Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peach Crostata

In Italy, it’s a crostata. In France, they call it a galette. Both are “freeform,” rustic tarts that can be either sweet or savory. In Italy, crostata recipes can be found dating from the 15th century. In France, the galette reaches its height with the stylized Galette des Rois, the traditional dessert pastry eaten on Epiphany (“J’aime la galette…*”).
Interestingly, while the word crostata is derived from the Latin crustare, "to encrust," galette is from the Old French galet, or "pebble." Mmmm...pebble..
Well, this is no pebble.
A crostata is easier to make than a pie. You roll the crust, add a filling to the center and bring the dough up around the sides of the filling, leaving the center exposed. Any fruit can be used of course but since freestone peaches are abundant, this week it’s a peach crostata.

Peach Crostata
For one crostata, approximately 9” to 10” round
Needed: pie crust dough for one 9” pie

4 cups peeled, sliced peaches (5 peaches, a little less than 2 pounds)
6 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
sugar or cinnamon-sugar mix, to decorate the crust

1. Place the peaches into a bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix together; let stand for 20 to 30
2. When you are ready to assemble the crostada, heat oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the crust into a circular shape, about 14” around. Place the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking tray.
3. Add the cornstarch to the peaches and stir until dissolved. Using a slotted spoon, place the peaches onto the crust, leaving a 2” border around the fruit. Fold the edges of the dough up and onto the peaches. Brush the underside of the folded edges with beaten egg to seal and brush the sides of the crust with the beaten egg. Sprinkle the outside of the crostata with sugar or a mixture of cinnamon & sugar. Pour about half of the remaining peach juices into the crostada. Place the crostata into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and has thickened. Remove from the oven and let cool.
And yes, some fine vanilla ice cream would be great on the side.

                                                *“J’aime la galette,
                                                Savez-vous comment?
                                               Quand elle est bien faite
                                               Avec du beurre desans.”  (from a French children’s song)
                                    (Mais s’il vous plait, n’oubliez pas les peches!)

                                                                 --C’est juste pour vous, ma plus juene fille. oxox

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Farmer's Song: Purple Bean and Potato Salad


                                             “This is my way to say thanks for the meal,
                                                 and I hope there’s no shortage of rain.”*

Farming at any level, whether it’s industrially scaled, mid-sized or small, isn’t easy. There are so many variables and concerns every day of the season. Particularly nagging is the question of will it all work out financially.
In a recent opinion piece written by a farmer and published in the New York Times, the author, himself a farmer, recounted attending a farm to table-style dinner. Sitting with the other farmers who provided the food, talk turned to profit margins and business models. The author admitted to working other jobs just to help make end meet. Yet he persists.
For the small farmer, farmers markets are one way to connect the farmer with the buyer. I always like seeing the activity of people looking, selecting, asking questions, and buying in order to make a meal to share and nourish.
On a recent Saturday I selected ingredients from one farm, Just  Kiddin’ Around Farm, who makes the weekly trip to our market from Germansville, a trip of almost an hour. Just Kiddin’ Around is neighbors with my friends, Mark and Catherine Muszynzski, who run Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn restaurant; their menu relies on locally sourced ingredients as often as possible.
The ingredients reflect what I selected but there is plenty of room for substitutions, such as a different variety of potato. The beans could be “plain” green beans, or even wax beans. You could use a sweet onion or even scallions. I left the beans raw; if you use another bean, you can precook them if you desire.
Purple beans get their color from anthocyanins. The bean is not purple all the way through, only on the surface. If you cook them they turn green, so I left them raw in the salad.

Purple Bean and Potato Salad                                                               

For 8 to 10 servings
1 quart Yukon gold potatoes (about 1pound 10 ounces)
1 ½ cups purple beans, sliced into ½ “ pieces
½ cup diced red onion
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ cup basil, cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
Grated zest of one lemon
1. Rinse the potatoes under cold water and shake dry. Remove any surface blemishes and cut the potatoes into roughly 1” pieces. Place the potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Season the water with salt. Cover the pot and place over high heat and cook until tender, about 10 minutes; the point of a knife should just pierce the potato
to the center. Remove from heat and drain in a colander, shaking off excess water. Spread the potatoes in one layer onto a paper towel lined baking tray and let cool. Refrigerate the cooled potatoes until completely chilled.
2. While the potatoes are cooling, make the dressing.
3. When the potatoes are cold, remove them from the refrigerator and place them into a bowl. Add the sliced beans, diced onion, herbs, and lemon zest. Add enough dressing to evenly coat the potato salad; it will take about 3/4th of the amount you made. Mix together until all of the ingredients are combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the potatoes will probably need some extra salt. Cover and refrigerate the salad until serving.

Potato Salad Dressing
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2  cloves garlic, (to your taste), minced
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1. Place all of the dressing ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Transfer the dressing to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed.

           ‘Thanks for the meal, here’s a song that is real, from a kid from the city to you.”*
                                             *Farmer’s Song by Murray McLauchlan

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad

            “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then you practice, practice, practice.
             And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
                        -Charlie Parker

Recipes, like musical compositions, begin life as improvisations. Sometimes they work, or sometimes it’s a matter of rearranging the notes in another way. They are refined with work over time and then eventually written down so that someone else can follow the instructions whether it’s at a piano or the piano in the kitchen, the stove. The “reproduction” of these instructions depends on one’s abilities, one’s technique. When technique and understanding of what you are doing, the “practice, practice, practice” part, becomes internalized you don’t actually “forget all that,” it just doesn’t get in the way any longer, and you can “wail,” well, perhaps in the kitchen at least.
This recipe, like many others, was improvised. I wanted to use summer’s sweet corn and tomatoes as a salad, but how? Corn and tomato both like basil, all right, add that. And they sing with a little bacon thrown in, like a variation of a BLT. But how to bind it together? A vinaigrette is too thin. A ranch-style dressing would do the trick, the mayonnaise in the dressing again hinting at the BLT flavors.
And the "composition" came together.
I urge you to make the ranch dressing and avoid the bottle. I would guess that once you see how easy it is, you too will abandon the bottle, if you haven’t already, and leave behind the dehydrated ingredients and seaweed-derived thickeners—read the ingredients list and see what’s in it that’s not an actual salad dressing ingredient. It doesn’t make it bad, just unnecessary. And if the bottled kind you buy doesn’t come from the refrigerated section of your supermarket, it not fresh at all. Besides, when you make your own dressing, you can alter it and change it to suit your taste. Can’t do that with the bottle.
I chose to use cherry tomatoes. They are abundant this time of year, are super sweet and appear in endless varieties at a farmers market. Of course, you can omit the bacon, if you have to. A friend of ours calls bacon the “gateway” meat often snuck by vegetarians (don’t look away in guilt).

Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad
For 3 to 4 servings, even though my red-haired food co-pilot and I end up polishing this off by our selves. It’s easy to adapt and expand.

3 ears corn
1 cup assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices crisp bacon
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
1. If you are using bacon, cook the bacon until crisp and set it aside to drain on paper towels.
2. Shuck and clean the corn. Slice the corn from the cob; stand the corn upright in a bowl and slice down the length of the ear. The corn falls into the bowl and not all over the counter.
Place a sauté pan with ½ cup lightly salted water onto the stove and bring it to a boil. Add the corn and cook the kernels for a minute or two. Drain the corn into a colander; do not rinse. Spread the corn out to cool on a baking tray lined with paper towels. When the corn is cool, transfer it to a bowl to chill completely in the refrigerator.
3. To assemble the salad, place the chilled corn and halved tomatoes into a bowl. Crumble the bacon and tear the basil leaves into the bowl. Mix the salad with enough of the dressing to bind, about half the amount of dressing you made. Serve. It’s summer again.

Ranch Dressing
This is very basic, kept so because of the other flavors in the salad. If you want to make this for everyday use, you might want to consider adding some fresh chopped herbs, such as chives, thyme, or parsley to the basic dressing. It can be modified and flavored to make whatever kind of “ranch style” dressing you’d like it to be. This version is a little thick for salads so you might want to thin it with more buttermilk or milk if you plan to use it as an everyday salad dressing. Its history is recent, in the history of what we eat, dating from the mid 1950’s and popularized at the Hidden Valley Ranch, dude.

½ cup buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Ready? Take all of the ingredients and whisk them together in a bowl until combined. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Transfer the dressing to a container and store in the refrigerator until needed. Now why haven’t you made this from scratch before?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beer Battered Zucchini, or.....

When I was growing up, orphaned zucchini often found their way onto our doorstep. They were often zucchini that were very large, the “oops this grew too much let's see what you can do with it” baseball bat-sized zucchini.
If you’re looking for something different to do with zucchini, try this: Fry thin slices in a beer batter. The batter will, of course, work for just about anything—green beans, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, okra; you get the idea.
I know fried food aren’t for every day but these crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside “chips” are great to serve to friends along with a preferred cold beverage. My red-haired food co-pilot and I polished off a recent batch despite the promise that we would only eat a few.
They don’t need to be deep-fried. Less than 1” of canola oil will do the job. Use whatever sized pan you have; a larger pan can accommodate more and will get the job done faster but I used a small pot. If you have a small fryer you could fry these outside and keep the “fry odor” out of the house.

Beer Batter
This is adapted from a recipe by Ian Knauer. What might appear to be a small amount of batter will coat about 40 zucchini slices. If you’re having a crazy fry party, increase the recipe.

¼ cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder (or other chili powder)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
One medium-sized zucchini or vegetables of your choosing

1. Place a pan onto the stove. Fill it with about 1” canola oil. Heat the pan over medium heat. Line a baking tray with paper towels and set it aside.
2. Place the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour in the beer and stir until smooth. The resulting batter should be thin.
3. Slice the zucchini into 1/8” thick slices- a mandolin-style slicer makes this task easier- or, if not using zucchini, prepare the vegetables you have chosen and set them aside.
4. Test the temperature of the oil by frying a small cube of bread in the oil or carefully dropping a drop of water off of your finger into the pot; if it sputters, the oil is ready. (The temperature should be around 375 degrees).
5. Dip the slices into the batter, allowing some of the batter run off and carefully place the slices into the oil. Fry for a minute or so and then turn the slices over, allowing them to cook on the other side. You may have to regulate the heat under the pot if the zucchini appears to be cooking too quickly. When the zucchini slices are evenly brown, remove the slices with a slotted spoon or “spider.” Lay the zucchini slices onto the paper towels to drain and salt them lightly. Repeat until all of the slices are fried. Serve along with a nice cold beverage. It would be a shame to waste the beer leftover from making the batter.