Who flipped the switch? After weeks of height-of-summer salads and cookies suddenly here we are, plunged into nights when you need a jacket. I grilled a dozen ears of corn last Thursday, alone at home, nursing a scotch on our deck in the dark, except when I raised the lid of our grill …
Local Massachusetts peaches seem increasingly old-fashioned to me, meaning that you make a mess when you eat one (unless a nearby vendor gives you slices) and while they taste sweet they also have a faint counterpoint of tartness. This makes them the ideal companion for salty prosciutto. I suppose we could have left it at that, but we also had a raft of mint and some pistachios, so Jody upped the ante with a pistachio-mint pesto that doesn’t require much more than a quick buzz in the food processor. Fresh mozzarella makes it a sumptuous enough to stand in for lunch, if that’s where’s you want to go. You’ll also be relieved to know that local cherry tomatoes, now at their spectacular peak, don’t require peeling. This is the easiest antipasto you’ll even encounter, especially on a hot day when instead of cooking all you want to do is savor the last days of summer.
Fat. Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we? Fat’s probably the best place to begin a discussion of Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory. Au debut, as the French say, in the beginning, rillettes meant one thing – pork. Or rather, pork and fat. Rillettes was pork that had been salted, cooked slowly in pork fat, shredded, then preserved in the same fat, and served at room temperature, usually spread on toast. Rillettes* are now found all over France, and while pork is still popular, in the Southwest, the Midi-Pyrenees, extending down to the Spanish border, the technique is more often seen with duck or rabbit. Today rillettes of salmon, tuna or other fatty fish, or even mushrooms are not uncommon on pricey menus. It’s hard to argue with that–what doesn’t taste good when cooked slowly in fat and salt?
Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange – Fennel Salad. If you make nothing else from us this year, make this. It’s crazy delicious, one of my contenders for the tastiest thing Jody’s cooked in the past year, and it’s easy. Contrary to what you may think, the recipe doesn’t involve filleting your own mackerel. Unless you want to. If so, have it. That’s what we did, but only because the whole fish were so gorgeous I couldn’t bear not photographing them, so I spared our fishmonger the hassle of filleting them for us. You’ll also notice that there are three fish and only four fillets, when you’d expect six. That’s because we roasted the third mackerel whole. If Spanish mackerel’s around, we can’t get enough of it. Make this dish.
Shouldn’t Prairie Home Companion have a folksy sponsor like the American Soup Council to tout this most comforting of all dishes? Imagine the catchphrases: “Soup – we’ve got your back,” or “Soup – a mom in every bowl,” or even, “Soup – at least the barn didn’t burn down.” That’s how I feel about this week’s spicy makeover – Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup. I just had a bowl. It was all the things soup should be – tasty and warm and reassuring. It certainly dispelled some of the gloom attendant on my losing this week’s photographs.
That’s right, I lost them.
Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes? Culinary gravity inexorably pulls them toward brown sugar or molasses or something candied, even with bacon (candied bacon). But don’t do it, at least not this time. I never encountered a sweet potato during my year abroad in the Swiss canton of Fribourg, a stone’s throw from the town of Gruyères (town, plural: cheese, singular), but I can guarantee that that if there were ever a culinary match made in heaven it’s sweet potato and that most hazelnut and butter flavored of all cheeses, aged Gruyère. Some cheeses should never be melted (sorry, brie en croute is ghastly) but Gruyère is just the opposite. Quiche, the poster child of boring French food from the ’70’s, is redeemed by the addition of aged Gruyère. Fondue without Gruyère is but a pale revenant of the real deal. Gruyère is expensive (around $20/lb.) but the recipe only calls for a cup and half of the stuff, grated, about 3 ounces. Unfortunately, I only found out about the Gruyère after the ingredients photograph had been taken. Jody announced that she’d added Gruyère–I couldn’t even photograph it being stirred into the bowl. I growled and stomped around. I should have waited until I tasted the finished pie. Gruyère and sweet potatoes rule.
Eggs Baked in Avocado is as easy and foolproof a brunch as you’re likely to find, unless your local patissière delivers bags of warm fresh-baked croissants. If you happen to come into some warm croissants or decent bread to serve with the eggs and avocados, all the better. Baked avocadoes are delicious, but it’s hardly surprising most people have never eaten one, not when a ripe avocado is so good with just a squeeze of lime and a bit of salt. A baked avocado has a rich, deep flavor that loves complimentary fat, like an egg yolk or cream, or the acidic contrast of a salad. As we were pulling the elements of this post together I suggested topping the eggs with a spoonful of crème fraîche and calling it a day. Not Jody. The rule in our house is, once you open an avocado, you eat it–or you make sure someone else does–that same day, so just setting aside the cup of avocado flesh leftover from making a bit of room for the eggs was completely unacceptable. You’re the lucky beneficiaries – you get eggs baked in avocados, served with a spicy avocado salad and crème fraîche.
Gratin typically brings to mind a rich and cheesy dish of root vegetables (pronounced by all American children to rhyme with “all rotten”). Nutritional guilt over this fat fest drives food bloggers to frantic rearrangements of their refrigerator poetry magnets into epithets like “a holiday indulgence” and a “once in awhile treat.” But in the Adams-Rivard kitchen we scoff at a such reservations. We eat gratins when we feel like it, whether Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is joining us for dinner or not. Thank God for bicycles. Which offers me a segue into this week’s dish, Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin. While pedaling through Provence a month ago we couldn’t help but notice how much lighter a Provencal gratin is than its Gerard Depardieu-like cousins to the north. The cream had vanished, along with much of the cheese, both supplanted by olive oil, bread crumbs, and fistfuls of crushed herbs. Olive oil, we were reminded, transforms the flesh of vegetables into something unctuous. Caramelization is the gilding on the lily.
Ceci n’est pas une quiche. It’s a Swiss Chard Tart with Gruyère and Anchovies. Quiche sounds so seventies, like the ubiquitous anonymous “white wine” that came into vogue as an alternative to cocktails during the same culinary epoch. Boring. White. Food. But a tart, a tart can play. Sweet or savory, rich or light, it has no rules beyond the obligatory crust, and inclination to use whatever looks good in the market that day. And what looked good to us was the Swiss chard. So, yes, this is a savory custard tart, but it’s really about the chard. Oh, and the anchovies. The tart doesn’t taste like anchovies–it tastes like chard, with cream and cheese, and something salty and elusively delicious in the background.
There comes a time when every cyclist reaches into a jersey back pocket, extracts a pro-biotic hyper-nutrient choco-green exfoliant chia protein bar and instead of ripping away the wrapping like the savage carbo-craving road shark she is, she freezes. Tongue, stomach and heart revolt. A chilly voice in her head announces the rebel demands: We don’t want to eat an energy bar. Ever. Again. Last year, reflecting on the long PanMass Challenge ride she’d just finished, Jody said to me, “I am sick of f_______ energy bars! I can’t stand it! Next year I’m going to make my own.” Fortunately, she reconsidered. And that’s why you’re being treated to Bicycling Spring Rolls this week.