Because, since I discovered how conveniently jam can be coaxed to fit into a schedule not wholly devoted to making jam, I am unstoppable. And plums are irresistible, come fall.
For this jam I used two varieties common in England: sweet, plump Victorias and austere Damsons. The Damson’s astringency smoothed by the honeyed Victorias, together they dance in perfect plum harmony, with a zing.
Damson plums are a bit finicky to pit, until you realize that using a cherry pitter — which I do own but, until now, used only very rarely, since I don’t usually pit the cherries for my clafoutis — a cherry pitter works a charm. And as a bonus I was happy to discover a second use for that woefully underutilized kitchen gadget.
900 g Damson plums (to yield 700g once pitted)
800 g Victoria plums (to yield 700g once pitted)
1 kg sugar
Juice and rind from 1 lemon
1-inch piece of fresh ginger
Wash and pit the plums. Put them in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
When ready to cook the jam, transfer to a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add a ribbon of lemon rind and the ginger, peeled and cut into coin-size pieces.
Bring the fruit to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. After about 20 minutes, check regularly whether the jam begins to jell. A good way to do this is to scoop a spoonful of jam into a small bowl or ramekin, place it in the refrigerator so it cools quickly, and check whether it solidifies.
Meanwhile, sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 minutes.
As soon as the jam is ready, remove it from the stove, take out the lemon rind and pieces of ginger, and transfer the hot jam into the jars. Seal tightly, and, as usual, store for a few weeks at least before opening.
For a while I forgot about tian.
Despite childhood summers spent in the hills outside Aix-en-Provence, tians came into my life quite by happenstance in my early twenties, during a holiday with university friends. Someone made tian, and it was the best gratin I had ever tasted.
A tian is a shallow, ovenproof earthenware vessel from Provence, which has given its name to the gratin-style dishes cooked in them. That initial auspicious tian was probably not very traditional, with its dubious slices of very un-Provençal mozzarella. But in this case I am happy to forgo authenticity, because the mozzarella is what makes it so special.
It is the recipe I had been recreating since: vertically arranged slices of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, interlaced with mozzarella and Mediterranean herbs. Flavors meld into a heavenly mess akin to creamy gratinéed ratatouille.
For years I forgot about tians, but then the other day, finding these late-summer vegetables in my kitchen and, more crucially, a few balls of mozzarella, a tian propitiously came to mind. Dare I say that this adapted version is even better than the ‘original’?
Regarding quantities: there should be a similar proportion of each vegetable and plenty of mazzarella, but the dish is unfussy and very adaptable. The important thing is that the vegetables squeeze snugly into the dish.
Mozzarella (I prefer buffalo mozzarella which is extra creamy)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil and/or thyme
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
Prepare the vegetables:
Wash the chard leaves, trim and discard only the end of the stems, then cut the leaves (with stems) into approximately 1/2 inch (1 cm) ribbons.
Wash, trim ends, (optionally partially peel), and slice the courgettes into disks approximately 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.
Wash and slice the tomatoes, also into 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) disks.
Slice or tear the mozzarella into pieces of a similar size.
Rub the ovenproof dish all over with the garlic clove to impart a subtle aroma. Drizzle a little olive oil all over the bottom of the dish.
Arrange the vegetables and mozzarella in a nice, regular, vertical pattern inside the dish. It’s a bit finicky with the chard but well worth it!
Wash and pick the herbs, chop the basil.
Season the tian with salt, pepper, and herbs, and sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated parmiggiano.
Pop into the oven for a good 35 to 45 minutes, until the dish is beautifully golden and bubbly. Mmmm.
Leeks are in season again. After a long bountiful summer of tomatoes, zucchini, artichoke, beans and tomatoes, more tomatoes — fall vegetables are back at the markets and it’s the time to start roasting.
This is not only my favorite way to prepare leeks, it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables, period, and leeks are incredibly versatile and always a hit.
They are a stellar companion alongside simply grilled fish and lentils. Or together with braised carrots and a roast chicken. I make them with a good steak and very crispy roasted potatoes. The possibilities are endless.
This method is inspired by the wood-roasted vegetables from The River Cafe Cookbook Two (yellow). It is not exactly a recipe, and can be adapted to other vegetables and modified using different vinegars (apple cider, sherry) or perhaps lemon juice, and an array of herbs (rosemary, sage, marjoram, chillies…) depending on the mood. It is especially important to use very good quality ingredients.
Red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
To clean the leeks, trim the roots at one end and darker leaves at the other, peel off the tough outer leaves, keeping only the tender green and white hearts, and thoroughly wash of any grit. Cut the stalks into 2-inch (5cm) pieces, then halve each of these lengthwise.
In a large bowl, create a dressing of sorts with the vinegars, crushed garlic, olive oil, and picked thyme leaves. As in a vinaigrette, the proportions should be approximately two thirds olive oil, one third vinegar(s). In this case I would do half balsamic/half red wine.
Toss the leeks in the dressing until well coated. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place the leeks in an oven-proof dish large enough to fit them in one layer. Slide the dish into the oven and roast for a good hour. Every 20 minutes approximately, gently toss the leeks. The leeks should be well caramelized and meltingly tender. Don’t hesitate to leave them in the oven a little longer than you think.
London in autumn. Fluttering leaves. Children resolutely pacing off to new schools, distracted by little else than conker-strewn sidewalks. Baskets laden with pears and quinces, apples and pumpkins. The golden light of an Indian summer.
To know what to look forward to, in the weeks to come, this clever UK site breaks the year down month by month, and reaches beyond predictable fruit and vegetables to include meat and fish. Very useful! (There is a US sister site, which doesn’t seem as complete.)
Autumn is the time to curl up next to a window, to catch those ever ephemeral rays, with a stack of good books. Here are the two that have recently caught my attention. Bitter: A Taste of the World’s most Dangerous Flavor is Jennifer McLagan’s latest book. After Bones, Fat, and Odd Bits, McLagan delves into the misunderstood world of bitter, “the most interesting taste because we agree on it the least.” I agree. It sounds fascinating, and I love bitter. Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu also sounds like a very interesting read. For anyone who writes about food certainly, and everyone who reads about it.
The wind rouses, the air cools, the park is already full of jackets and scarves. Autumn is irresistible.