Swiss Chard Tart

cuttart2

I have an excellent recipe for a buttery, cornmeal tart shell. It NEVER fails to please. Why then, I ask you, must I continue to experiment with other recipes? Oiy. Rarely do they measure up. Tonight I’m annoyed. Truly. I mean, this tart would have been unbelievably delectable had I just stuck to the tried-and-true recipe I know.

Alas. This tart closely resembles the breakfast pizza I made several months ago. The topping is nearly identical: sautéed Swiss chard with garlic, grated cheese (whatever you have on hand), and a couple of eggs — a combination I really adore. OK, fine, I adore eggs on everything, but you know what I mean.

So, I can’t in good conscience leave you with a foolproof recipe today, but I can give you some guidance. Use this recipe for the tart shell and follow this recipe for the topping. Combine the two and you’ll likely create a yummy dinner. Again, I regret, I am leaving you with yet another recipe that must be revisited shortly.

My Swiss chard plants are still going strong. In fact, they have been consistently productive since I planted them. For all of you novice gardeners out there, Swiss chard is a great vegetable to start a garden with — it is easy to grow and very tasty.

06. October 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Eggs, Entrees, Vegetarian | 19 comments

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

ice cream PS

What do you get when you combine heavy cream, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, fresh mint and dark chocolate? Absolute, pure, utter and complete deliciousness. I don’t know what else to say about this mint chocolate chip ice cream except that it is one of the best things I have ever tasted. Ever. Seriously.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from Alice Q. Foodie’s recipe

1 cup half and half
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves
5 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch salt
pure peppermint oil* (not extract), optional
1 cup chopped dark chocolate, such as Valrhona 70%, chopped with a chef’s knife into ¼-inch pieces
*Peppermint oil can be found at specialty cookware shops. I found mine at Fante’s in Philadelphia, but Alice Q. Foodie says Henry’s Market carries it as well.

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the cream and half and half with the mint leaves until it’s good and hot but not boiling. (You can just touch it lightly with your finger to test it.) Cover pan and set aside to steep for 30 mins. Strain out mint and discard (or compost) it.

2. Whisk yolks in a large bowl. If your cream mixture is still relatively hot to the touch (which it should be after only 30 minutes), slowly ladle the mixture into the egg yolks whisking constantly. Transfer yolk-cream mixture back to the saucepan and add the sugar with a pinch of salt.

3. Cook the custard over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula. When the mixture begins to coat the back of the spoon, remove the pan from the heat. (If you have a thermometer, it should be about 170 degrees.)

4. Strain the hot custard into a bowl. If using the peppermint oil, take it and drip one or two drops into the cap of the bottle, then dip a toothpick in the oil and swish it through the custard mixture. (This stuff is powerful and can easily ruin a batch of custard if restraint is not used.)

5. Chill the mixture until completely cold. Churn in an ice cream maker. During the last few minutes of churning, add the chocolate chips. Freeze mixture until ready to serve.

03. October 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Desserts | 32 comments

The Secret To Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes

Lemon-ricotta pancakes

Before I mislead you any further, I’m going to come clean. I don’t know the secret to making lemon-ricotta pancakes. In fact, what I flipped around the griddle on Saturday morning was nothing short of a disaster. Breakfast was saved only by the bacon.

Which leads me to the “secret” I am referring to in the title. Several weeks ago, I was up in San Fran dining with a few friends for brunch. One of my friends was being particularly indecisive. I think he sent the waitress away twice, insisting that he “needed more time.” My stomach grumbled while he wavered between the burger and the pancakes. He finally chose the pancakes, ordering a side of bacon to satisfy his grease craving. He promised the rest of us he would share. 

And share we did. No sooner had the waitress dropped our food had we ordered another plate of bacon for the table. I had ordered the pancakes, too, and I have to say, with the addition of a few strips of crispy bacon, I don’t think I’ve ever been more satisfied with a brunch order. I’m always tempted by dishes such as French toast, waffles and pancakes, but I always worry about missing the greasy, savory egg dishes. A side of bacon, I’ve discovered, is the perfect solution. So, I suppose, all I can share with you today is this: perhaps the secret to enjoying pancakes is to eat them with a little grease?

Now about these pancakes. Several years ago while visiting my sister in NYC, I ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes for brunch at Sarabeth’s in the upper west side. I have been dreaming about them ever since and over the years have saved countless recipes from various newspapers and magazines. After comparing the recipes, including a handful from the blogosphere, I chose this one and set to work.

Now, I don’t want to blame the recipe because I think I’m partly at fault. I have never figured out how to make pancakes. By the time I get my rhythm going and start cooking the pancakes properly, I’ve eaten about 100 and can hardly bear to look at the griddle any longer. That’s precisely what happened this weekend. But even the pancakes that I believe I cooked properly lacked the flavor I remember so fondly. The lemon flavor certainly came through but the ricotta was indiscernible, likely a tribute to the icky ricotta I purchased at my grocery store.

So I wish wish wish I could leave you with an awesome recipe for lemon-ricotta pancakes, but alas I cannot. I am determined to make these again soon, however, and when I do, I hope to report back with more favorable results.
On a side note, imagine my excitement upon seeing this month’s Saveur in my mailbox. Look at this cover! Pure genius. There’s a nice little two-page spread offering detailed instructions for cooking eggs four ways: baked, sunny-side up, soft-boiled and scramble. Might be a good thing to tuck inside a cookbook for future reference. Just a thought.

28. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Breakfast, Cheese | 30 comments

Leftover Tortillas? Make a Quiche

tortillaquiche

I hate wasting food. I really do. But sometimes, I stash things in the freezer merely to avoid the guilt of trashing food at the present moment. By “things” I mean 4 tortillas or 6 egg whites or the heels of a loaf of bread. I have good intentions. I really do. With the tortillas, I envision making a quick wrap for lunch one day. With the egg whites, an angel food cake. With the bread, homemade croutons.

These things sit — preserved, certainly — but effectively, trashed. Inevitably, I clean out the freezer several months down the road and toss the cracked tortillas and frost-encrusted heels of bread into the garbage can.

Anyway, last weekend, I rescued four flour tortillas from meeting their cold fate. When I spotted them in my fridge, I recalled a recipe I had seen on the Blue Heron Farm Web site for asparagus quiche that used tortillas as a shell. And then I played a game called “use every possible item of food in your fridge that can be sautéed and packed into a quiche shell.” Never played? Give it a go. It’s a great time. What’s most fun about the game is that there are no rules: Expiration dates should be overlooked; mold, scraped away and sent down the disposal; shriveled, wilted vegetables, scrubbed and chopped as if they were new.

I wish I could say I were exaggerating. I’m not. I cut off serious mold from a pepper. I gave a block of cheese a chemical peel. I browned a questionable piece of several-days-old hamburger meat. The result? A yummy yummy quiche.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Step 2: Prep your ingredients. Here I have 1 bell pepper, 1 zucchini, 2 chipotles in adobo, 1 hot chili pepper, 1 tomato, leftover sautéed leeks, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cilantro. Cook your ingredients. Sauté peppers and onions and such together. (I also had a leftover uncooked hamburger patty, so about 6 ounces of ground beef.) Season with salt and pepper. Add zucchini and tomatoes and cooked leeks. Add cilantro at the end. Note: This is just what I had on hand — use anything you have.

Step 3. Line a buttered dish, such as a 9-inch round baking or pie pan, with about 4 tortillas.Whisk together 3 eggs with 1/2 cup of milk in a large bowl. Add the prepped ingredients. Add the cheese and stir.

Step 4. Pour into prepared tortilla-lined pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until set. Mixture should jiggle just slightly when shaken.

Step 5: Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting. Ta-da! A simple simple quiche.

25. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees | 27 comments

Corn Pudding

cornpudding

Several years ago, I received two non-stick All-Clad mini baking pans as a birthday gift. They are adorable! And, before this evening, entirely useless. Tonight, I am happy to report, I finally found a use — a very good use — for them: corn pudding.

Corn pudding for two, that is. This original recipe, printed in the July 2007 issue of Gourmet, feeds 8-10 people as a side dish. It is such a wonderful recipe, and I made it several times last summer after hearing my mother rave. Tonight, in an effort to minimize potential leftovers, I made a third of the recipe and baked it in one of my adorable, All-Clad baking dishes. Success! I love this recipe. It takes only minutes to prepare and is a perfect late-summer, early-fall dish.

For the past few weeks I have been buying delectable corn at the San Clemente farmers’ market from the same Carlsbad farmer that sells the Cherokee Purple tomatoes I have been obsessed with all summer. I am submitting this recipe to the September 20th Farmers’ Market Report. If you have a farmers’ market story/recipe/discovery you want to share, you can play, too. Just read the rules first, then submit your post.

Happy first day of fall.

Corn Pudding For Two
Serves 2 as a side dish
(Note: Click here for the recipe written to serve 8-10 people)

2 ears corn, kernels scraped from cob
cilantro or basil to taste
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch kosher salt
2/3 cup 1%, 2% or whole milk
2 small or one large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF with rack in the middle. Butter a small shallow baking dish (such as the one pictured above) or individual crème brulee dishes or ramekins.

2. Pulse half of the corn in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the herbs, flour, sugar, salt and remaining corn. Whisk together milk and eggs and add to bowl with the corn. Stir until just combined. Pour into baking dish or ladle into individual dishes.

3. Bake until the center is just set. About 30-35 minutes. (Maybe longer — I kind of lost track of time.) Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

22. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Eggs, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 29 comments

Peach Blueberry Cake

peachandblueberries

This recipe has so much potential. And I so badly want to rave about it. I mean, I have been snacking on it morning and night for the past two days. But something, I must confess, is not quite right.

This recipe appeared in the August 2005 issue of Gourmet. If you care to hear what other people think of the recipe, you can read the 143 reviews posted on Epicurious. Online, I just discovered, the recipe is prefaced with this:

We’ve received some letters from readers complaining about a burned crust when making the peach blueberry cake, so we ran through the recipe two more times. Baked in a standard light-colored metal pan, the cake was perfect; baked in a dark metal pan, however, it burned — be aware that the cake’s high sugar content makes it more susceptible to burning at high heat.

A burnt crust was precisely the problem I ran into. The recipe calls for baking the cake at 375ºF for 1 hour and 45 minutes. 1 hour and 45 minutes! Does that sound crazy to you? I mean, sometimes I wonder what people (recipe writers) are thinking. I baked my cake at 350ºF for about 1 hour and 15 minutes because it smelt too good to leave in the oven any longer and the fruit looked bubbly and delicious. You can’t see the pastry below the layer of stewing fruit, so there is no way of knowing if “the crust is golden” as the recipe suggests as a determining doneness factor.

When I bake this cake again — which I am determined to do before summer is over — I will bake it for one hour and see if that improves the texture of the crust, which in addition to being slightly burnt tasted slightly dry. When I bake it again, however, I might use a different pastry all together. My mother suggested using a shortbread pastry recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, which she adores and which could be the perfect substitute for the current dough. All I know is this: whatever pastry is used in this dessert must be strong enough to support a thick layer of juicy, oozing fruit. And in an ideal world, it must be moist and delicious, too.

For all of you bakers out there, any suggestions?

Cake just before entering the oven:

Cake after resting for 20 minutes out of the oven:

Peach Blueberry Cake
Serves 8

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 stick (½ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 lb. firm-ripe large peaches (about 4), halved lengthwise, pitted, and each half cut lengthwise into fourth or fifths
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
pinch salt

1. Make pastry. Pulse together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-sized butter lumps. Add egg and vanilla and pulse just until the dough clumps into a ball, about 15 pulses.

2. With floured fingertips press dough onto bottom of an ungreased springform pan. Chill pastry in pan until firm, about 10 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss until the fruit is evenly coated. Pour filling over chilled pastry and cover pan loosely with foil. Bake for about an hour, until filling is bubbling.

4. Transfer cake in pan to a rack and cool uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove sides of pan and cool longer or serve immediately with vanilla ice cream.

The pastry for this cake comes together quickly with just a few pulses in the food processor. Of course, it can be made by hand as well.

18. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 23 comments

Michael Pollan’s Nightmare, His Autograph & Some Thoughts From Slow Food Nation

Omnivores

I left Slow Food Nation feeling inspired yet overwhelmed by the many issues facing this country (and the world) regarding food production.

Perhaps what I thought was most interesting, however, was hearing the many speakers collectively criticize both Obama and McCain for failing to discuss reformation of our food system. The panelists noted that if politicians could pass laws that promote sustainable agriculture, they would solve (or begin to solve) many other problems along the way.

But the “slow food” or “local food” movement has always been driven by the people. Wendell Berry described the ongoing revolutions as a “leaderless movement.” Below I have summarized what I learned from the various Food For Thought sessions I attended. 

Slow Food: ‘A Leaderless Movement’

When asked how our presidential candidates stand on the subject of food and agriculture, author Michael Pollan responded frankly: “They don’t stand.”

Among the many challenges the next president of the United States faces, three remain at the forefront: limiting our country’s dependence on foreign oil, reducing the high costs of health care, and fighting global warming. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have proposed various solutions to these problems ranging from off-shore drilling to universal health coverage to cap-and-trade policies. Absent from any discussion thus far, however, has been a plan to reform our food system.

But food, noted Pollan at the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend, is the common link among all of these subjects. If we want to become energy independent, if we want to reduce health care costs, if we want to reverse climate change, we must reform our food system. Today it takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy; today an abundance of cheap, nutrient-deficient food has caused a national obesity epidemic; today 25 to 30 percent of global warming is caused by industrial agriculture. Food production, energy, health and the environment are indisputably connected.

The many activists, including authors, chefs and farmers, speaking at Slow Food Nation criticized Obama and McCain equally for failing to recognize the far-reaching effects of our food system. Pollan acknowledged that elected officials have always had a political interest in keeping food cheap.

Ironically, cheap food — created largely by a system of subsidy payments to corn and soybean farmers, a dated policy the new farm bill continues to allow — is the chief cause of our dependence on foreign oil, elevated healthcare costs and increasing global warming, the very problems our politicians aim to solve.

If keeping food cheap is an axiom politicians continue to heed, then the push for sustainable agriculture, it seems, will continue to be, as described by Wendell Berry, “a leaderless movement.” Berry, a farmer and author, has been a principal thinker influencing the Slow Food movement in this country.

But if Slow Food International is any example, in spite of the absence of political leadership, agricultural reformation has gathered momentum. What began in 1986 as a demonstration in Rome to protest the building of a McDonalds near the steps of the Piazza di Spagna has grown into a worldwide movement with over 85,000 members in 132 countries. Slow Food Nation drew over 60,000 supporters to San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. More and more Americans are shopping at farmers’ markets, participating in CSAs (community supported agriculture) and advocating fair trade and sustainable farming practices. A revolution is taking place thanks to the many people “voting with their forks,” as Michael Pollan says.

While Wendell Berry confessed to having given up on the political system in 1990, today he has faith in a “growing cooperative spirit” and believes that “if the right thing has a loud enough voice, [politicians] will do the right thing because they have to.”

Alice Waters, who dreams of installing a victory garden on the White House front lawn, said, “We need to feed the politicians.” Waters recounted filling the lunch boxes of Obama’s campaign staff with the juiciest peaches and plums, food she claims “awakens the senses.” If political leaders could only taste this local, organically grown food, believes Waters, perhaps change will happen more quickly.

Time will tell if a political leader will find the gumption to make agricultural policy the forefront of a national discussion. But until a Slow Food chapter exists in central Iowa, the responsibility for driving an agricultural revolution will remain with the people. As author and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva said during the final panel discussion at Slow Food Nation, “Every one of us has to be the Rosa Parks of food.”

Vintage posters lining the walls of the bread stalls at Slow Food Nation’s Taste Pavillion:

Meeting Michael Pollan

I had waited in line for one hour with six books in hand, when I saw him stand up. He’s leaving, I thought. Michael Pollan is leaving. My heart sunk. I considered jumping out of line like a crazy woman to beg him to sign one more book before he left. An act of craziness, fortunately, was unnecessary. 

Michael Pollan, who, next to Wendell Berry, was receiving little action at the book-signing table, had stepped out to meet the people in line. One by one, he greeted Slow Food devotees, engaged in small talk and signed books. When he reached me, I could hardly utter a word. 

“Who should I make this out to?” he asked. 

“Well, I’m Ali,” I said. “And, I love your books,” I blurted out.

“Well, Thanks Ali,” he replied.

And that was it. A 30-second conversation. My heart was racing. But I’m not going to lie — I’m pretty psyched to have my copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma signed by Michael Pollan. (See picture below. In case you cannot read his writing, he wrote: “For Ali, Vote With Your Fork.”) Click here to see more photos from Slow Food Nation including a blurry picture of Pollan from the event described above. What can I say, my hands were shaking.

Now, about the above-pictured corn burger. I recently finished an intro graphic design course at UCLA Extension. One of our projects was to create a teaser movie poster. Teasers are the posters released months before a film hits the studios — the ones that include little written information about the film (no credits, no photos from the screening, etc.). Often even the title is absent from the poster. I chose King Corn, a documentary released in 2007 about corn production in this country. Corn, the two college friends and movie protagonists learned, is ubiquitous in our food supply, from the burgers and breads we eat to the beer and soda we drink — an idea Michael Pollan explored in depth in the Omnivore’s Dilemma. (The corn burger is something I imagine starring in a Michael Pollan nightmare.) King Corn is very interesting and can be rented at Blockbuster or purchased from the movie’s Web site.

12. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Eating Locally, Travel | 14 comments

Farmers’ Market Quesadillas

vegquesadilla

I found corn masa! Real corn masa. Like freshly made every day corn masa. El Toro Rojo (in my town, San Clemente) receives a delivery of this tortilla base every day precisely because real corn masa perishes that quickly.

Tonight, I made quesadillas following a method prescribed in Rick Bayless’ Mexico One Plate at a Time cookbook.  In this method, the freshly pressed, uncooked tortillas are placed on a hot griddle. The filling gets placed atop the side facing up (the uncooked side), and the tortilla is folded over and pressed to create the traditional half-moon shape. The tortilla gets flipped back and forth every minute or so and cooks in less than five minutes. I worried about the uncooked side tasting, well, uncooked, but it doesn’t — it becomes wonderfully crispy and golden on the outside while the cheese melts and the filling all melds together.

Now, if you can’t find fresh corn masa, don’t fret. This vegetable sauté will taste delectable in any tortilla. Just use whatever variety of flour or corn tortillas you prefer. In fact, while I am thrilled with the results of the fresh corn masa tortilla, this recipe is all about the filling: quickly sautéed farmers’ market veggies mixed with chopped fresh basil and topped with grated cheddar cheese. I used corn, zucchini, poblano peppers, onion and cherry tomatoes, but use whatever vegetables you find. I am loving the taste of corn with basil right now. Such a good combination.

Once the vegetables are all chopped, this sauté takes five minutes to complete. Use high heat and cook the peppers and onions first. Add the corn with the zucchini once the onion bits look a little brown. Cook for another minute or so, and add the chopped cherry tomatoes and basil at the end with the pan off the heat.

So, I made this filling for quesadillas, but this quick sauté could be served over rice or mixed with orecchiette pasta (the perfect shape for vegetables this size) or served with polenta or whatever. I have a feeling a poached or fried egg atop this vegetable medley would only enhance its deliciousness. Try it! It is so yummy.


Farmers’ Market Quesadillas
Serves Two

1 onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 ear corn, kernels scraped from cob
1 zucchini, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
basil to taste, chopped

olive oil
kosher salt
Tabasco, optional

Tortillas, corn or flour
Cheddar cheese, grated
Salsa, sour cream and lime for serving, optional

1. Over high heat, sauté the onion and pepper together until the onion looks slightly browned. Add the zucchini and corn and cook for one to two minutes. Season the whole mixture with salt to taste. Turn off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes and basil. Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary. Add a splash of Tabasco if desired.

2. Proceed with your preferred recipe for quesadillas. (See below if using fresh corn masa.) Here is a good method: Brush a cast iron or non-stick pan with a thin coating of olive oil. Place a flour tortilla in the pan and brush it lightly with olive oil. When the underside starts to get little light brown bubbles, turn the tortilla over and top it with the cheese and vegetable mixture. Fold the tortilla in half so it looks like a half moon. Place a smaller cast iron pan on top to weight down the tortilla. When one side is brown, flip over the tortilla and brown the other side. Make sure that the tortilla cooks until it almost could crack like a bisquit. You’ll have to play with the heat — it should be hot enough to brown, but not to burn.

3. Rick Bayless’ method for using freshly made masa tortillas: (Note: see below for instructions on how to make the tortillas themselves.) Heat a well-seasoned or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. One by one, make the quesadillas. Lightly brush one side of each tortilla with oil, then lay it oiled side down on the hot griddle. Spread with a thin layer of cheese, leaving a 1/4-inch border all around. Spoon the vegetable filling into the center of the cheese-covered tortilla. When the cheese begins to melt, but before the tortilla begins to crisp, fold the tortilla in half to create a half moon. Cook, flipping the tortilla every minute or so, until the cheese is completely melted and the tortilla crisps, about five minutes. (I only flipped once, and my quesadilla probably cooked for about 3 minutes.) As each quesadilla is done, transfer it to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

4. Serve with salsa, sour cream and lime wedges.


Making tortillas. Rick Bayless’ method:

1. Knead the masa with just enough water to make it soft (like cookie dough) but not sticky. The softer the dough, the more tender the tortillas — but don’t make it so soft it sticks to your hands. (Note: I purchased my fresh masa at El Toro Rojo, and I didn’t need to add any water to the mixture.)

2. Open the tortilla press and lay one square of plastic wrap on the bottom plate. Scoop out a walnut-sized piece of dough, roll it into a ball and center it on the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap. Close the press and use the handle to flatten the ball into a 5- to 6-inch disk. Turn the plastic-covered disk of masa 180 degrees and press gently to even the thickness.

3. Open the press and peel off plastic. Proceed with quesadilla recipe (above) or line a sheet pan with parchment paper and top with your pressed tortillas. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to cook.

11. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Cheese, Eating Locally, Entrees, Vegetarian | 22 comments

One Peach, One Tart, A Favorite Recipe, Simplified

peachtart

As the title suggests, the tart featured in this post is based on a longtime favorite recipe printed in Fine Cooking several years ago. The original recipe calls for making a frangipane — an almond-based filling — to spread in a thin layer across the dough. The fruit lies over this creamy base and the combination of dough, frangipane and fruit in every bite is absolutely delicious. The addition of frangipane to any free-form tart — from plums, peaches and apricots (really all stone fruit) in the summer to pears and apples in the fall — seriously raises the bar of the classic fruit tart, adding a most subtle flavor, but a dimension that pure fruit tarts lack.

That said, in the tart pictured above, the frangipane has been omitted, and had I never known frangipane existed, I wouldn’t have missed it. A dessert of warm peaches in a flaky, buttery crust topped with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream alone is pretty damn good. And whereas frangipane requires almond paste, rum and room-temperature butter, this simplified fruit tart can be made with pantry items in no time.

All I’m saying is this: If you have the time and the ingredients, make the frangipane. You won’t be disappointed. If you don’t have the time or the ingredients, however, make this tart anyway. You will still produce an elegant and delectable dessert. You won’t be disappointed.
This recipe yields two small tarts each of which will serve three or four people. I used only one peach in the tart I made and froze the remaining portion of dough. I love love love this dough recipe. I’m not quite sure how it differs from a traditional pie dough but it without fail produces a perfect crust.
 It should be noted that while this tart probably tastes best when warm, I am discovering that it complements morning coffee very nicely as well.

Galette Dough
Yield=Two mini tarts (each tart yields 3-4 small servings; double recipe to yield two 9-inch tarts)

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 T. sugar
¼ tsp. table salt
8 T. unsalted butter
¼ C. + 1 T. ice water

Whisk flour, sugar and salt together. Cut butter into flour and using the back of a fork or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter into flour mixture until butter is in small pieces. Add ice water and continue to stir with fork until mixture comes together to form a mass. Add more ice water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time. Gently form mass into a ball and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight. (Dough can be frozen, too.)

Frangipane
Note: I did not use a frangipane in the above pictured tart. This frangipane makes for a truly special tart. If you’re pressed for time, however, or don’t feel like making frangipane, the peaches and the galette dough alone will make a wonderful dessert.

¼ C. almond paste
2 T.. sugar
2 T. butter at room temperature
2 tsp. rum
1 small egg

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, combine almond paste, sugar and butter. Beat until combined, then add rum and egg and beat until smooth, or until only small lumps remain. Set aside.

To Assemble:

1 peach, sliced (If making two tarts, use two peaches.)
pinch sugar, pinch salt
1 T. butter, melted
1 tsp. sugar
parchment paper
vanilla ice cream

1. Toss peach slices with the pinches of sugar and salt. Set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one disk out approximately into a 9-inch circle, using flour as needed to prevent sticking. Line a rimless cookie sheet (or upside-down jelly roll pan) with parchment paper. Transfer dough to parchment paper. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the frangipane (if using) into the center of the tart and spread toward the edges, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles over the frangipane.

2. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Finish the tart by folding the exposed border over the tart onto itself, crimping to make a folded-over border. Chill tart in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Brush dough with butter and sprinkle sugar over entire tart. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until crust is golden. Let cool for five minutes on tray then slide parchment paper and tart onto a cooling rack. Let cool another 20 minutes before slicing.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.


05. September 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts, Olallie Cafe recipes | 28 comments

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread (Pappa Al Pomodoro)

tomatoes

At an adorable café in San Clemente, a bowl of tomato-and-bread soup sent four ladies knocking on the kitchen’s door. Through an open window, the women praised the chef for his creation, swooning over the soup’s deep, rich flavors, begging him to disclose any secrets. Flattered and unafraid to share, the chef rattled off the ingredients: tomatoes, basil, onions, bread, salt. 

The women stared in disbelief. They wanted something more. They wanted to hear that the soup was drizzled with white truffle oil; that it was lightened with a goats’-milk foam; that it was finished with an 80-year Xeres vinegar. Alas, simplicity, it seems, triumphs again.

Several of you out there recommended I roast or dry my small tomato harvest and store the tomatoes indefinitely in my freezer or fridge to be used as I please. I did in fact follow these instructions, but upon hearing this exchange between the chef and patrons at Cafe Mimosa last week, I couldn’t resist pureeing my tomatoes into a soup. Roasting, I discovered, sweetens and intensifies the tomato flavor, making the need for any exotic, unexpected flavorings unnecessary. Chef Tim Nolan surely wasn’t holding anything back. This rustic soup originates in Tuscany and, like so many traditional recipes — panzanella salad, bread pudding, bruschetta, French toast — was created as a way to prevent day-old bread from going to waste. Simplicity (as well as bread) is the common denominator of all of these recipes.

Whether the soup at Cafe Mimosa is vegetarian or not, I do not know, but my vegetables certainly needed some sort of a stock to bring the mixture to soup consistency. I used chicken stock and coarsely pureed the mixture with a large bunch of basil and a few dried out pieces of a French boule. Many of the recipes I found on the web for pappa al pomoodoro called for a fair amount of olive oil, but I didn’t think this soup needed any more than what was used while roasting them. Adjust this recipe, however, according to your liking — this batch of soup has been made completely to taste. If you start with a base of slow roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, I assure you your soup will be a success. Served with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro makes a wonderful late summer meal.


Slow roasted tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic form the base of this Tuscan tomato soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread
Inspired By Café Mimosa’s Tomato Bread Soup
Yield = 1½ to 2 quarts

tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if cherry or grape, enough to fill a sheet tray
1 onion, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 shallot, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 head garlic, cloves removed and peeled
a few carrots, peeled and cubed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper

3-4 slices bread (French or Italian)
about 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or a low-sodium variety
1 bunch fresh basil
crushed red pepper flakes
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread for serving, optional

Note: This recipe is all done to taste. Adjust as necessary.

1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a rimmed sheet tray with all of the vegetables. This tray should be filled in a single layer. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand — I threw in the carrots because I had them, but leeks, celery, thyme etc. would all make nice additions. Drizzle olive oil over top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast for about three hours until vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slice the bread into ½-inch thick pieces. Place on the counter to dry or toast briefly in the toaster. You just want to dry out the bread; you’re not trying to brown it.

3. Puree the soup. When the vegetables are done, place them in a pot with chicken stock. To give you a rough idea, I had about 5 cups of roasted vegetables and used about 2½ cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the bunch of basil. Break two slices of bread into medium-sized cubes and add to the pot. Using an emersion blender or food processor or traditional blender, puree the soup roughly. It should be slightly chunky. Taste and add more salt or bread if necessary. Add more stock until soup reaches desired consistency.

Note: If you leave this soup relatively chunky, it would make a wonderful sauce for pasta.

24. August 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Eating Locally, Entrees, Side dishes, Soup, Vegetarian | 22 comments

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