Summer’s Most Essential Condiment

July 19, 2013

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Salsa Verde

Clifton Fadiman once called cheese “milk’s leap to immortality.”  I think of salsa verde as parsley’s bid for lasting fame. Here the little sprig, rarely more than a disposable decoration, has its shining moment. Put this salsa on steak and watch it sing. Serve it with raw tomatoes, with grilled eggplant, or on a plate of scrambled eggs. A single spoonful has the kick and crunch to bring a summer meal together, and this time of year I always have some sitting in my fridge, ready to rescue a dull meal.

One important note: This is the time to use the finest olive oil in your cupboard, because ordinary oil will have a negative impact. I particularly like the bright flavor of virgin Tuscan oils here; their prickly bite adds an interesting note.

1 bunch flatleaf Italian parsley

2 shallots

red wine vinegar

¼ cup capers, rinsed and soaked

3 cloves of garlic

½ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

half a lemon

high quality extra-virgin olive oil 

salt

pepper

Wash  your parsley and pick the leaves until you accumulate a small mountain on your cutting board. In the words of Fergus Henderson, “discipline” your parsley by running your knife repeatedly through the pile. You want a fine chop, but be careful not to mash. Set aside.

Peel and chop your shallots extremely fine and cover with red wine vinegar. Drain and chop your capers. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut your lemon in half. Mise-en-place complete: prepare to assemble!

Beginning with your parsley, add half of the shallots, half the capers, all the garlic and almonds, and toss. Taste the mixture for salt and acid, and continue to add shallots and capers accordingly, bearing in mind that the capers will significantly raise the salt-content.

Douse the entire salsa in olive oil, stirring it into a shimmering green pool, and adjust the seasoning with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors, salt and pepper if necessary. Some like it soupier – I prefer mine more rustic,

It's ready to eat now, but it will be even better tomorrow, when the the flavors have had a chance to get better acquainted. 

Makes approximately 1 cup.

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The Last Sour Cherry Tart this Summer

July 17, 2013

Sour cherry season is coming to an end, but I've still got some in my refrigerator.  I want to make something spectacular with the final fruits, and it's going to be a tart.

Most sour cherry recipes are too sweet, which ruins the unique flavor of this elusive fruit. I've finally worked out a recipe that I think is pretty perfect.  Another bonus: unlike so many pastries, this one is better when it’s had a little time to itself, and it tastes better on day two (provided it actually lasts that long). 

 

Crostata Crust

 Working with pastry dough is difficult in the heat of summer. And this one, because it's so soft, is extremely challenging. But unlike regular pie dough, this cookie-like pastry is very forgiving, refusing to get tough, no matter how much you handle it. When it gets too soft, simply put it back in the refrigerator for five minutes to let it cool off. It will become much more accommodating. 

Mix a stick and a half of soft butter with a third cup of sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy.  

Break an egg into a small dish; reserve a bit to wash the pastry later, and add the rest of the egg to the butter. Toss in a teaspoon of vanilla.

Grate the rind of one lemon into 2 and a quarter cups of flour. Add a pinch of salt and slowly add to the butter/egg mixture until it just comes together.  Divide into two disks, wrap in wax paper, and put in the refrigerator to chill for half an hour.

 

Sour Cherry Filling

Meanwhile, make the cherry filling by removing the pits from 2 pints of fresh sour cherries; you should have 4 cups once the pits are removed.  (You could also use 4 cups of frozen pitted sour cherries; do not defrost before using.)

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet.  Add the cherries, a half cup of sugar and the juice of half a lemon and stir gently, just until the liquids come to a boil. Don’t cook them too long or the cherries will start to fall apart.

Make a slurry of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the boiling cherries. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, just until the mixture becomes clear and thick.  Allow to cool.

 

Putting it all Together

Preheat the oven to 375 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf. 

Remove the pastry disks from the refrigerator.  Roll out the first one, between two sheets of plastic wrap, to a round about twelve inches in diameter.  This is the tricky part: invert it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan, preferably one with high sides.  It will probably tear; don’t worry, just patch it all up and put it back into the refrigerator.

Roll out the second disk in the same manner, put it onto a baking sheet (still on the plastic wrap), remove the top sheet of plastic and cut this into 8 or 10 strips, about an inch wide.  Put the baking sheet into the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes. 

Remove the tart shell and the strips from the refrigerator.  Pour the cherry filling into the tart shell. Now make a lattice of the strips on the top, criss-crossing them diagonally.  Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; no matter what you do, the tart’s going to look lovely when it emerges from the oven.  Brush the strips with the remaining beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar and put into the oven on the baking sheet.  (You need the sheet to keep cherry juices from spilling onto the oven floor.)  Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden.

Cool for an hour, on a rack, before removing the side of the tart pan. 

Eat gratefully, knowing that fresh sour cherries are a short-lived summer treat.

 

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Blues for a Summer Day

July 15, 2013

Blueberry Galette

It’s blueberry season here in the Berkshires, and the berries are fantastic this year. At first I just ate them by the handful, stopping to scoop up a few whenever I passed through the kitchen.

But once I’d gotten over my initial infatuation – local blueberries! – I began wanting to do something more impressive with this beautiful fruit.

My feeling about blueberries is that you don’t want to do too much. Blueberry muffins are swell. So are blueberry pies.  But my favorite blueberry confection is this simple galette: the easy crust makes a very fine frame for their wonderfully robust flavor. What you end up with is juicy berries in a crisp, buttery crust.

For the pastry:

 1 cup flour

a pinch of salt

a pinch of sugar

6 tablespoons butter, cold and chopped into cubes

4-5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

2-3 cups blueberries, rinsed and stemmed

½ lemon juice & zest

3 teaspoons sugar

1 egg for the egg wash

Make the pastry by putting the flour into a bowl with the salt and sugar and cutting the butter in with a pastry cutter. (If you don’t have one, and you like to bake, I’d advise indulging in this simple tool. There’s something so satisfying about the way it works that you’ll wonder why you ever used two knives or your food processor.) Then add the ice water, tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring with a fork and taking care to not overwork the dough. It should just come together and not be too wet or sticky. Wrap in wax paper and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile wash the blueberries and toss them with lemon juice, zest, and sugar.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to approximately ¼ inch thickness and transfer to a baking sheet. You could put this back into the refrigerator for a brief cooling off period, but it’s not completely necessary.

When you’re ready to bake your galette, make a small mound of the mildly macerated blueberries at the center of the pastry, leaving enough of a border to fold the pastry over the edges. Like a crostata, perfection is not the goal here – the rougher the better. Paint the outer crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the blueberries begin to break apart in the middle. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with ice cream or yogurt.

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A Surprising Little Tidbit

July 14, 2013

How to Stuff an Apricot

My friend Peter Biskind's book on Orson Welles has just been published, and we celebrated with a book party last night. Sixty people. It's been a while since I catered a cocktail party, and I'd forgotten how fussy and time consuming hors d’oeuvres can be.  I felt like a jeweler, as if I had spent days creating tiny little edible tidbits.

The pulled pork sliders on mini buns were a big hit. So were the BLT tomatoes, but then they always are.  You hollow out cherry tomatoes (a stupid lot of work, but fine if you have willing friends to help), and then fill them up with a mixture of mayonnaise, crisped bacon cut into little pieces and chopped romaine lettuce. They’re ridiculously addictive.  

Pickled shrimp were fresh, beautiful and very welcome since I made them a day ahead of time. I made the salmon rillettes a day ahead too. (I poached a large filet of wild sockeye salmon and mixed it with smoked salmon, capers, cognac, shallots, parsley and a bit of butter, then packed it all into a terrine to let the flavors marry.) Heaped onto croutons it was gorgeous. People gobbled up tiny sandwiches of rare cold beef tenderloin with horseradish cream. But the surprise of the night was something I haven't made in years: goat cheese and pistachio-stuffed apricots. They were beautiful. Astoundingly delicious. And very small.

I was so busy assembling food and getting it out of the kitchen that I forgot to take pictures. So you'll have to imagine how pretty the apricots were. But here’s how you make them.

Soak half a pound of dried California apricots in a small amount (about half a cup) of fresh orange juice for about half an hour, then drain on paper towels.

Let 6 to 8 ounces of fresh, soft goat cheese come to room temperature.  Meanwhile, shell enough pistachios to make about half a cup. Grind half of them very finely in a spice grinder and coarsely chop the other half. Mix the coarsely chopped nuts in with the goat cheese and spoon that into the apricot halves.  

Sprinkle each apricot with a lovely dusting of bright green ground pistachios. If you have any pistachios left over, put one on top of each little filled apricot. The result was so delicious I found it hard to keep from eating them all myself.

One caveat: if all you can find are Turkish apricots, don't bother. They are sadly lacking in flavor.

 

 

 

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Another Wonderful Thing

July 12, 2013

Much as I love my local farmers’ market, every time I go to the Bay Area I’m consumed with farmers’ market envy. Out there it’s a year-round way of life. And sometimes, well, you just get too busy to make it there in time, and you arrive to discover that everything you wanted has already been snapped up. So I was thrilled to see that Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based start up has finally hit eastern shores. The online farmers’ market connects consumers and producers through their simple, inviting site.

You assemble your basket – the lovely photos are paired with charming stories of the farms and artisan producers – then make your way to a local outpost to pick it up. Best of all: they deliver. (So far New York deliveries are restricted to North Brooklyn, but I’m hoping they’ll expand their reach.) It’s a bit like a tailor-made CSA.
Object of desire, at the moment: nettles from Blooming Hill farm. Nettle gnocchi are definitely in my future.

 


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