Oh, cursed keys! Oh, wretched fingers! Yes, well, it seems I’ve published this week’s post a few days in advance. Haha. Guess what? It’s a Fig, Plum and Hazelnut Tart. It won’t show the usual grammatical felicity only possible when I have time to send it to the monks atop Mount Athos for a prepublication …
Oh, the things we do, the torments we endure, so you don’t have to. The week’s Fig, Plum and and Hazelnut Tart didn’t start out as the walk in the park below. After helping everyone become a tart shell master last week we thought we’d put the technique to good use with a simple fig and mascarpone tart. However, after half our figs disappeared the night before we were scheduled to blog, we had to rethink our plan. Nearby Allandale Farm had no figs, but they did have plums. Voilà fig and plum tart.
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.
Every year Jody participates in a cooking-cycling tour. People like traveling with what Jody jokingly refers to as a “GCC,” that is, a “genuine celebrity chef.” Over the course of 5 – 7 days people bike, visit local restaurants, vineyards and artisan producers of local products, and help prepare a multi-course meal based on the local cuisine with lots of instruction and guidance from Jody. Accommodations are typically cushy. The biking ability of participants ranges from novice to expert and everybody has a great time. People abandon any inclination to count calories (and why would you?) after they experience a day of pedaling about the countryside. Most people return to the US with at least one new discovery–a technique or taste sensation. The top contenders on this trip were peeled tomatoes and rabbit. My own favorite was rouget, small red fish from the Mediterranean, undoubtedly delicious in lots of ways, but I can personally vouch for them sautéed in butter with a little lemon and parsley. Runner up was smoked cod roe, which I’d never even heard of before this trip–creamy, rich, unbelievably good when spread on a fresh baguette.
Mexican Corn Salad is a riff on the south-of-the-border street food classic – grilled corn served with lime, mayo and cheese. Except there was no room on our grill, so Jody’s sister Ginny, the creator of the dish, threw it in the oven just to see what would happen. It didn’t get smokey or charred, the way it would have on the grill, but it worked out fine nevertheless. Testing the salad four times in the last two weeks (i.e. fed our kids and their friends), confirmed what we’ve always suspected: whether the corn is local or not is way more important than whether it’s cooked on the grill or in the oven. We sampled corn from Whole Foods, from a farmers market down on the Cape and from our neighbor outside of Boston, Allandale Farms. That latter two choices made corn salads that sing – the Whole Foods option was okay (the kids hoovered it up), but not in the same league as the farm stuff. Don’t cheat yourself. If you’ve got local corn available, use it–even if you just steam it. People get a little loopy about corn, perhaps because it shows up so late in the season. I’ve seen people who would sneer at an out of state tomato pawing through a mound of imported supermarket corn in June, obsessively wrenching apart the husks to peer into the crown, invariably disappointed. What are they hoping to find? Do they really think that the starchy ears trucked in from ten states away will be any good? Have tomatoes taught them nothing? If peace, love and happiness aren’t growing in your own back yard–at least when it comes to corn and tomatoes–then they probably aren’t growing anywhere at all.
I’m not a fan of cherry pie (too sweet). How un-American is that? You can practically hear George Washington grumbling as he rolls over in his grave. Oh wait, George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, at least apocryphally. Maybe he wasn’t a fan of cherry pie either. Maybe if George had enjoyed a Cherry Goat Cheese Clafoutis once in awhile the father of the United States might have been depicted by contemporary artists looking as if he were actually pleased about it. Clafoutis can cheer anyone up. As a student without much money in the French-speaking part of Switzerland I would sometimes treat myself to a slice of a beautiful clafoutis displayed in a pastry shop window. It was one of those dependable, not terribly expensive indulgences that made me feel comforted and sophisticated at the same time. With one foot in the tart world and another in the cake world, a medium that tasted a bit like crêpes and felt like custard, how could it not brighten my day?
We’re obsessing over peeled tomatoes. Jody has even made a convert of me, Mr. No-Fuss-No-Muss. Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers might well have begun Peeled Tomato… By the end of the summer you’ll either be slipping tomatoes out of their skins quicker than a fast-change artist in a costume shop. . . or you’ll be reading another food blog that doesn’t ask so much of you. But if you do, you’ll miss the supple sensation that is a tomato without its skin, as well as a remarkable esthetic experience. I, for one, had no idea how ordinary tomatoes metamorphosed into the Betty Grables of the garden without their skins. They’re gorgeous.
And nothing makes it worth the effort – trifling as it is – of removing a few tomato skins than pairing the tomatoes with burrata, the really hot cousin of bufala mozzarella.
In his brilliant maritime novels set during the Napoleonic wars the English writer Patrick O’Brian was ruthlessly accurate about the handling of square-rigged sailing ships and the social relations in the British navy. In order to keep readers from feeling completely adrift O’Brian, whom the NYT Book Review dubbed “Jane Austen at sea,” often had his sea-wise characters explain details of shipboard life to landlubbers who had wandered into the story. Those new to cuisine afloat soon learned, for example, that chowder and the dreaded ”portable soup”* were thickened with hardtack lest the liquid slosh out of the bowl and onto the diner. Hardtack, sailors then cheerfully pointed out, was infested with worms, nicknamed “bargemen,” after their resemblance atop the crackers in the soup, to pilots steering captain’s barges from one side of the bowl to the other. In MASTER AND COMMANDER, O’Brian has a character contemplate his soup with its infested crackers and then observe, “Don’t you know that in the Navy one must always choose the lesser of two weevils. Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!”
You’re either on board with this kind of humor or you’re not. If you’re not, you can console yourself with today’s post, Corn and Mussel Chowder. Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!
Our summertime preferences for sweets run to the light and refreshing, as versus the dense and sensual. I want to rise from the table and feel as though I’ve beaten the heat and humidity, not stoked the furnace, which makes Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios the ideal dessert after a meal of grilled lamb and eggplant, or just a treat to dull the edge of a blistering afternoon.
If you’re unfamiliar with granita, think of it as the crunchy version of sorbet. Granita’s gravelly texture would seem to make it the coarse country cousin of sorbet, yet somehow it manages a rude elegance, like handmade orecchiette, that sorbet can’t quite touch. Aside from the fact that sorbet often contains egg white, and granita does not, the primary distinction between the two is that sorbet is made in an ice cream machine. The machine churns as the sorbet mixture freezes, breaking the ice crystals into smaller and smaller pieces, resulting in a dense, even texture. Granita predates the ice cream machine. The basic method begins with a frozen block of fruit flavored ice, then scraping it apart with a fork. Surprisingly, this is quite easy. A subtler approach is to stir up the granita a few times during the process of freezing, then scraping this somewhat looser product after it has frozen completely. We tried both. Both work. The freezer interruptus method results in finer crystals. Your call.
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.