Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Classic French tomato tarte with mustard

20 September 2018

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From memory, it was in Elle magazine; one of a sweeping collection of recipe cards, cut out along the dotted line, neatly organized, in a couple of bright orange bakelite boxes, color-coded and arranged by dish — starter, meat, dessert, etc. — most probably from the nineteen eighties. My mom’s.

This, at least, is how I remember it. Neither my mother nor my sister can recall where the recipe for this tarte — the clever combination of tomatoes with sharp mustard which mellows as it cooks — really comes from. In fact, it seems to be part of the French subconscious. As I was trying to corroborate the recipe’s origin I realized that according to the usual web search engines, in France ‘tarte à la tomate’ automatically defaults to ‘et à la moutarde.’

Regardless of whether it actually did once appear in Elle, there is no doubt that it is a French classic, and in my view firmly anchored in the 1980s. There are tomatoes, Emmental, mustard, a sprinkling of dried thyme at most. No fancy flours in the crust, no fresh herb flourishes.

I break these rules sometimes and add a few cut herbs, or substitute Comté for Emmental. But at heart the combination of tomatoes, mustard, and cheese remains. Its simplicity is testament to a recipe classic.

We make versions of it every summer, often on days when there isn’t a plan but always an enormous stash of tomatoes at different levels of tenderness that need rapid eating.

Tomato tarte with mustard

One uncooked savory pie pastry (see recipe below)
Strong Dijon mustard
Hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté, grated
Tomatoes, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried or fresh thyme (also oregano, basil)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Roll out the pie crust and carefully transfer to a well-buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork (so it won’t puff up as it bakes).

Spread a generous amount of mustard over the crust (like a shmear of cream cheese, the sharpness will mellow as it cooks). Sprinkle the grated cheese all over the crust. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Season with salt and pepper and thyme (or other herb).

Slide into the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden, the tomatoes cooked, and the juices bubbling.

Serve immediately.

***

Quick savory pie pastry

200g cold butter
200g flour
A pinch of salt
A little ice-cold water

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks.

Prepare the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the butter with your fingertips, crumbling the butter and flour together until most of the butter chunks have become grains, but other larger bits remain. Add a little ice water, just enough to gather the crust into a smooth ball. (It’s important not to overhandle the dough, which will ensure that it remains flaky when cooked.)

Let the rest dough rest, covered, in the refrigerator, for at least one and up to 24 hours.

If the dough has been in the refrigerator for a few hours, allow a little time for it to soften before rolling it out.

Nettle soup aka ‘Stone Soup’

14 September 2018

I think of it as stone soup.

During our summer holidays in Brittany, nettle soup is always top of the list of meals we look forward to making. Still, the intent usually lies dormant until a fateful evening when we are caught off-guard with no dinner plan. There are always nettles about: in the bits of garden that haven’t been mowed, in the field at the bottom of the drive where a solitary horse used to live. The horse is long gone, the field remains ‘le champ du cheval.’ Armed with wellies, gloves, scissors, and a basket, it won’t take longer than ten minutes to gather dinner.

According to the folk tale Stone Soup, with just a soup kettle, water, a stone as decoy, and some craft, a clever traveller fools one mean farmer (or, depending on the version of the story, the inhabitants of a whole village) into relinquishing vegetables, one at a time, little by little, in order to make that initial ‘stone soup’ — a stone in a pot of water — taste better and better.

In my fairy-tale summer, the nettles are the stone, the nothing. Like that stone, they’ll need a bit of a boost in terms of depth and unctuousness. An allium of some sort, a couple of potatoes, a zucchini — all of which weren’t donated by villagers but are the neglected, long-term squatters of the vegetable crates in the cellar.

And in reality, nettle soup is the very opposite of stone soup. It has, it is true, sprung from nothing. But unlike the stone — ultimately discarded — the nettles are the very essence and raison d’être of the meal.

Nettle soup
Since the main idea of the soup is its fortuity, the ingredients and quantities are just indications. But the nettles must remain the focus, they should not be overpowered by the other vegetables.

A big bag of young nettle leaves
Butter
1 or 2 small onions or shallots, finely chopped
A few garlic cloves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Some chicken stock if available
Depending on season and availability, a few of the following:
Leeks, zucchini (courgettes), carrots, fennel, etc (all of which need to be washed well or peeled and cut into slices)
Crème fraîche to serve

With a pair of gloves to avoid getting stung, pick fresh young nettle stems (in season in spring and summer) especially the most tender part close to the tip.

(Still protected by gloves) pick the leaves off the stems and wash thoroughly in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onions (or shallots). Sweat for a few minutes until translucent but not yet turning in color. Add a couple of garlic cloves and cook for a minute longer.

If using leeks, add to the onions and garlic now. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and any other vegetables and immediately cover well with water or/and chicken stock (there should be enough liquid to account for the nettle leaves later). Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the nettle leaves and cook for just a few minutes, until they are wilted and soft but still bright green! (Add a little boiling water or stock to cover the leaves if necessary.)

Remove from the heat and purée the soup until unctuous using a hand mixer or, in batches, in a food processor.

Finally, a game-changing tip from my peripatetic sister — inspired by the Egyptian soup molokhia: Just before serving, smash or finely chop a couple cloves of garlic and cook in a puddle of butter in a corner of a skillet. Remove just as it turns golden and stir into the soup immediately before serving.

Garnish with crème fraîche if desired.

Fig leaf wine apéritif

1 September 2018

Some people will consider this the first weekend of autumn, but, succomb as I may to those plums and first apples, I am holding on firmly to summer for a few more weeks until the equinox.

I prepared this fig leaf apéritif about a week ago, and as it only takes three to five days to infuse, now is still the right time to make a bottle for those last late summer evenings. There won’t be much of a thematic clash, September is fig season after all.

This recipe is particularly exciting for those of us who live in the North, as it just uses fig leaves. So for all optimistic boreal gardeners and green city dwellers (most neighborhoods have a garden with a fig tree stretching its branches above the fence within reach of the sidewalk…), who monitor those fig trees with anxiety and trepidation, monitoring the evolution of each fruit, this is the solution. Even if the figs never ripen there is a path straight to Provence with this apéritif.

The recipe comes from Thom Eagle via Diana Henry about two years ago. It bears repeating every year.

Fig leaf wine

10 fig leaves
One bottle (75 cl) dry white wine
160 g sugar
One giant glug of vodka

Crumple the fig leaves and place them in a clean jar with the white wine, sugar, and vodka. Stir or shake well, and leave to infuse for 3 to 5 days.

Strain out the leaves and pour into a bottle with a tight lid.

Serve over ice.

Cherry and gooseberry clafoutis

12 July 2018

These were the last of the gooseberries here this year but I had to write down the recipe for next summer — in that magic week or two when gooseberries and cherries have a chance to meet, make this clafoutis!

Last year by happenstance I mixed gooseberries and strawberries — in jam, and in cake (about which I finally wrote last week). What an incredible combination. And now this. Yesterday, by chance again, just because I buy much too much fruit at this time of year and actually had a forgotten bag of cherries and some gooseberries on the verge of shriveling, I made another cake.

I’m starting to believe that goosegogs are the berry equivalent of msg. They make everything more delicious. All at once they enliven and deepen the flavor of each fruit with which they are paired — dessert umami.

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Cherry and gooseberry clafoutis

About 500g each of cherries and gooseberries
2 Tbsp flour (one for the batter and one for dusting the fruit)
3 eggs
4 Tbsps light brown sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis
250 ml (1 cup) milk
2 Tbsps ground almonds
Grated zest from 1 lemon
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp kirsch

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

Wash and pit the cherries. Wash and rub off the fuzz from the gooseberries. Cut them in half if quite large.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sifted flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour and ground almonds, lemon zest, salt, and kirsch.

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool before eating.

Strawberry and gooseberry yogurt cake

5 July 2018

Our season of birthdays has come and gone, and it was marked by a few disconcerting cake wishes. Our tradition is to celebrate birthdays, with presents and cake, at breakfast. This brought about some unsettling cake choices.

Crumbles. An apple crumble seemed like a humble birthday cake wish, but in March, it’s acceptable. In June, it is not. I was quite distressed about having to ask our local grocery shop for apples in June. (They did scoff. Or was I imagining it?) But birthday wishes are not open to veto.

Luckily, my other June birthday child was willing to give in to my gentle nudging — or was it open pleading — that I make him THIS cake. This perfect, easy, quintessentially June cake.

It is based on the classic French yogurt cake — easy as pie — about which I’ve spoken before. Yogurt cakes are the first cakes many French children learn to bake because all the measurements are calculated in volume, using a standard yogurt pot as the unit. [Read more about it here.]

I make it often because it is so easy, and also for the perfect light sponge texture. On popular demand, here is its early summer strawberry and gooseberry incarnation, the recipe translated for a country where 100ml yogurt pots are not ubiquitous.

Strawberry and gooseberry yogurt cake

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
2 pots (100ml) melted butter
3 pots (300 ml) light brown sugar plus 2 Tbsps for the berries
3 pots (300 ml) flour plus one Tbsp for the berries
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 1 lemons
Strawberries and gooseberries about one cup each
Icing sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Stir all the ingredients together except the fruit in a large mixing bowl to obtain a smooth batter.

Wash and trim the berries. Cut the strawberries into halves or quarters, depending on their size, and the gooseberries in half. In a medium bowl, toss with 2 Tbsps sugar and one Tbsp sifted flour (this will prevent the fruit from falling to the bottom of the cake while baking).

Gently stir the berries into the batter. Pour into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven. Once completely cool, sprinkle with icing sugar for decoration.


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