Summer Squash Tart & Happy Fourth!

SummerSquashTart

Hi everyone. Happy Fourth. Just a quick post here. I made this tart, as you may recall, once last summer. This year’s version, made with squash entirely from my garden, is far more special.

I must admit, however, this recipe could be improved, namely because it calls for puff pastry. I don’t want to diss puff pastry or anything, but i’m just not wild about its taste. In a pinch, its great — it saved me this passed Monday when I needed to whip something up for a potluck. If I had more time, however, I might have experimented with a different base. The thin pizza dough, I don’t think would have held up too well for a potluck. A thicker pizza dough might work. Or a savory galette dough. Or the buttery cornmeal crust used in the heirloom tomato tart. I definitely want to try something other than puff pastry because everything else about the tart is great, from the ricotta-parsley spread to the caramelized onions to the blanched squash rounds to the barely melted feta crumbled on top at the last moments of baking.

Also, the pictures here show a tart that has been made with one-third of one sheet of puff pastry. The box I bought came with two units of puff pastry, and I used one and two-thirds for the potluck tart. I had left over ingredients and so made a mini tart, which I ate for breakfast on Tuesday.

Happy Fouth! Oh, and here’s a festive dessert for the holiday: Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches

First, you must blind bake the tart shell. I have a stash of beans I use over and over again for this purpose.


Then, you whisk together ricotta, parsley, an egg, and salt and pepper, and spread it across the bottom.

Then, you top the cheese spread with a layer of caramelized onions.

Then, you top the onions with blanched squash rounds. You bake it for 15-20 minutes. Brush it with butter. Bake it again. And you sprinkle on the feta and parsley at the very end.
Summer Squash Tart with Ricotta and Feta
Serves 6

1 10” x 13” sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
parchment paper
pie weights or dried beans wrapped in plastic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. mix of zucchini and yellow squash
½ cup fresh ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
¼ cup feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place pastry on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a paring knife, gently score (being careful not to go all the way through) the pastry about one inch from the edge on all sides. Prick bottom of pastry all over with a fork, line center area only with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack. Remove weights and parchment paper.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and let sauté until slightly caramelized about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cut the squash crosswise into ¼ – inch thick rounds. Add to the pot of boiling water, cook for 30 – 60 seconds, drain and let dry on a paper-towel lined cookie tray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spread onto puff pastry. Top with the onions. Arrange squash pieces in overlapping rows until tart is filled. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, brush with butter and return to the oven for five minutes longer. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with feta, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Lastly, Ben says Happy Fourth, too!

Garden Update II

Garden

So far, the best part about having a garden has been the smells. Every time I pass by those cinder blocks, I brush my hand over the basil leaves or the tomato vines or the oregano plant, and in just that quick motion, the smells from the leaves get trapped in my palms — it’s amazing. In one second I smell as though I’ve been toiling in the weeds for hours.

I suppose once my garden actually begins producing food consistently, however, eating will become more rewarding than smelling. Thus far, we have eaten a fair amount of zucchini and a ton of Swiss chard. The tomatoes, both the cherry and the heirloom, as you can see, have finally started growing. So have the hot peppers. Soon, just as we had hoped, Ben and I will be able whip up pico de gallo at a moment’s notice. Except that we are currently out of cilantro. Our two plants, unfortunately, took a terrible turn.

Also, until I see the tomatoes turn red, I will not be completely excited. Two summers ago, back in Philadelphia, our two tomato plants produced hundreds of tomatoes but they never turned red. I’ve never prepared so many fried green tomatoes in my life. Which are delicious, but not what I want to eat every night for dinner, you know?

To see the complete transformation, click here: Cinder-Block Garden How-To, and here: Garden Update.

Hot Pepper Plant

Summer Squash

Zucchini

Swiss chard, grown from seed.

Cherry Tomatoes

Bowl of Goodies

View from above — quite a transformation from April 24.

Tortillas & Blossoms

steaktacos

I have a vision of the perfect tortilla. It’s made of corn, from fresh masa, not masa harina. It’s thin. It’s soft. And, ideally, it’s made to order on a griddle-like surface like the ones served every weekend at the Primavera Mexican stand at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Several summers ago on a visit to San Fran for a wedding, Ben and I savored these freshly made tortillas for breakfast, filling them with scrambled eggs, salsa, avocados and cheese.

This meal inspired me to buy one of those tortilla presses and to try to replicate our experience at home. I soon learned, however, the task would be impossible — fresh corn masa was no where to be found in the Philadelphia area. Ben even called a shop in California (after reading an article online), to ask if the masa could be shipped across country. (This was before we went local). The woman refused, however, alleging that the masa would perish en route. I made a batch of tortillas anyway using the Maseca brand masa harina — the product all the local taquerías used as well — but the results proved far from satisfying. As time passed, I gave up my search for fresh masa and settled for store-bought varieties, which tasted far superior to my homemade creations. (Incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about the homemade tortilla making process, read this San Francisco Chronicle article.)

I just returned from a wedding in Baja where the yummy tortillas I ate at every meal reminded me of my bygone quest for the perfect tortilla. At the hotel restaurant, the waiters delivered a basket of warm flour and corn tortillas with every meal to be filled with eggs, fish, beef or whatever. Now, I don’t know if it’s just that no tortilla will ever measure up to the ones made at the Primavera stand, or if I’ve changed — I think I prefer flour to corn. I know, I know, corn is more authentic, but there was something about these small, thin, chewy flour tortillas that I could not resist. Alas, it seems my vision of the perfect tortilla may have changed.

How cute is this little zucchini? Each time I walk by my blossom-filled pot, however, I am tempted to rip off the flowers, stuff them with cheese and fry them up. Fortunately, my farmers’ market has a limitless supply of these blossoms, and I can resist the urge.

Now, about this non-local, grass-fed beef. I’m embarrassed to name its country of origin, but I had traveled all the way to Jimbo’s market with Aunt Vicki and her mother, Sy, and I could not pass up the opportunity to purchase a bit of grass-fed meat. Seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled for three to four minutes a side, tri-tip makes a wonderful taco filling, needing little more than salsa, chopped onion and a splash of lime.

Grass-Fed Tri-tip Tacos
Serves 2 to 3

1 lb. grass-fed tri-tip, flank or skirt steak
kosher salt and peper to taste
6 to 9 soft, corn or flour tortillas
finely diced white onion
chopped cilantro
1 avocado, thinly sliced
pico de gallo
1 limes, quartered
grated cheese (optional)
sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat a grill to high. (Alternatively, place a large frying pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil.) Season the steaks on all sides with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven.

2. Place onion, cilantro, avocados, pico de gallo, limes, cheese and sour cream in small bowls. Place in the center of the table.

3. Grill the steaks to desired doneness, then let rest for five minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and pile onto a platter. Remove tortillas from the oven, and place two on each plate. Begin assembling tacos.

Garden Update

Garden

Recall the garden I (Ben) planted? Well, in just one month, look how it’s progressed!

The tomato plants are growing like mad. So is the summer squash. If you haven’t planted a garden yet this spring, it’s not too late. Even easier than the cinder-block method I used for my main garden, is the “pot” method, which requires two steps: buying a pot and filling it with potting soil. Seriously, the four plants I have in pots — summer squash, zucchini, butternut squash and melon — seem to grow inches every day.

Other notes: We have already eaten a lot of the Swiss chard and have watched it grow back. We’ve eaten all of the arugula and are hoping it grows back. We use the herbs often. One of our pepper plants hasn’t budged since we put it in the ground. And our neighbor’s cat thinks our garden is an enormous kitty litter, but so far hasn’t caused any damage.

To see the complete transformation, click here: Cinder-Block Garden How-To, and here: Garden Update II.

Blossoms from a summer squash plant:

Not quite sure what this is. It’s either melon or butternut squash:


Garden as a whole:

Cinder-Block Garden How-To

cinderblock

Hello. Over the weekend, I (OK, Ben) planted a garden. As Ben laid the bricks, tilled the soil and planted the seeds, I read him instructions from the e-book Cinder Block Gardens. The details of our experience can be read here, Feed The Soil, Not The Plants, but I’ve outlined the method below if you’re looking for a quick read:

Step 1. Marry someone strong who will do all the heavy lifting in the project.

Step 2. Download Lynn Gillespie’s e-book Cinder Block Gardens for $19.95. Read the book.

Step 3. Make a list and head to Home Depot, Lowe’s or your local garden shop. A pickup truck is handy for this trip. The supplies weigh in total almost 1500 pounds.

Basic supplies include:
• 24 cinder blocks ($0.79 each)
• 2 bales 3.8 c.f. peat moss ($12.00 each)
• 10 50-lb. bags all-purpose sand ($2.80 each)
• 3 bags 2 c.f. compost ($6.00 each)
• 1 roll commercial-grade weed barrier ($11.00)

If you are a novice gardener, consider these additional items:
• garden hose
• spray nozzle
• sink adapter if you don’t have an outside water source
• shovel and rake
• rebar stakes and sledgehammer if building on a slope

Costs to consider down the road:
• mulch
• cages for plants such as tomatoes
• trellis for plants such as pole beans

Related Post: Garden Update and Garden Update II

Step 4. Find a flat space and follow instructions in the e-book for garden construction.

Step 5. Consult the “Vegetable Reference Guide” chapter to decide what and how much to plant. Buy seeds or starter plants from a local garden shop. Be sure to buy the tomato plants that come with the lady with the red foot. Plant accordingly.

Step 6: Watch your garden grow.

Step 7. Consider starting a compost pile. Purchase a compost container on-line or from your home-garden center, or construct one following Ms. Gillespie’s instructions. This is the one I have my eye on. It only costs $500.

Pictured above is garlic. I planted each of these cloves in its own cinder-block hole. Each one will grow into a full bulb.

I also planted two bunches of basil, two bunches of cilantro and one bunch of oregano. Each of these grows in its own cinder-block hole as well.