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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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 …

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

 

cherry sorbet tile

 

So last summer, if you happened to be watching this blog, you might have noticed a feature in the sidebar on all the amazing ice cream we found, or this post, which mentions Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.  People, this ice cream, it’s fantastic.  It’s fair to say I’ve never had better in the American style, where the milk and cream flavors predominate.  We got to go there again this summer, and as we sat in the shop, (me alternately closing my eyes, making noises of food bliss, and trying to eat faster so that Bryan wouldn’t get it all) I happened to glance over and saw this book sitting on the shelf above the freezer.  The cover said Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Expletives may possibly have left my lips, followed by, “is that what I think it is?!?”  We live a long way from Ohio, people, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by a book at first sight.

It turns out this book, it’s about as splendid as can be.  Not just a couple of recipes from the shop—I’m pretty sure every recipe she had at publication is in there.  It’s open source dessert: complete with sauces, candies for mixing in, toppings, sundae recipes, and the exact techniques you need to get the texture and flavor of her ice cream yourself.  Which are, have I mentioned, amazing?

It’s cherry season where we are now (in Michigan) and when we voted on which cherry dessert to make, sorbet was the winner.  I had left the book at home, but between memory and experimentation I was able to replicate a sorbet recipe.  When we got our hands on another copy, it turned out the amount of sugar that we decided was perfect, it was what Jeni already specified.  A note about the corn syrup: this is not something I would normally buy.  But if you read the book or visit the shops, it will be clear to you as it is to me that Jeni is as passionate about quality fresh ingredients, local and organic sourcing, and above all flavor and texture, as anyone could possibly be.  She is also passionate about the science of ice cream and getting the exact result she is after, and therefore I bought corn syrup.  More experimentation on my part will come later.  As a foodie friend of ours said (after eating the sweet corn and black raspberry flavor that we made), “Whatever that book says, you should do it.”  For minimum stress levels, make this the day before you want to serve it, so that you’re sure everything will have time to chill and freeze.

 

 

cherry sorbet towel

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

1 quart fresh tart cherries, pitted.  If you don’t have a cherry pitter, I find the easiest way is to hold the cherry in the fingertips of both hands, and use your two thumbs to split it open and pull out the pit.  It’s ok that the cherries come out in two uneven halves, because the next step is to purée them in a food processor until fairly smooth.  It’s ok if the purée is a little bit chunky and/or still has some bits of cherry skin visible.

Combine the fruit with 3/4 cup sugar (I used natural cane sugar) and 1/3 cup light corn syrup in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon kirsch (unsweetened eau de vie distilled from cherries).  Jeni’s original recipe uses lambic or sour beer, and it’s effervescent and delicious.  Amaretto instead of kirsch would also be really, really good.

Pour the cold sorbet mixture into your ice cream freezer and spin until it’s just the consistency of very softly whipped cream, or barely pourable.  This book advises that whipping it too long while it’s freezing will result in too much air being mixed in.  Bryan and I had a big debate about what “barely pourable” means, but despite that and with two experimental batches under my belt, I actually suspect that there’s a bit of leeway here.  I also suspect that if you don’t have a ice cream maker, you could just stick the mixture in a tub in your freezer and as long as you remembered to get it out and stir it fairly frequently for a while, it would come out pretty great.  Anyway, if you are using an ice cream maker, once you think it’s frozen enough, pour it into a container and put it in the freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.  This book advises pressing a sheet of wax or parchment paper onto the surface.

This was as good as it looks, maybe better, with amazingly intense cherry flavor.  Possibly even better eaten side by side with a creamy flavor, like the roasted pistachio.  I’m out of superlatives.  Go eat this!

 

cherry sorbet with pistachio