pantry, I found candied ginger, dried apricots, a handful of dried cherries, some dark cocoa, a small bag of chocolate chips, almonds. Ideas began taking shape.
Ginger-apricot-almond came together readily. I plumped the ginger and fruit in a simple syrup bath, and ground the toasted almonds.
Chocolate and cherry make ideal partners too. I wanted to add a little something different to that canvas. Rather than use the more traditional cinnamon, I thought it would be fun—and flavorful—to sprinkle Garam Masala spice blend.
Enjoy them this holiday season with a cup of coffee or pot of hot tea, shared with friends or family.
BASIC RUGELACH DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 pound chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 cup powdered sugar—for dusting and rolling pastry
Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse.
Then add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and egg yolk.
Pulse and process until the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough comes together as a mass.
Remove the dough and form into 2 separate discs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until well-chilled—at least one hour, although overnight is better! The dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days, or may be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw any frozen dough in the refrigerator before using.
CANDIED GINGER-APRICOT-ALMOND FILLING
1/4-1/3 cup candied ginger, cut into slivers
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup almonds
Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan set on low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium, cover and allow the mixture to soften, thicken and simmer.
Cool and process to spreading consistency (using either an immersion blender or a food processor.)
Meanwhile, spread the almonds onto a baking sheet. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and toast for 10-12 minutes. Cool and finely chop (or pulse in the processor to fine)
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar. Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll out to a 15 inch circle. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle more powdered sugar.
Place 1/2 cup glob of ginger-apricot mixture in the center of the dough circle. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the surface to the edges of the circle. Add more fruit mixture as needed.
Sprinkle the top of the fruit mixture with the finely chopped almonds.
Cut the dough into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each piece up from the exterior to the inner point and place onto a parchment-lined (or sil-pat lined baking sheet) Keep the pieces about an inch apart.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the rugelaches are puffed and golden brown.
Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing.
Makes 32 pieces.
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1-2 teaspoons garam masala spice blend
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried dark sweet cherries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Have all of these ingredients assembled separately for your mise-en-place.
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar.
Unwrap one disc of dough and roll it out on the dusted surface into a 15″ circle.
Cover the top with cocoa, followed by
Cut into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each elongated triangle from the outside to the point and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.
Makes 32 pieces
We’ve all passed that bin or cart at the grocery store filled with discontinued or out-of-season products. I’ll stop and cast a cursory glance over the array, before moving on. Typically a bust, the cart brims with items that I would never use: cans of cartoon-shaped Spaghetti-O’s, infant formula, or leftover bags of Halloween candy.
But this time, I was surprised to find real treasure, a baker’s bonanza: blocks of white and dark chocolate, bags of semi-sweet chips, brown sugar, and cartons of almond milk. I didn’t need any of them, but at half-price, I’d snap up the bargains–certain that I would use the sugar and chocolate during the holidays.
The almond milk was another matter. I’d never tasted it, nor cooked with it, but at half-off, it was a good opportunity to experiment with it. I bought one quart, stashed it in my pantry, and would wait for the right inspiration.
With pear season upon us, I didn’t wait long.
Baked into cakes and tarts, pears and almonds make happy companions, but that wouldn’t put the almond milk to much use. A clafoutis, that curious French confection that relies on a blend of eggs, milk, sugar and flour for its thin batter, could be an ideal candidate.
A rustic fruit dessert originally made with cherries, it affords some variables that you can play on. Pears? Of course. Sliced thinly, firm but ripe Red Anjous and Barletts would be delicious baked into the clafoutis.
How about using brown sugar instead of white granulated? Yes.
I did a little research and found that almond milk and cow’s milk could be interchangeable; the same holds true with almond flour and all-purpose. So, those of you desiring to be dairy and/or gluten-free, this dessert is for you.
The rest of us are going to be mighty pleased with it as well.
Wanting to accentuate the almond theme, I coarsely ground a cup of whole almonds to cover the bottom and sides of my buttered baking dish. I thought that they might add a crunchy crustlike element to the clafoutis.
I also grated some fresh nutmeg over the surface. Be sure to take in the aromatics before you stir it into the foamy mixture.
The clafoutis is ready for the oven. I really packed it with pears, tucking in a few unpeeled Red Anjou slices around the top.
It baked beautifully, with a smooth custard, soft, luscious pears, and nice almond crunch. I don’t think you’d know what sort of milk went into its baking.
I’m in agreement with Molly of Orangette : Fresh out of the oven, it is fragrant and delicious. But, tomorrow it will taste even better. Overnight in the fridge, the flavors will settle in, and a chilled slice with cup of coffee sounds like a fine way to start a fall morning.
PEAR ALMOND CLAFOUTIS
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup ground almonds
2-3 firm but ripe pears
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup almond flour (or all-purpose, if you like)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk (you may use whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a baking dish, bottom and sides, with butter. Sprinkle the ground almonds evenly to cover, reserving a couple of tablespoons, and set aside.
Peel, halve lengthwise, and core the pears. Cutting across the body of the pear, slice into thin pieces.
Using an electric beater (or immersion blender or food processor,) blend the brown sugar and eggs together. Then, add the flour, beating until smooth, followed by the almond milk, followed by the vanilla. The mixture will be frothy.
Grate the nutmeg over the mixture and stir. Ladle it into the baking dish to cover the bottom.
Arrange the sliced pears on top. Pour the remaining mixture over the pears. Sprinkle the rest of the ground almonds around the perimeter of the dish.
Place onto the middle rack and bake for 65-70 minutes–until the top becomes golden brown and custardy batter is set. Allow to cool on a rack.
Makes 8-10 servings
Want to make your own almond milk? Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy recipe right here.
To my Good Food Matters friends in the Washington DC area!
I will presenting my cookbook at Vigilante Coffee Roastery and Cafe on Sunday November 23rd. Check out the invite for details.
Of course, I’ll be serving some goodies of the season from the book, and barista-extraordinaire Chris Vigilante will be making some luscious coffees to pair with them.
I’m thrilled to be trekking out of Tennessee with Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbooks in tow, and would love it if you could come by.
What would you like with a cup of coffee right now? How about a slice of roasted apple walnut cake napped in apple caramel?
Or perhaps a wedge of this fragrant apple-blueberry-cardamom cake?
With bushels of apples in myriad varieties at the market, and bushels of luscious apple dessert recipes circulating the ‘net, I’ve been lured into making simple one layer fruit-rich cakes, in dark and light. Mood food.
Rain, fog, and autumn gray have pervaded this month, thus far. That’s nudged me into the kitchen to bake. Cooking for comfort,
And color. When Joyti at Darjeeling Dreams posted her heirloom apple cake, sparked with cardamom, it reminded me of how good these kinds of one-layer cakes are, and how readily they lend themselves to fruits of the season.
Inspired, I made Cake 1, using Braeburn and Gingergold apples. At the last moment, I added blueberries from my stash of preserves. (Last summer, I had canned blueberries in syrup—now, more than a year later, it’s time to use them up!)
Tart apples coupled with juicy bursts of berries and the perfumed undercurrent of spice make this one memorable.
Recently, my friend Teresa took a road trip to Arkansas. Her destination was Crystal Bridges, the Walton’s museum extraordinaire of American Art in Bentonville. Along the way, though, she came across the famous Arkansas Black apples. And, bought her own bushel.
Share the wealth–everyone visiting Teresa post-road trip leaves with a sack of Arkansas Blacks.
Firm and crunchy with dark red peels that deepen to burgundy as they ripen, they are sometimes called the “Snow White Apple.” Teresa had made a deep-dish pie with them, and noted that the slices maintained their firmness and crunch in the baking.
I liked that, but wondered if they wouldn’t benefit from an oven roast, before you folded the pieces into the batter.
I also thought I’d take the cores and peels (as I’d done in this recipe here) and make an apple caramel sauce to ladle over the cake while it was still warm.
And so began the second apple cake.
Opposites. Just as the first is defined by a light cream-colored batter, Cake 2 has dark earthy tones imparted by raw sugar, vanilla and a trinity of spices.
The pieces of apples and walnuts amplify those tones in baking, the cake emerging dark and toasty, the apples melting into the crumb in places, affording pockets of sweet fruit throughout. Although, it is not too sweet–a characteristic shared by both cakes. The caramel sauce soaks into the cake, which improves in flavor, the next day.
I love how we can take an idea, a fruit, a basic recipe and let it go light or dark, depending on tastes, mood, and what embellishments we have at hand. Next time, my apple cake may go light and rich—Cooking Light’s Cinnamon-Apple–one of their most popular since 1997—uses cream cheese in the batter. Doesn’t that sound just ever-so?
Roasted Apple Walnut Cake, with apple caramel sauce
Butter–for greasing skillet or cake pan (9 inch round)
4-5 firm apples, (such as Black Arkansas) peeled and cored (reserve peels and cores!)
1 tablespoon (or so) vegetable oil
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk plus 1/4 cup (divided)
Place peels and cores into a saucepan. Add sugar and cover with water—about a cup of so. Bring to just under a boil, then cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the apples into 1/2″ thick slices. Lightly coat in vegetable oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Add walnut pieces and roast for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Place eggs, softened butter and turbinado sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together.
In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: spices, baking powder, soda, salt, and flour. Beat in dry mixture a little at a time, alternating with buttermilk.
Fold the cooled roasted apples and walnuts into the batter. Put batter into a prepared cast-iron skillet or cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes.
While the cake is cooling on the rack, finish the apple caramel sauce.
Strain the peels and cores from the mixture, pressing on them to extract more apple juice.
Stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk (you may use cream if you prefer) and gently reheat, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken slightly.
Spoon the apple caramel sauce over the cake. Cut and serve.
Apple Blueberry Cardamom Cake (adapted from Darjeeling Dreams)
Butter, for greasing skillet
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 Gala or Gingergold apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup blueberry preserves or plain blueberries
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 inch cast-iron skillet (or cake pan) with butter.
Cream the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, until light and fluffy. Beat milk and olive oil. Beat in cardamom, flour, baking powder. Pour batter into the skillet (or cake pan)
Core the apples and thinly slice them. Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern, making the apple slices overlap slightly.Spoon preserves (or blueberries in syrup, or plain blueberries) over the apples.
Bake on the middle rack, testing for doneness with a toothpick at 35 minutes.
Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
It wasn’t just the allure of this gluten-free, no-bake tart, coupled with the fact that local strawberries are here at our markets, ready to spill their juicy sweetness over its top.
It’s the homemade cheese that fills it: Fromage Facile. That’s French for “Easy Cheese.” Soft, slightly tangy, fresh—and ready to spread into that tart, in about thirty minutes. I was sold.
But, there’s more.
Delicate Chevre kisses laced with lavender and thyme, spiced twists of Oaxacan cheese (quesillo) to pull and melt over flatbread, rounds of burrata filled with brown butter and cream.
Chevre. Mozzarella. Burrata. All wonderful cheeses—can you imagine making them yourself in under an hour?
Claudia Lucero says absolutely! and demonstrates 16 different varieties simply, beautifully, in her new book, One-Hour Cheese.
I’m a novice in this field. I have experimented, with some success, making ricotta and mascarpone . But I want to know more. How do you hand-stretch mozzarella? Why do you use citric acid and vegetable rennet? How do you form that purse of burrata and fill it with cream? What can you do with all that leftover whey? Can you really make a smoked cheddar wheel in just 60 minutes? (You can, although its name, “smoked cheater,” tells you it is not a true smoked cheddar—-but it’s incredible, nonetheless.)
One-Hour Cheese provides the answers to these–and many other cheese making questions.
Even though I wanted to leap to the more complicated recipe, Burrata, for my first try, I decided to begin with Fromage Facile. This super-simple and delectable cheese is ideal for anyone’s initial foray into cheese-making. It provides a luscious blank canvas, ready to accept sweet or savory applications. And, you don’t need any extraordinary to make it. Likely you already have everything you need in your pantry.
The ingredient list? Whole cow’s milk, buttermilk, lemon juice and salt.
Supplies of Note? Cheesecloth and a reliable thermometer.
The process is quick: gently heat the milk to 175 degrees. Stir in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Watch the curds form before your eyes.
Strain, to separate the whey. Lightly salt. Form into a ball. Ta-Dah! Fromage Facile.
Claudia gives many enticing recipes, to accompany each of the cheeses in the book. Tapenades and dried fruit-nut pastes to flavor the farm-fresh rounds. Vibrant herb-olive oil marinades to cloak bocconcini–little bon-bons of mozzarella. Spiked and peppered melts for pizza and quesadillas.
The photographs are appealing; the steps involved are clearly illustrated; interesting tips are posted throughout. Claudia’s style is upbeat and fun. You’ll want to make these cheeses. And, you can.
This No-Bake Tartlette? You can whip it up in the time it takes for the Fromage Facile curds to drain. The crust has only 3 ingredients: toasted nuts (I used walnuts, but almonds or pecans would work well.) combined with dates and a pinch of salt. That’s it.
Press the mixture into the pans. Swirl a little honey into the Fromage Facile, and spread into each tart shell. Top with the Fruit of the Moment.
Right now, the strawberries in Nashville are out of this world. Slice a few and sprinkle a little raw sugar over these gems–it coaxes out the juices. Add some furls of basil or mint, if you like. Spoon over the tart. Serve immediately—or chill for 30 minutes. Either way, it is simply delicious.
Now, for the fun part: The Giveaway. You are going enjoy having this book as a part of your culinary library.
Post a comment below, telling about a favorite cheese, or a cheese making experience. On June 1st, I will announce the winner, chosen at random.
FROMAGE FACILE from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1 quart whole cow’s milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup cultured buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon flake salt (or to taste)
Fresh Herbs (optional)
Medium colander or mesh strainer
Large heat-resistant bowl
2 quart stockpot
Large mixing spoon
Measuring cup and measuring spoons
1. Line the colander with cheesecloth. Place a bowl underneath to collect the whey.
2. Pour the quart of cow’s milk into a pot. Place over medium heat, warming the milk until it reaches 175 degrees. Stay close by to monitor the heat, stirring to prevent the skin from forming on the top or sticking to the bottom.
3. When the milk reaches 175 degrees, add the buttermilk and lemon juice. Stir well. Remove from heat and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.
4. You will see separation of curds and whey. Stir the curds gently to check the texture. Pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander.
5. Allow the curds to drain until they resemble thick oatmeal, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the salt.
6. Pack the cheese into a paper (or plastic) lined dish to form a wheel.
NO-BAKE STRAWBERRY-CHEESE TARTLETS adapted from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup pitted dates
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
Fresh ripe strawberries
fresh basil or mint
Place walnuts and dates into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add salt. Pulse and process together to form a crumbly crust that will stay formed when squeezed.
Press the crust into tart pans.
Fold honey into fromage facile. Spread into tart shells. Chill for one hour.
Slice strawberries and place into a small bowl. Chiffonade (finely slice) basil or mint and toss into berries.
Top the tarts with berry-mint mixture and serve.
The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.
In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:
“We need to pick figs. Now!”
Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.
Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.
My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!
I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.
I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.
As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.
Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.
ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper
Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.
Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.
ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
It was early one Saturday morning last summer, before the day heated up to its usual steamy 90s, when I first discovered The Peach Truck.
I was on my way to tend the garden behind my brother’s office. I barreled down 12 South, and had to immediately double-back. Parked in the lot of a one-time gas station turned designer jean shop was an old green pick up truck. A young man was working out of the back of the truck, filling and setting out brown paper sacks. A sandwich board sign placed on the sidewalk had been painted in bold letters: FRESH GEORGIA PEACHES.
Georgia Peaches? Really? The ones that I had come across over the years at our markets never lived up to their stellar reputation. Still, there had to be an element of truth in the assertion that the best peaches hail from GA. I had to check ’em out.
I opened a bag and inhaled its aromatics. Sweet-scented, peachy and floral. I gingerly handled a couple–they had the right heft and supple give. Then, the young man, who introduced himself as Stephen Rose, cut a wedge out of one for me to sample.
Mercy. It was firm, yet gushed sweet juices. It might have been the best bite of peach I’d ever had. SOLD!
Chagrined by the lack of true Georgia peaches in Nashville, Stephen set out to change all that. He started trucking in the harvest from his aunt and uncle’s farm in Crawford Georgia. That Saturday morning, I was one of his first sales. It didn’t take long for word to get out. People all over the city, chefs from scores of restaurants, were all clamoring for the peaches brought by the man in the 1964 Jeep Gladiator. Over a five week run last summer, Nashvillians had purchased 10 tons of these remarkable fruits.
Summer is back, and so is The Peach Truck. This year, Stephen and his wife Jessica have made it their mission to spread the Georgia peach gospel. From now until the end of August, you can find these blushing beauties any day of the week in Nashville, at numerous locations.
I’ve made terrific peach salsa, not to mention peach cobbler. Mornings have been brightened with fresh slices over Greek yogurt and cereal. And, here’s this show-stopped recipe I made for our latest potluck supper: rosemary, sage, chives and The Peach Truck’s finest stuffed, rolled and roasted into pork loin.
Without question, all sorts of fruit make luscious partners for pork, (think apples, pears, pineapple…) their natural sweetness enhances the meat while tempering its inherent richness. Fresh herbs and juicy peaches transform a simple pork loin into an elegant, succulent roast that slices into pretty pinwheels.
The trickiest part is in butterflying the meat. Keep slicing horizontally down and into the round of meat, unrolling it as you continue your cuts. This does not need to be smooth. You can see where I started and stopped, with some gashes into the meat. No worries. It’s very forgiving, this recipe. You’ll be filling the interior of the meat, covering all this up.
After you’ve layered the interior with abundant chopped herbs (sage, rosemary, strips of chives) and red tinged slices of peach, you’ll be ready to roll it back to its somewhat original form, and secure it with twine.
I prepared two such roasts for our potluck crowd. Wonderful. It was a night for peaches and The Peach Truck. Someone brought a peach salad, another an almond-peach crisp. And Rick churned a batch of Peaches-and-Cream.
PEACHES-N-HERBS PORK ROULADE
3 lb. boneless pork loin
1 bundle fresh sage
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3-4 fresh ripe peaches, pitted and sliced Â¼â€ thick
coarse ground black pepper
kitchen twineâ€”cut into 4 14â€ pieces
Butterfly the pork loin: place clean, dried roast onto cutting board. With a sharp knife, begin slicing horizontally into the roast, about 1 inch from the bottom. As you continue slicing the length of the roast, pull back the meat, effectively unrolling it.
Press the meat flat. Liberally sprinkle the interior first with salt and black pepper, followed by chopped rosemary and sage. Arrange the peach slices to cover the
Roll the loin back into its original shape.
Slide the pieces of twine underneath the loin. Secure the roll by tying each one. Place in roasting pan, fat side up, seam side down. Sprinkle the top of the meat with kosher salt and black pepper.
Place roast into a preheated 425 degree oven. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, then reduce oven heat to 350 degrees for another 25-30 minutes. When the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, remove from oven.
Allow the meat to rest 15 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, add water to roasting pan and deglaze the juices and cooked-on bits. Remove the twine and slice the roast into Â½â€ thick rounds. Arrange slices on a platter and pour deglazed juices over the meat.
These cool September mornings have me thinking about transitions. Soon, the fall harvests, and bushels of apples picked from area orchards will be arriving at the markets. Red and Golden Delicious, Pink Ladys and Granny Smiths, Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks. Beautiful varieties, each with a distinct taste and culinary use.
I welcome this time of year. It ushers in another wave of foods and festivities that bring people together.
From my office perch looking out into the backyard, I see signs of a season in shift. Leaves getting tinged with yellow. Persimmons ripening on the rugged tree by the alley. Hummingbirds gorging on nectar before making their migration further south. I’ve lived in middle Tennessee for a long time, lived out many long hot summers. Autumn always invigorates me with its crisp clear air and blaze of color. I relish the changes of the seasons. Although anything can happen, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
A sense of place. That gets entwined with many things, especially in a transient society. Where we were born, where we grew up, where we went to school, where we work, all play a part in grounding us, informing that deepest part of us about where we belong. We all have the right place to be.
It’s a potent and poignant theme that Luisa Weiss explores in her food memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Known to many as The Wednesday Chef, Luisa tells her story of finding that sense of place. A confluence of cultures is at the heart of her journey.
In 1977, she was born to an Italian mother and an American father in West Berlin. At age three, her parents divorced and she moved to Boston with her father. She grew up, traveling back and forth, straddling two homes, two worlds. Her divided life, in a way, paralleled Berlin of the Cold War.
As a young adult living in New York, Luisa worked as a cookbook editor. A touchstone to memory, an anchor for comfort, food and cooking became central in her life. In 2005, she launched her blog, initially as a way to plow through the scads of recipes she’d clipped and saved. The Wednesday Chef became more than a food blog; readers worldwide followed her journal as she came to grips with the feeling that her life in New York, ideal as it appeared with a terrific job, fiance, and circle of friends, was not where she belonged.
My Berlin Kitchen chronicles that larger arc of self-discovery, and courage to make bold change. It is a love story, sprinkled with delectable recipes, gleaned from her world travels. Many have an intriguing, decidedly Berliner bent. Roast goose, braised red cabbage, poppyseed whirligig buns, white asparagus salad, spiced plum butter…
I enjoyed reading her story, and found real inspiration in her recipes. Today, I made her Apple Tart.
I call it a Perfect Apple Tart, for it truly honors the apple, in all its crisp sweet-tart glory. In Luisa’s words, ” This tart is about the pure, clear taste of apples, sugar, and a little bit of butter. There are no spices to muddle the flavors.”
And, its crust—the crust could be reason alone to make the tart: thin and golden, immeasurably buttery and flaky.
She credits her recipe to four culinary luminaries: Jacques Pepin, who originally conceived it; Alice Waters, who has kept it a constant offering at Chez Panisse; Deb Perelman, who brought it out into the wide world through her blog, Smitten Kitchen; and Melissa Clark, whose New York Times pastry-making video showed that leaving the butter in larger, lima bean (rather than pea) sized pieces in the dough insured a richer, flakier crust.
Of course, your tart will only be as wonderful as your apples. Select firm ones. Luisa recommends Golden Delicious. I chose Ginger Golds, an early harvest variety with a spicy-tart finish. They are good to eat out of hand, and bake into pies or cakes.
As we come into apple season, you’ll no doubt find other varieties that will appeal to you.
Here’s the tart’s magic. You peel and core the apples before slicing them. Then, you immerse those trimmings in water with sugar, and cook them down. After straining, you reduce the apple-infused liquid to a marvelous syrupy glaze.
After baking and cooling, you brush the tart–apples and crust– with apple syrup. Oh, my!
Apple-Apple-Apple! The tart is all about the apples, not-too-sweet, baked tender in a butter-crisp rustic crust:
From Jacques Pepin to Alice Waters, Deb Perelman to Melissa Clarke, from Luisa Weiss to me, and now to you.
Wishing you contentment wherever you are, Nancy
A PERFECT APPLE TART from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/8 teaspoon Salt
6 tablespoons well-chilled unsalted Butter, cut into 1″ pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons icy water
food processor fitted with pastry cutter
Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse until the butter is broken down into lima bean shaped pieces. Pulse in water, a spoonful at a time, until dough comes together.
Dump out onto lightly floured work surface and gather it together, flattening into 4″ wide disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes. (or up to 3 days)
The Apple Filling
2 lbs. crisp firm Apples (I used Ginger Gold) peeled, cored. and thinly sliced–Save the peels and cores
2 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted
3-5 tablespoons Sugar (I used 4 tablespoons)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees, if using a convection oven).
Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll out onto a flour-dusted work counter.
Rolling and rotating the dough, dust with more flour to prevent sticking. Continue rolling until you’ve made a 14″-16″ thin round.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the rolled dough round on it.
Place the apple slices in overlapping circles on the dough, leaving a 2″ border. Crowd as many apple slices as possible.
They will cook down in the oven.
Fold the edges of the crust over the tart, creating a rustic look, leaving the center of the tart exposed.
Brush melted butter over the apples and onto the crust. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust and apples as well.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tart after 20-22 minutes.
The crust will become golden brown, as will the edges of the apples.
While the tart bakes, make the apple syrup. (recipe below)
Remove the baked tart and let it cool for 15 minutes before brushing the apples and crust with apple syrup.
Serve warm or room temperature. Makes 8 servings.
The Apple Syrup
Reserved Apple Cores and Peels
1/2 cup Sugar
Put cores and peels into a saucepan along with sugar. Pour in water–enough to cover.
Bring to a boil, them simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain the liquid; discard the apple trimmings, and return liquid to saucepan.
Reduce on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, until it becomes thickened and syrupy.
A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.
I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.
For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.
Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.
The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)
Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.
However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?
I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.
As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.
It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.
Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!
I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)
I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.
But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.
I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.
HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt
3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander
In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.
There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.
SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water
Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.
Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.
Good morning, Friends!
As I write this post, squirrels and birds are finishing off the last of the plums on our little backyard tree. A frenzy, you can believe it. I don’t mind. In my kitchen, there’s a huge pot filled with simmering fruit, a pantry stashed with fresh preserves, and a table covered with bowls of the plucked, all in varying shades of red violet, awaiting their destiny.
So many plums. Too many to count!
Conditions must have been beyond ideal this year. A mild, wet winter and a warm, almost summerlike spring–our tree blossomed 2 weeks early, dazzling in its fleecy whites. Over time, its limbs became vertical, dragging the ground, overladen with ripening fruit.
In years past, I’ve been forced to act quickly, snatching plums as soon as they showed that first rosy blush, in order to garner any before my backyard menagerie decimated the crop. This year, no problem: there’s been a gracious plenty for all.
Now, what to do with them?
Friend Maggie likes to make plum jelly: long-simmer the fruit and skillfully strain it for all its juices to make a pretty, ruby-clear spread for toast.
I’m more of a jam-preserves kind of girl. I’ve been cooking down the plums in a bit of sugar, allowing their skins to dissolve into the mix. The plums are juicy and tart; I cook them with just enough sugar to bolster their flavor, while still honoring that tartness. As they soften and release their juices, I fish out the pits. (Sometimes I run the cooked plums through the food mill to accomplish that.)
I pour the preserves into sterile jars and process them in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I also keep some handy, in sterilized, but unprocessed jars, tucked in my fridge. (This freezes well, too–for those of you leery of canning.)
This way, I have plums in a plain yet versatile form, ready to slather on crusty bread with goat cheese, ladle over ice cream, blend into a marinade for grilled chicken, or whisk into a vinaigrette. Add ginger, garlic, hoisin, and the plums take on an Asian flair. Lemon and cinnamon for an Italian plum-good cake.
In crisps or crumbles: whole ripe plums lend themselves nicely for this kind of dessert. I’ve concocted a gluten-free version that uses oatmeal and ground toasted almonds that I think you’ll enjoy. I look forward to learning your ideas, too.
Here’s a round-up of my plum goodies.
BASIC PLUM PRESERVES/SAUCE
10-12 c. whole plums, washed
2 c. Sugar
large heavy-duty stockpot, canning tongs, clean jars, lids, seals
Place plums into your large pot on medium heat. Pour in the sugar. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes or so. Uncover. Spoon off the foam collected on the top. Stir and continue to simmer, uncovered for another 15 minutes or so.
When the skins seem to have melted into the liquid, and the flesh of the fruit gives way, you can begin straining the plum pits. Some you will see floating in the red sea–just spoon them out. For the rest, set a strainer over a large bowl, and begin pour the cooked plum and juices through. Press with the back of a wooden spoon to crush the fruit and release the pits. Or, run the plum-mix through a food mill set with the largest openings. You’ll get a lush puree. And the color, a knock-out!
Return the puree to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes.
Pour into sterile mason jars, seal and process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes.
Makes 6 half pints.
PLUM VINAIGRETTE/GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD
3 T. White Wine Vinegar
6 T. Plum Preserves
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 c. fruity Olive Oil
Place all the ingredients except for the olive oil into a bowl. Whisk (or use a hand-held immersion blender) until combined. The plum preserve acts as an emulsifier. Slowly add the olive oil while blending. Makes a thick creamy vinaigrette.
For the Grilled Chicken Salad:
2 boneless Chicken Breasts
1 bunch of mixed lettuces
1/4 lb. Sugar Snap Peas
2 Green Onions
2-3 Nasturtium flowers
Slather a couple of tablespoons of the plum vinaigrette onto boneless chicken breasts and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Grill char the sugar snaps and green onions.
Grill the chicken breasts. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing onto salad.
Compose Salad: bed of lettuces, charred sugar snaps and green onions. Sprinkle with nasturtium leaves for color and peppery bite.
Place sliced grilled chicken on top and dress with plum vinaigrette.
GLUTEN-FREE PLUM CRUMBLE
1/2 c. Oatmeal
1/2 c. Almonds, toasted and finely ground
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
4 T. melted Butter
2 c. sliced ripe Plums (about a dozen)
9″ pie dish
Toast almonds in the oven and cool. Place into the food processor fitted with a swivel blade and pulse until the nuts achieve a powdery form.
Mix ground almonds, oats, brown sugar and melted butter. Add a pinch of cinnamon, if you like.
Take half of the mixture and press it onto the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan.
Slice plums and arrange in overlapping concentric rings on top of the crust. Continue until the dish is well filled. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and dot with butter.
Take remaining almond-oatmeal crust and press over the top.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
Delicious served warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream. Garnish with some plum sauce. Serves 6-8