Peachy

 

peachy pie 2

 

It’s been a crazy few weeks around here.  Bryan has been finishing up a HUGE project for an art exhibition opening shortly—huge in physical scale, and in time invested, etc.  It took over his life, and then started to encroach on mine too.  Many things I’d been planning to work on got put to the back burner, until finally near the install date I was doing nothing besides helping get ready, unless the other thing had an already-agreed-upon-in-writing due date, and even then not too much was happening.

I’ve been cooking a lot though.  It’s the kind of situation where logically it would make sense to just make a big pot of soup and eat it for the whole week.  But, it’s my absolute favorite time of year for eating.  All the ingredients for ratatouille are sitting there, fresh and glowing, at the growers’ market, and it would be make me feel much more deprived not to cook them and eat them.  And it turns out, not surprisingly, when I’m not spending my creative energy on other projects, I end up experimenting more with food and making up recipes.  And, when Bryan is burning lots of extra calories working on huge sculptures all day, he’s more excited about having dessert, and any time I’m stressed I definitely want dessert.  Any two weeks in which we ate two of these pies can’t be that bad.

Although things evolve and change, and I’ve been excited to have so much fiber stuff to share lately, I wouldn’t want recipes to disappear entirely from this space, so here you go.  I’ll be back soon with a little more about the sculpture project & the exhibition (which is really pretty cool) and maybe even one more recipe.  But for now:

 

Weekday Peach Pie with Nut Crust

(adapted from various bits of the Joy of Cooking)

This isn’t a humongous Southern-Sunday-dinner peach pie, but instead one you can make if you just grab a few extra peaches at the market.  Pecans are my favorite for this crust, which is the same one I use for pumpkin pie in the fall, and just happens to be gluten free.  You can use other nuts that grow near you and/or you like, and it should work fine.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Peach filling—put all this in a bowl:

1 1/2 lbs peaches (weighed whole), cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Freestone peaches are much easier to slice.)

1/4 cup sugar if your peaches are ripe and juicy, maybe a tablespoon or two more if they are firm and tart.

1 1/2 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch for thickening.  I ground the tapioca in a spice grinder to get finer grains, which I think I read about in an Alice Waters cookbook.

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional but I like it).

A small pinch of salt.

Stir up the filling and let it sit while you make the crust:

You can either put all these ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse together, or grind the nuts first and then mix everything by hand.  Either way, don’t chop the nuts super fine, or the crust won’t have a lot of structure, a texture like coarse crumbs is good.

2 cups pecans (or walnuts, almonds etc.) chopped, see note above.

4 Tablespoons butter (especially if you’re making it in the food processor, it’s important to soften the butter first, otherwise you’ll end up with chunks of unmixed butter).

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Butter a pie pan well, and pour in the mixed crust in it.  Use your fingers to press the crust over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, getting it reasonably even if you can.

Prebake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until it starts to brown.  The edges of this crust are apt to burn, so cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil first.  If the sides of the crust start to sag or the bottom gets too puffy, you can push them back in place with the back of a spoon.

While the crust bakes, beat 1 egg (the smallest egg you can find) with just a tiny bit of water, until well beaten.

When the crust is warm and starting to brown, take it out of the oven and glaze it with the beaten egg. This is the key to putting a moist filling in the nut crust without getting a soggy crust!  Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg wash all over the inside surface of the crust, up over the sides, etc.  The egg will want to slide down, but just keep brushing it up, until the warm crust starts to absorb it and hold it in place.

 

peachy pie 3

 

Put the egg-washed crust back in the oven for just a couple of minutes, until the egg is cooked and shiny.

Then pour in the peach filling.  Cover the edges of the crust again, and put the whole pie back into the oven until the juices of the filling are thick and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  No matter what you do, the edges of the crust will probably get a “bold” baked color (as the bread makers say). If it goes all the way to burnt, just scrape off the very top.  This crust is really simple and delicious, so it’s totally worth it.

Here’s to a weekday-peach-pie kind of week …

 

peachy pie 1

 

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Celery Root and Apple Soup

 

celery root soup

 

Celery root is one of those vegetables that just looks intimidating.  Covered in dirt, all-over-knobbly, seems like it’s been underground for about a hundred years … but underneath all that, it’s surprisingly easy to slice and really delicious, with a subtle nutty flavor.  I discovered it last winter, when I started making this soup, and a lentil and celery root dish from Plenty * that’s really good (also how I discovered that “celeriac” is British English for “celery root” and therefore I could get what Ottolenghi describes as “probably my favorite root” in my own home town!)

This is originally a Deborah Madison recipe, and I love how thoughtful she is about both using up all the veggies, and using your time wisely.  The root trimmings go into a stock, which cooks as you get everything else ready.  This time of year, I’m waiting for spring, and ready to eat something new (or at least new-to-me).  Want to come on a new vegetable adventure?

 

Celery Root and Apple Soup

Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

Get out your vegetable brush, and go to town on:

1 1/2 pounds celery root

Thickly peel it, with a knife.  You’ll be able to see the boundary between the outer and inner layers.  Throw any pieces that are too deeply rutted or full of tiny roots to be clean into the compost.  Put the clean peelings into a stock pot (use a smaller pot here if you can, you’ll need a bigger one to start the soup in) along with:

1 cup chopped leek greens OR a few slices of onion

1 chopped carrot

1 chopped celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of fresh parsley (if you have it)

Pinch of fresh thyme

Pinch of salt

Cover all this with 6 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and then let simmer for 25 minutes.

 

celery root chopping

 

Meanwhile,chop:

The peeled celery root

1 onion OR 2 fat leeks

1 cup celery

1 apple, thinly sliced.  I like to use a Pink Lady, either a small one or half a large.  I really like the flavor, but too much can make the soup a little too sweet.  Or you can follow the original directions and use a more tart apple.

1/2 cup potato

Melt in the big soup pot:

2 Tablespoons butter

Add all the soup vegetables, plus another pinch of salt.  Cook over medium for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add:

1/2 cup water

Cook on low until the stock is done.  Pour the stock through a strainer into the soup, and simmer for about 20 more minutes, until the vegetables are soft.  Let cool and then puree the soup to the texture you like.

A splash of cream is good in the soup when it’s done.

Reheat gently, taste for seasoning, and serve with:

Very thinly sliced celery heart

Very thinly sliced apple, and

A little crumbled blue cheese on top.

Don’t skip the toppings, they really make this soup special.

* You can also read this recipe on his website.  The main variation I like is to saute the chopped celery root in some butter/olive oil instead of boiling it.  It comes out golden and tender and super yummy.

What about you, tried any new vegetables lately? Have any favorite late-winter recipes? (If you’re reading from the Southern Hemisphere right now, I’m jealous …)

 

Pistachio Pesto

 

Apparently, it took me all the time since pine nuts were suddenly out of my price range (years!) until this year to figure out that pistachios are the pesto substitution nut to beat all others.  I’m amazed.  It’s so obvious once you taste it.

 

pistachio pesto 3

 

It also took me a little while (but not nearly as long) to nail down some quantities for this recipe.  I get in this funny mood sometimes when I’m cooking by taste, where I just want to, um, cook by taste.  Any attempt to quantify what’s going on feels like an unwelcome intrusion of thoughts that might be interfering with my creative process. It’s funny because I’m also a fairly obsessive note-taker.  I guess it’s just hard to take the notes at the same time I’m making the thing … in any case, I tried a few times, and finally got it close, I think.

The worst that could happen is that you’ll also need to make and eat a few batches to nail down the proportions you prefer … that’ll be terrible I’m sure.

 

pistachio pesto 1

 

Pistachio Pesto

Makes about 4 servings, enough for each person to have on top of ratatouille (which is fabulous!) or pasta.  Any leftovers are delicious just spread on bread.

I’m convinced that the food processor was invented by someone who needed to make big batches of pesto in a hurry.  It pretty much the perfect tool for this.  Combine in the bowl:

pistachio pesto 41 level cup shelled unsalted pistachios

1 1/2 cups very well packed basil leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano 

2 large or 3 small garlic cloves

A generous drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil

A sprinkle of black pepper

Process until you get close to the texture you want.  Taste and adjust.  I usually end up adding a little more olive oil partway through, even though I prefer it slightly chunky and not too oily.  I find it salty enough from the cheese, but of course you can also add a little salt if you like.  I predict that if you try it, you’ll be converted, the taste is worth the shelling!

 

pistachio pesto 2

 

Washing Fruit and Veggies on the Road

 

washed fruit in cooler

 

So, you’re driving along on a late-summer road trip, the farmers’ markets and road-side fruit stands are overflowing with beautiful produce, but you hesitate to buy a bunch of berries or tomatoes if you can’t figure out a way to wash them, right?  Here’s our solution.  All you need is a container (a tub that yogurt came in is perfect) and some water.  A cooler is optional. I’m not really sure why it took us so long to figure this out.  It works a lot better, and uses a lot less of our drinking water, than trying to pour water with one hand while somehow holding and scrubbing fruit with the other hand by the side of the road.  Even if you are on your way to a house or hotel where you could wash fruit, this has the advantage of letting you eat it right NOW, while you cruise along with the windows rolled down, or at your favorite picnic spot.

Put your produce in your little tub, and pour in enough water to cover it.  Swirl everything around with your fingers for a minute or so, and then hold the fruit back and pour the water off. If a lot of dirt comes off in the first round, or you just want to make sure it’s really clean, repeat.

 

tomatoes in tub of water

 

Then you can put the clean tub of fruit in your cooler, or on top of the parking brake between the seats for easy access.  If you’ve washed something like tomatoes that does better dry and room-temp than cold and wet, you can dump them out onto a towel, or use one of those little green plastic baskets to store them. If you knew how many picnic style meals we’ve eaten, consisting mainly or entirely of various versions of caprese sandwiches, you’d laugh out loud.

 

tomatoes in green basket 1

 

A couple more notes: basil does well in the cooler with the stems in the water, or in a sealed plastic bag with a little moisture inside (kind of like the cooler version of this method), but not if the leaves touch the ice (they’ll frost and turn black).  Thanks to Bryan for hand modeling, and for being as enthusiastic about fresh local edibles as I am.

 

tomatoes in green basket 2

 

Asparagus Tarts for Spring and Early Summer

 

asparagus tart

 

Posting this recipe feels kind of, sort of, almost like cheating. It’s a variation on the savory tart/quiche recipe I’ve been using all the time since this past fall. With the late spring in the Midwest this year, there’s still a lot of asparagus around, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anything easier and more satisfying to do with it than this. I made the tart shown here with about a pound of asparagus, and some fresh thyme. A week or so later, I made another one for a new friend who’s eating gluten free, without the crust, with slightly less asparagus, and adding some leftover potatoes and onions. This really is one of those recipes (my favorite kind) that encourage experimentation and new flavor combinations.

 

Asparagus Tart Variations

 

Refer to the original recipe for the cornmeal crust, if making a crust, and more filling ideas.

For the asparagus, either broil it lightly first for more smoky flavor, or simply wash, and chop it into approximately equal diagonal segments, discarding any tough or dried out ends.

Optional: prepare potatoes as for the potato and green chile tart, or use any other leftover cooked potatoes you happen to have around.

 

For the Filling:

4 eggs

A generous splash heavy cream or milk

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (I like a hard cheese such as Parmesan)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on your taste, and saltiness of cheese)

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs to taste (Tip: if the stems are sturdy enough, you can get most of the thyme leaves off by grabbing the stem near the top and running the fingers of the other hand down the stem from top to bottom.)

Feel free to add an extra egg, and a little more of the other ingredients, if it seems like there’s not enough filling for the veggies you have.

If not using a crust, make sure to grease your pan thoroughly.

Mix the cut asparagus (and potatoes) in with the filling, and pour into the pan/crust. For the second variation, I sprinkled the top with minced garlic and more Parmesan, which puffed and browned as the tart cooked for a tasty crispy top.

Bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

Spring Strawberry Salad

With maple candied walnuts and creamy goat cheese balsamic dressing.

 

spring strawberry salad 1

 

For some reason, this spring I’ve been craving the fresh new foods that come with the changing season, much more than I normally do.  The strawberries in my yard are nowhere near making fruit yet, but a few weeks ago, the strawberries in the market were suddenly glorious.  A strawberry out of season tastes Ok, but when they’re actually ready, ripe and fully red, full of sweet juice that seems composed of the very flavor of renewal and new growth, they are magical things to eat.  I was immediately obsessed.  Another good thing about food in season is that it’s bountiful, and therefore on sale, and I pretty much stuffed as many fresh ripe organic strawberries into my gullet as possible.  I also came up with this recipe, the first one in a while that I’ve invented without looking anything up or searching for ideas.  So:

 

For the salad:

Lightly shred about a handful of lettuce (I like red leaf or butter lettuce) per person.

Add 1 small or 1/2 large grated carrot per person.

Add grated radish, about half as much as the carrot.

Add sliced strawberries, as many as you like, I suggest a lot.

 

spring strawberry salad 2For the dressing:

Put about 4 Tablespoons of plain fresh goat cheese in a jar.

Add heavy cream up to about the top of the cheese.

Add 1 Tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar.

Add a pinch of salt, and stir together (a small whisk is great for this).

Add a little water, stir, and add a little more, until the dressing reaches the consistency you’d like.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

This makes a fair amount of dressing, enough for about 6 people to have salad, and maybe find some other things to spread it on.

 

For the walnuts:

Lightly crush 1 cup of walnuts (I just do this with my hands).

In a skillet, melt about 1 Tablespoon butter over medium heat.

Add two teaspoons of maple syrup, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then add the walnuts.  Stir until most of the coating is on the nuts rather than the skillet.  Let cool.

If you run out of time, this is also good with un-candied walnuts or pecans, although these lightly candied ones add a really nice touch.

 

Sprinkle the nuts on top of the salad, and let each person add the creamy dressing as it’s served.

 

spring strawberry salad 3

 

Now, if only I can find some fresh peas …

 

Recipe Sketch: About a Million Ways to Make Orange Marmalade

 

thick marmalade chopping

 

Remember when I posted about how to make French toast, and the “failed” orange sauce I had tried making to go with it?  Well, it wasn’t that bad in the end.   In fact, at least a few of my friends really liked it.  Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about different approaches to marmalade, and how that sauce, which seemed like it was going to be a total waste of time and effort, did actually come together, and with a little more time and effort, become something good.  Here I send out a silent (yet public—interesting) prayer to the universe that I will one day say the same about all the things which that sauce represented to me on the first of this year.

 

Anyway, orange marmalade:

It’s really just a combination of orange peels, juice, and sugar (and usually pectin to thicken it for canning).  My New Year’s orange spread had all of the pith inside the peel, and all of the membrane around the orange slices, still in it too.  I just washed & sliced the oranges (discarding the ends), pulled out the center strings of pithy stuff, chopped the slices to get out the seeds, and put them in the food processor.   I added the juice of a couple more oranges, and some sugar to the pot, and started boiling it on the stove.  For a while, it seemed like a kind of bitter, barely cooked orange goo … and eventually I realized that I was going to have to add a lot more liquid, and a lot more cooking time, and some more sugar.  All the pithy parts of the orange needed to absorb a LOT of liquid in order to cook down, more than I wanted to juice oranges for, so I started adding water.  After that, all it needed was time—a couple of hours of simmering on the stove.  Check on it periodically, adding more water and sugar to taste as necessary, until all the parts of the orange are tender enough to eat on toast, and the sauce tastes as sweet as you want.  The result has a full, whole-orange flavor—some of the bitterness remains, but you get lots of other flavor elements as well.  At the time, I didn’t feel like taking a picture of the finished whole-orange sauce, but it comes out mostly opaque and pale orange, with darker bits of peel mixed in.

I’ve made a quick kumquat marmalade using a similar method.  Kumquats have a lot of seeds, so be sure to chop them in quarters and check each one for seeds before putting them in the food processor.  They don’t have very much pith or membrane at all though, so you can cook them fairly quickly into some tasty preserves.  Just add juice and sugar and boil them on the stove until you get the consistency you want.

On the other end of the cooked-orange-peel-and-juice spectrum from the whole orange spread is a quick thin sauce we made quite a lot a couple of years ago, because it’s awesome on crêpe.  It’s mostly orange juice, with just the thin outer peel grated into it.  Save a little fresh juice, and put the rest in a small saucepan with the peel.  Add sugar to taste as you go, and boil until it thickens somewhat.  Add the reserved juice back in when the sauce is done, it brings the brightness of fresh orange to blend with the more mellow cooked flavors.

 

thin marmalade finished

 

And of course, you could use other citrus.  You could blend them.  You could add honey, or a different juice, or another sweetener you like.  You could cook it thick or thin, add pectin, can it, freeze it … At first I was going to wait to post this until I had tried a few more variations, maybe one somewhere in between these in terms of how much pith is in it.  But the more I thought about it, the more ideas for different marmalade I thought of, and it seemed pretty silly not to just put this idea out there and let you all do whatever you want with it.  It might be a fun way to wait for spring.