Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Harvest Recipe #2: It's Da Bomb


When I first saw this recipe in Food & Wine I thought it looked incredibly boring. Cherry tomatoes piled onto a crust with nothing else? Right. But then I read the rave reviews and decided I had to give it a try, besides, the cherry tomatoes were piling up fast.

I modified the recipe a little. For starters, I made individual tarts. I brushed the bottom crust of each tartlet with egg yolk to seal it (a tip from Therese). When the tarts were done, I drizzled some spicy olive oil, a little kosher salt, and a few drops of this balsamic glaze I picked up the last time we were in Cape Town. I then offered a creamy French feta to anyone who wanted it. The tarts were delicious—with and without the feta. The tomatoes burst in your mouth loaded with flavor. Do heed the magazine’s warning: Don’t serve this when it first comes out of the oven. Let it cool a little. The tomatoes are like little bombs and will pop and burn when stuck with a fork.

You can follow their crust recipe or use your favorite. I like Julia Child’s recipe that uses both butter and shortening (gasp, shortening! I know, but it’s PIE we’re talking about). I use it for sweet and savory pies. The recipe (see below) makes a lot of dough. Just wrap leftover dough in plastic or vacuum seal and freeze.

Tart Crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


7 TBS cold, unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 cup cold heavy cream


2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes

2 TBS shredded basil leaves

Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. In a food processor, pulse the flour with a pinch of salt and the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and pulse until the dough nearly comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a few times. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325. Roll out the dough to a 14-inch round. Press the round into the tart pan; trim off any excess. Mound the tomatoes in the shell. Bake for about 1 hour and 40 minutes, until the dough is evenly browned. Let cool. Season with salt, garnish with the basil and serve.

Flaky Pie Dough
5 1/4 cups pastry flour
1 TBS kosher salt
6 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening, chilled
1 cup ice water

Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add butter and cut it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Break up the shortening and cut it in until mixture has small clumps and curds. Add ice water, stirring with a spoon to incorporate. Turn dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself a few times. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Dough may be frozen. Defrost in refrigerator.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Peaches Coming Out of Our Ears (Recipes for the Inundated)

When we bought our house in 2002, one of its selling features was a 30 year old peach tree in the backyard that gave off hundreds of fruits each summer. Thirty years, though, is about as long as a peach tree lives, so within three years or so, we had to take it down.

In the meantime, baby peach trees kept sprouting all over the yard, growing from the thousands of pits that fell from the tree. We root them up as religiously as the Little Prince does his baobabs (our yard is about the size of his planet), but Peter left one offspring to grow along the fence, with idea of espaliering it as a decorative tree. We understood that it would not bear fruit; only grafted trees did that.

Well, four years later that tree is yielding us more fruit than its mother ever did. This year we harvested a thousand peaches, and I’m not being hyperbolic. See that picture above? That’s our dining room table covered with over 300 peaches, which have been left to ripen before we process them (unlike other fruit, peaches ripen off the tree). We’ve done this three times now – and there are still peaches on the tree.

It’s been too hot to do much baking or preserving, so I’ve mostly been cutting the peaches up and freezing them for cooking/processing when the temperature goes down. (Turner Classic Movies, Wimbledon,  the World Cup were very helpful to me as I cleaned and sliced my way through a millenium of fruit.) But I have done some baking and preserving – my two stalwart peach recipes that I can make in my sleep. I share them here with you.

The most important thing about cooking with peaches is to start with really good fruit. Mealy peaches make mealy desserts and preserves. Obviously, most of you don’t have peach trees in your backyards, so the best advice I can give you is the buy local peaches in season. And remember – peaches ripen OFF the tree, so don’t worry if they are hard when you buy them (in fact, if they’re soft, you probably won’t even be able to cook with them). If the peaches are local, that means they were picked just a day or two prior to your buying them. Lay them out – not touching each other – for another day or two until the peach flesh gives when you gently press your thumb against the area around the stem and at the base of the fruit. It should also smell like a peach. Now it’s ready to be eaten or processed.

One other piece of advice: I do not peel my peaches. That’s partly a self-preservation strategy: I have over a thousand to deal with, remember. But peach skins have all the pectin, so if you are baking or preserving, the skin is a critical ingredient for thickening and texture. I, however, really don’t like peach fuzz (it actually makes my skin crawl), so what I do is take a damp, tight-weave cotton cloth and gently wipe the fuzz off the peaches (this will also clean them of dirt and residue pesticides if those were used in the farming).

OK, enough preamble. Here are my two stand-by, stand-up peach recipes.

Curried Peach Chutney
(Note that these ingredients are to taste, which is why I give ranges; there is no science to this recipe)
  • 4-5 cups chopped peaches, with skin (I generously fill up my quart-size Pyrex measuring cup) 
  • 1 small to medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 - 1 cup raisins (golden, Thompson, whatever your favorite; you can also use currants or dried cranberries)
  • 1/2- 2/3 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 chopped jalapeno or other hot pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh ginger (you can substitute a heaping teaspoon of ground ginger if you don’t have fresh)
  • 1 TBSP mustard seed
  • 1 to 2 TBSP curry
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar (you can also use white; note that I use WAY less sugar than most chutney recipes, which I think are egregiously over-sugared)
Throw everything but the dried spices and sugar in a large pan and stir over high heat until it comes to a boil. Add the spices and sugar and boil hard for 5 minutes, constantly stirring. Turn down the heat and cook for another 5 minutes or so.

This recipe yields about 3 pints of chutney. If you want to preserve, pour it into cleaned and sterilized jars (fill to a 1/4 inch from the top) and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. You can also make half this recipe just eat it right away. Definitely keeps in your fridge for a couple of weeks. Great with pork, chicken, and lamb.

Peach Cobbler
  • 3 lbs. of peaches, in slices or chunks, tossed in a tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of peaches and your taste
  • 2 TBSP of tapioca flour (my thickener of choice; you can buy in Chinese markets) or corn starch. Or grind instant tapioca in a spice grinder and use that.
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9x9 baking pan. Toss the peaches with the sugar and tapioca flour and spoon into the pan.

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or a bit less if you don’t like too sweet)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk, sour milk, or yogurt (all work perfectly well)
  • 6 TBSP melted butter, cooled.
Combine the dry ingredients. Then beat the egg with the buttermilk and butter. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until combined. Do not over mix.

Drop the topping onto the peach filling in large spoonfuls to cover the surface. IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT heap the filling on too high. You may have more topping than you need and if you just heap it on, the batter closest to the peaches will not bake. If you have too much batter, make a personal-sized cobbler in a ramekin.

Place the pan on a cookie sheet. Bake for 40 minutes or so until it is golden brown on top and the filling is bubbling. Best served warm with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Living La Vida Localiente

If you’re not on the East Coast, you may not know that we have had a heat wave for the first ten days of July. Do I have to tell you that a hundred degrees in New York City is not pretty? I didn’t think so.

What’s even more worrisome to me than the heat itself, is the fear of a power blackout. Peter and I got off easy in the last one (the Northeast power outage of 2003), but the image of those people who were on the subway when the power went out has never stopped haunting me. (To this day, I travel on the subway – always – with a water bottle and a Maglite.) I just don’t want to contribute to the possibility of that happening again, even in my own small way.

So, in a fit of social responsibility, Peter and I have been trying to live without air conditioning. Because the first floor of our house is slightly below grade, the living room is actually not unpleasant. And as long as I don’t use the oven or stove, the kitchen is fine too. The second floor, with three really powerful ceiling fans and the judicious lowering and raising of blinds, is manageable enough.

When we get to my office, however, which is an extension on the back of the house, that’s a different story. By 1 pm, when the sun has made its arc over to our backyard and is beating down on the tar roof above my head, my fingers start to stick to the keyboard and my entire body is coated in a body paint of itchy sweat.

My way of coping has been to take off the afternoons and go to the movies! I figure that the air conditioning is already on in these places and the more people who partake of it, the more efficiently it runs. (I think that’s called rationalization, but it may be true too.) I saw four matinees last week: I Am Love and Winter’ Bone, both of which I highly recommend; Please Give, which I think is fine and definitely better than sitting in an unairconditioned* office; and Great Directors, a pathetic movie that I can’t believe actually got funded and distributed (the director/producer must have her own trust fund).

Peter has been a relentless urban farmer throughout this humid hideousness, waking every morning at six to hand water (see above; did I mention that we’ve also been in a mini drought?), the result of which has been that we have been eating salads from our garden every day, not to mention peaches and raspberries, and basil by the truckloads. Breakfasts have been peach-blueberry-raspberry yogurt smoothies (made with cantaloupe ice balls that we froze at the end of last summer). 

Not so loco after all, I guess.

*The spell check function in Word does not recognize the word unairconditioned. Is that a cultural statement or what?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Harvest Recipe 1

We haven't had a real rain in about four weeks. But the garden, in spite of looking a bit brown, is producing. We've already harvested about 50 pounds of tomatoes, onions, and all the garlic. Tomatoes on toast for breakfast. Tomato sandwiches for lunch. Gazpacho for dinner. Tonight we feasted on tomato, onion, and cheese tart.

Unlike most tomato tarts, this one is not loaded with pounds of gooey cheese or mayo (both of which make my stomach churn). This is nice and clean. Once the zucchini and eggplant come in massive numbers we'll grill it and layer it into the pie, too.

Tomato, Onion, and Cheese Tart
1 (9 in) deep-dish pie crust
Dijon or grainy mustard
3 TBS olive oil
1-2 large onions, sliced thinly
salt & pepper
6 oz crumbled goat cheese, brie, feta or other favorite cheese
2-3 tomatoes, sliced thinly
fresh basil leaves

Place crust in tart pan with removable bottom or a regular pie dish and prick bottom and sides with fork. Line shell with foil and pie weights or dried beans. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown. Cool on rack. Brush mustard on cooled crust. Heat oil is heavy skillet and cook onions until golden brown, about 15-20 min, stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper. Spread onions over bottom of tart shell and top with most of the cheese. Arrange tomatoes, slightly overlapping, in concentric circles over cheese. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake at 350 until cheese melts, 5-10 minutes. Put foil over edge of crust to prevent over browning. Top with torn, fresh basil leaves.