Freshly picked sweet corn, juicy tomatoes of varying lineages, bunches of leafy greens, slender pods of okra, fragrant herbs. Those are just some of the end-of-summer temptations at my local farmers’ market this time of the year. Often they serve as inspiration for the side dishes I prepare at home.
One recent creation, prepared with such purchases, was a delicious corn, tomato, and chard gratin. I sautéed corn kernels with leeks and julienned chard, then combined them with a savory custard of Half-and-Half, eggs, and grated white cheddar. This mixture was poured into a casserole pan, then topped with sliced tomatoes and another sprinkle of cheese. When baked the gratin was a lovely contrast of flavors with the sweetness of the corn and tomatoes countering the hint of slightly bitter chard. Continue reading
Before summer ended, my husband and I decided to host a last minute-party for our friends. We agreed that champagne (my favorite drink any time of the year) and rosé (his default wine of the season) would anchor the gathering along with appetizers made with the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables. While my spouse tended to the libations, I concentrated on the food.
The glorious produce and herbs that abound this time of year provided me with inspiration. Homemade aïoli served with haricots verts, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sliced fennel was a colorful creation. An avocado pâté garnished with tomato salsa and chips, and a tray of cheeses and fresh figs were set out as well. Chicken wings seasoned with lime juice, apricot jam, and cilantro, plus mini-lobster rolls, and slices of cantaloupe marinated in a mint and Pernod syrup completed the offerings.
The latter was one of the most popular and definitely one of the easiest dishes. After the Continue reading
Sadly, this year’s peach crops in Massachusetts were lost because of bad weather, so I’ve purchased ones that have arrived in our local markets from other parts of the country.
I’ve used them in smoothies or as garnishes for grilled meats, and added slices to my morning cereal bowl. But, my favorite creation has been to feature them in a glorious French tart.
Prepared with an extra-rich pastry dough (the recipe for which was shared by talented baker and caterer, Barb Morse), the tart shell is pre-baked and then filled with sliced peaches coated in a thickened peach puree mixture scented subtly with cardamom.
Peach Tart ready to go in the oven in its pre-baked pastry shell.
Once baked, it is best to let the tart stand a while at room temperature so that the juices have a chance to cool and thicken. Then you can slice this confection easily and gild the lily by garnishing each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche and a drizzle of rosé syrup. The latter is made by simply reducing leftover rosé (plentiful around our house in the summer!) with sugar. Nothing says summer like a peach dessert! Continue reading
At a recent cooking class that featured bouillabaisse as the main course, I was surprised not only by my students’ excitement over the famous Provencal fish soup, but also by their raves for the simple appetizers. In keeping with the Provencal theme, mini-chèvre flans topped with a colorful mélange of chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, and walnuts were an instant success.
Perhaps it was the simplicity of these starters or the seamless blending of flavors that made them so popular. All I can report is that this hands-on class of 15 downed almost four dozen in less than 15 minutes! Continue reading
As soon as we arrived home last week, after a long stay in France, I started stocking our empty fridge and cupboards. Several trips to local supermarkets took care of the basics, but it was at our weekly farmers’ market that I found gorgeous summer vegetables, freshly baked loaves of bread, and locally crafted yogurt.
Honest-to-goodness tomatoes, deep red, juicy, and packed with flavor, were the first thing that caught my eye. They would be perfect to use for a summer tomato and chickpea soup—a dish I had created for my new book, Soup Nights.
The tomatoes need only to be chopped and seeded, then simmered slowly with chickpeas in a cumin-scented broth. Lemon, yogurt, and mint all contribute cooling accents to this soup. I used chicken broth for my version, but vegetarians can sub the quick-and-easy vegetable stock recipe that is also included. Continue reading
On a recent visit to London, I ate at Gymkhana, a well known Michelin-starred restaurant in the center of the city. Every dish was memorable, but my favorite was a plate of tender, golden grilled chicken thighs that boasted incredibly moist flesh. When I asked our server how they were made, she volunteered only that the chicken was marinated in yogurt, homemade Indian mustard, fresh ginger, and spices. After returning to my small Parisian kitchen, I was determined to make a version to savor again.
For the marinade I whisked whole yogurt, mustard, and freshly grated ginger with lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Dijon mustard stood in for the Indian variety that was unavailable locally. The chicken I had sampled across the Channel was reminiscent of tandoori chicken, but it was a rich golden color rather than the usual vibrant orange hue. So, I decided to omit the red food coloring often called for in tandoori dishes. Continue reading
Provencal Tomato Tart after baking.
My friend, Marie Claire, stirring onions.
Tomatoes and onions cooked together for the filling.
Last summer in Paris, my good friend and talented cook, Marie Claire, told me about a tomato tart she had recently made while on vacation in the South of France. A beloved family recipe, this savory tart was a dish her mother, Suzanne, had prepared for her during her childhood in Provence. My French friend showed me photos of the dish and shared the recipe, but somehow I didn’t get around to trying it. This year, soon after we arrived in the French capital, I wasted little time before asking if she would prepare the tart with me.
To make it, we used purchased puff pastry for the crust, and then sautéed sliced onions and diced tomatoes until softened and well melded. The filling, scented with herbes de Provence and garlic, was spread in the tart shell, then covered with sliced tomatoes and a sprinkling of Gruyère cheese. Continue reading
Following a brief trip to London, we made our way to Paris and settled in the apartment we rent. After eating out for several days across the Channel, I couldn’t wait to go to the nearby markets and buy the makings for a simple supper. I decided on lamb chops marinated in a spicy mix of harissa, lemon juice, and olive oil along with fresh herbal accents of mint and cilantro. As a garnish for the lamb, I reserved some of this marinade as a dressing for cherry tomatoes and chickpeas.
Harissa, a North African condiment made with hot red peppers, garlic, and spices, is available throughout France. At home in the States, you can find it at few groceries, but your best option might be to order it from Amazon. Although I’ve seen it in jars, I prefer the harissa paste sold in tubes like the one here. Continue reading
Savory Mexican Cheesecake with Tortilla Chips
Guests sampling the buffet.
Claire on the left and Liz on the right–two Amherst grads who helped cook and in my kitchen!
The professor congratulating his students
Manchego, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts
Melon with Pernod and Mint
Cheeses with Fresh Cherries and Sage
My husband and I look forward each spring to celebrating graduation at Amherst College. We host a party for my spouse’s students, and make it a family affair by inviting the moms, dads, siblings, and grandparents of the honorees. This year was a particularly large group with almost fifty people at our home last Saturday for champagne and appetizers.
I set out a buffet that included smoked salmon with lemon crème fraîche, a tray of cheeses garnished with fresh cherries and sage, and roasted asparagus spears with a gribiche sauce (mayo with chopped hard boiled eggs, mustard and chives). Skewers of cantaloupe marinated in Pernod and mint, plus a savory Mexican cheesecake (scented with cumin and chili) served with yellow and blue tortilla chips rounded out the menu. But, it was a simple passed hors d’oeuvre for Manchego, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts that garnered the most attention. Continue reading
This past week I taught two hands-on classes titled Paris Spring Cooking. The menu included artichoke soup, scallops with asparagus and peas napped with beurre blanc, and as sides a watercress and orange salad, and crispy rice cakes with Comté cheese. By far the technique that interested my students most was that of making the celebrated French sauce known as beurre blanc.
Beurre blanc (or white butter) is one of the simplest of France’s sauces, yet many cooks have never prepared it. It consists of two simple steps. First you add minced shallots, wine, and vinegar to a good sturdy saucepan. Then, cook the mixture until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. For the second step, you whisk in a tablespoon of cream and begin adding small pieces of softened butter while whisking vigorously. The trick is to never let the butter melt completely, but rather keep it at a sauce-like consistency. When all the butter has been incorporated, the sauce can be transferred in its saucepan to a skillet of warm water to keep it from solidifying. Continue reading