A Perfect Meal

March 24, 2012

“I also stubbornly maintain that the only real way to cook lobsters is in three or four inches of sea water, in a covered kettle, for about twelve minutes (pound and a quarter lobsters being the ideal size).  You then drape these dazzling creatures over the rocks until they cool off a bit, tear them apart with the bare hands, dip each piece in melted butter and guzzle. There should be from two to six lobsters per person.  While the lobsters cook and cool off, two dry martinis should be served.  Nothing whatever else should be served- we are eating all the lobster we want, we are not fooling around with salad, or strawberry shortcake or even coffee. All you need are the martinis, plenty of lobsters, millions of paper napkins and a view.”

 Avis DeVoto to Julia Child, 1952

 

 

 

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Old Fashioned Lemon Pudding Cake

March 12, 2012

Part cake, part souffle, a little bit pudding: this is one of those magical classic recipes.  It’s not original – you can find dozens very much like it in old cookbooks. My mother used to make it from a mix, which says a lot about her because it’s so easy to make from scratch.

What's different abou t my version? I love the taste of lemon, so t's a bit  tangier than most.

Grate the zest from two large lemons, then squeeze the juice.  You should have about half a cup. 

Separate three large eggs. Add the lemon juice and zest to the yolks, then whisk in a cup and a third of milk. Slowly add a half cup of sugar, a dash of salt, and a quarter cup of flour. If you’ve used good eggs it will glow with color.

Beat the whites until they hold soft peaks.  Whisk in a quarter cup of sugar, and beat until the whites turn sleekly glossy and hold a stiff peak when you pull the mixer from the bowl. Whisk a quarter of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the rest of the whites. 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Boil some water in a kettle.  You’re going to bake this in a water bath, so you’ll want a large square or rectangular baking dish that is large enough to hold your pie plate and leave a bit of room around it.  Set the empty pan in the oven, put the pudding cake in the center, and carefully pour boiling water all around it, about halfway up, being careful not to splash any into the cake itself. 

Bake for about 45 minutes, until it is puffed and golden.  Remove from the water bath and cool on a rack.  This is best served warm, and you should eat it all; by day two lemon pudding cake loses much of its luster.

 

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Sorrento Lemon Tart

March 8, 2012

Lemons make me happy; they always have. I may run out of milk, eggs and coffee, but I am never without lemons. When I am feeling sad I'll open the refrigerator, reach for a lemon and run my fingers across the peel for the pure pleasure of the scent. It always improves my mood.

The lemon I don't like has never been grown, but the lemons from Sorrento are in a class by themselves. Something about the soil in that part of Italy makes lemons juicier and more fragrant than the ones we grow here. Their skin contains more aromatic oil as well. They are truly a joy to work with. They make fantastic lemonade, their candied peels are spectacular, and they're essential if you're making Limoncello. And in a tart… well, try it. 

This one, with its perfect balance of sweet and tart, is wonderful made with ordinary lemons.  Made with Sorrentos, however, it becomes truly extraordinary.

Begin by making the tart shell. If you have some nuts on hand – I like cashews in this crust but almonds or hazelnuts are also excellent – carefully toast a handful, then grind them up with 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and a pinch of salt. Cut half a stick of cold butter into the mixture with two knives, then stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and an egg yolk.  Press the mixture gently into a 9 inch tart shell with a removable bottom. Chill if you have time; if not, bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and allow to cool. 

 To make the filling, grate the zest from one lemon.  Then squeeze 4 lemons and mix the juice with the zest, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 2 whole large eggs plus 2 large yolks. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil; keep whisking for a couple more minutes.  Remove from the heat, add ¾ of a stick of butter, cut into pieces, and whisk the mixture until the butter has vanished.  Spread into the tart shell, allow to cool, then chill for at least 2 hours.

 

 

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