If you’re lucky enough to spend a little summertime in Europe, and particularly in France, you might see quite a stunning visual array of savory tarts, quiche, pizza, pissaladiére, Flammkuchen, Zwiebelkuchen, and many other pastries in bakeries, cafes, and restaurants. The pastry or crust fillings may include a little bacon or anchovy here and there, but often as not vegetables and/or cheese are the superstars. Baked before the day gets hot or in a blissful outdoor oven, these tasty light meals are the perfect hot weather treats served warm or at room temperature on their own or with a crisp green salad on the side. A little white wine? But of course.
Here in the states, we’re typically more into pizza across the board (a few quiches, too, I’ll admit) but lately I’ve been spying — and maybe you have, too –quite a few Tomato Pies showing up here, there, and everywhere while the ruby red tomatoes are coming in hot and heavy. (I will have to make one as they feature tomatoes and mayo–one of my warm weather favorite combos.) My tomatoes here in Colorado are still just barely ripening — and they’re all of the cherry or grape variety given our short growing season. But a slew of sweet Camparis on my counter found me searching for a French-style tomato tart I remembered seeing somewhere. But where? A little google mining brought me to Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa website and a reminder about Anna’s Tomato Tart, which is in Ina’s COOKING FOR JEFFREY book — right on my own shelf! Now I didn’t particularly want a tomato-ONLY tart, but rather had in mind something with a sort Provençal feel that included olives, fennel, mushrooms, peppers, and more. Anna’s tart would definitely serve as my springboard. Scroll down to read up on the late cook-caterer-writer, Anna Pump and her great store on Long Island– Loaves and Fishes.Links to other savory tart recipes included there, too.
Just a short drive from our house in Colorado Springs is our favorite Italian market and deli Mollica’s, which is perhaps best known as a popular, packed lunch spot on Garden of the Gods Road just west of I-25. Mollica’s is the happy kind of place that still serves old school “red sauce” meals like spaghetti and meatballs or a very good lasagna (all made with fresh pasta) as well as yummy pizza and calzone — though I couldn’t call it a “pizza place.” A large part of the lunch menu has always been devoted to stellar sandwiches (think grinders from house made sausage, scratch meatballs, heroes, and hot Italian beef) and a full line of filling salads that of course are served with fresh bread and butter. While I’m ready to eat anything Mollica’s makes –check out their dinner specials, too — I nearly always choose a salad because I can also get a cup of their minestrone–a simple and herby vegetable soup that just hits the sweet spot in my tummy. Occasionally I wonder why I don’t make some minestrone at home, but for some reason, I rarely do. That just changed.
At lunch today, Dave (husband and sous chef) says, “So what are you going to call this?” Usually, by the time we’re eating, I have a name for my new dish. The thing is, a recipe title must say exactly what it is without being cutesy, obtuse, or overly long. My final choice isn’t cutesy–which would be something like “Aunt Alyce’s Fish Surprise.” It’s not obtuse–as in “Fish Supreme.” It is, however, overly long. I just can’t go over it one more time and I’m still not sure it states its case perfectly. I will say that while I thought about it for a week before I made it, it surpassed my dreams at the table. I wanted an oven fish meal and I got it. Simple and healthy? Check. No big shop or prep? Definitely. Contrasting in tastes and textures? Sure. Done quickly? Oh yeah. Scrumptious and satisfying? You’ll have to try it and see! We loved it.
Each week this summer, I’ve made a vegetable-based soup to have for lunches or to round out a salad dinner that uses up leftovers. In order to increase my INSTANT POT (IP) skills and to see how many of my soup book’s recipes transfer well to this medium, I’ve mostly made them in the IP or multicooker–-the real name for the electric pressure cooker that’s also a sauté pot and a slow cooker. Like folks call all tissue “Kleenex,” we tend to call most multi cookers “Instant Pots.” (Note: I like my regular slow cooker much better than the IP version.) To get food cooked in a flash is the main idea with IP recipes and while I’m rarely in a hurry (in fact, it’s just the opposite in my kitchen), I get the idea. In fact, I do enjoy throwing things in a pot, turning it on, and then being able to disappear to the treadmill or a good book. Magic! Another excellent reason to cook soup this way is there’s much less heat in the kitchen with the stove off.
In most homes in the United States, if you mention, “stew” for dinner, you’re probably talking about beef stew. In Ireland, you would most likely be about to chow down on lamb stew–a dish I often saw on menus during visits to Ireland, though I never saw Corned Beef and Cabbage at all.
Some nights it doesn’t have to be anything fancy-schmancy. We’re not talking a New Year’s Eve buffet or grandma’s Easter brunch. Just a warm, filling dinner that didn’t take forever to make or clean out the bank account. Something all in one pot; something all in one warm bowl. Maybe a little cheese or crackers on the side. A container left for lunch the next day or to take to a neighbor–my favorite solutions for leftovers.
If you’re lucky enough to live in places where spring vegetables were planted weeks ago, you could already have a crop of spinach or green onions or asparagus. Our past-frost date in Colorado Springs hasn’t yet arrived; it’s June 1 – June 10. For the first time, I’ve snuck a few things in early, but am nightly ready to rush out to bring pots in or run into the yard like a crazy woman throwing blankets over newly-planted beds. (We have upcoming lows of 32 F this week, for instance.)
Disclaimer June, 2014 : I have used the term “lusty vegan” in my blogs without knowing a book by that name was going to be published; I naively thought it was my own phrase. Just so you know. Not a thief!
In Colorado, spring comes in fits and starts, swirling itself in and out through March, April, and sometimes May. There are warm days where we heat up the grill at five pm followed by frozen hoarfrost mornings perfect for stew-making. We, unlike most of the northern United States, have truly fine days long before the real start of spring; January and February can breed 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit afternoons when the windows are thrown open for the stagnant winter aromas to dissipate into sweet, albeit temporary, breezes floating down from the mountains. A cook who lives within the seasons and responds accordingly often doesn’t know what to do but be exceedingly spontaneous and keep a daily eye on the weather channel.
Despite snow still appearing on an at least weekly basis, I have for weeks been dreaming of spring vegetables and a new soup to celebrate them. It’s not that we have any spring vegetables cropping up (good pun) in Colorado Springs; we have so little rain that locally-grown vegetables are like gold. And where we live, up on the mesa, it’s bedrock, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and bears. If you had the good luck to get anything to grow, you could be sure something not-so-human would be eating it. I grow copious amounts of herbs in pots and often have cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets on the deck. That’s about it; that’s all I can protect from the wildlife.
below: one of our local young and scrawny bucks making his way through our back garden
Still–the idea of spring food is dear to my heartand I have lovely memories of the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market and its bounty. (In Saint Paul, the Farmer’s Market is still selling winter products, I’m sure. Way too early to plant, though they’re all dreaming and many are starting seeds indoors.) Happy spring vegetables like fennel, asparagus, and leeks deserve their very own dishes with luscious and copious amounts of fresh herbs to encourage them along. While I love asparagus soup ( and who doesn’t), adore leek and potato soup (same thing), and will put sautéed spicy fennel on just about anything, I kept thinking of a soup that featured all of them. Together.
My daughter-in-law, Jami, pregnant with our granddaughter, hasn’t had much appetite. I said to her, “What sounds good?” She said, “I’m supposed to be eating more red meat, but I just don’t feel like eating. I loved that salmon you made last week.” So I made the salmon (or Dave did–on the grill) and also a couple of strip steaks. She loves cauliflower, so that, too was on the menu–steamed and topped with a generous grating of sharp cheddar. (No leftover cauliflower!) A pot of jasmine rice finished out the meal, as Jami is Gluten-Free.
Over the meal, which Jami ate if not with abandon, at least with appetite, we talked baby names. Samantha came up, as did Gwendolyn. Aileen was uttered. “What Celtic names do you know?” Well, I couldn’t think of many Celtic names, but I did tell her the names of our grandmothers, just for fun:
Laura (pronounced Lara)
They of course already knew their own grandmother’s names, though I later realized that two of them shared the middle name Jean. Continue reading →