Fresh Tomato Soup

The farmers’ markets are loaded–some vendors are even discarding bruised or overripe tomatoes. This pains me! In my experience, vendors are willing to sell cheaply or even give away what they can’t sell. I’ve seen them dump produce at the end of the market. If you have ripe tomatoes, too many to eat raw, here’s a simple and completely delicious recipe. I peel the tomatoes by cutting out a small cone at the core and placing them in boiling water for about 40 seconds. The skin will come off easily. The habit of peeling comes from my mother; she also peeled cucumbers, potatoes, and apples, disliking bits of skin in her teeth. But I know people who never peel their tomatoes.

For about two pounds of tomatoes (cut into big chunks), use 1/2 pound peeled onion–any kind–yellow, red, white–cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Combine with 4 tbs. butter (salted or unsalted, you’ll correct the seasoning later). You can use olive oil if you must. Simmer on low for about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then blend until smooth. Don’t seed the tomatoes! The seeds will dissolve during the blending, and they add flavor and nutrition. That’s it. Add salt to taste. The soup freezes well.

Of course, the flavor and ripeness of the tomatoes will affect the soup. Imagine this taste of summer on a cool fall day–with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Buckwheat Hazelnut Cookies

(adapted from Tartine 3, makes about 2 dozen)

The first time I make a recipe, I follow it exactly. Actually, I thought the Tartine recipe (which calls them sables) was wrong when the finished dough resembled butter, and the baked cookies looked like puddles instead of disks, but could a fancy bakery and Chronicle Books not have tested, not have proofread? In fact, the cookies did turn out greasy. They also didn’t resemble the photo in the book. Somewhere along the line, a typo, a mistake. So yes, I think the recipe was wrong. In any case, the second time, I used less butter and increased the flour and they were excellent. They are gluten free and not too sweet. I simplified the procedure, too, by using already toasted hazelnuts, and only the food processor. Just be aware that you should not grind the nuts fine, you want texture in the cookie. These come together quickly and are buttery and the citrus taste is subtle.

150 grams toasted hazelnuts (I use Trader Joe’s)

120 grams buckwheat flour (I use Pure Living Sprouted Buckwheat Flour)

160 grams unsalted butter (or use salted butter and omit the salt, below)

½ tsp. fine sea salt

100 grams coconut sugar (the second time I used turbinado, also nice)

2 large egg yolks

Zest of one lemon

Zest of one orange

OR shortcut to substitute for the zest: about 12 drops of citrus essential oil—I used tangerine.

Put the hazelnuts and half the flour in a food processor and pulse until pebbly. Do not grind fine. Dump into a bowl and whisk in the rest of the flour. 

In the empty food processor, whip the butter until creamy, then add the sugar and the salt and process until smooth. Add the egg yolks, scraping down the bowl, and process again. Then add the nuts/flour mixture and pulse only enough to combine. If necessary to keep from grinding the nuts pieces too fine, remove the mixture from the processor and combine by hand.

Place the dough on a long (16”) piece of plastic wrap and shape into a 14” log. (I did not make it evenly round, you’ll see from the photo; I kind of like the squarish–call it artisanal, call it handmade–shape.) Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to two days. 

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut the dough into coins (i.e. slice somewhere between ½ and ¼ inch pieces) and place 1 ½ inches apart on the parchment. Bake for about 15-16 minutes, rotating the sheets if necessary to bake to an even brown.

Florentines

When the temperature dropped from 100 to 94, I was gripped by the urge to bake, and the cookie I craved most was a Florentine. Because it is chewy and crisp, buttery and caramelly, citrusy and chocolatey, it satisfies candy and cookie cravings. I’ve tried many recipes and found fault with them all–too fussy, too stodgy, too complicated, too sweet, not chocolatey nor citrusy enough–and then developed my own: simple, forgiving, delicate, and, if you use good ingredients, utterly delicious. You’ll be making a caramel syrup that simmers unattended for 20-25 minutes, grinding nuts with citrus peel, then combining the two mixtures.

NB: I’ve never tried the recipe in a humid climate; because honey and the syrups are humectants (they absorb moisture) I wonder if the cookies become too gooey. Using all sugar might be the answer. These cookies break easily (but the chocolate gives them strength!). If you want a sturdier cookie, you can add one or two tablespoons of flour. I’ve made them with chestnut flour to keep them gluten-free. I like using raw cashew pieces because they are already skinned and easy to obtain, although this does move the cookie away from its Italian origins. If you don’t have a stash of candied orange peel, you can make it (easily) or buy it. I’ve made them with candied grapefruit rind, which lends a sophisticated bitterness. The cookies keep well–refrigerated or frozen if it’s 100 degrees, otherwise at room temperature in an airtight container. I’ve kept them (albeit in winter) for a month. The recipe makes four or five dozen, depending on the size.

Caramel:

4 Tbs unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

2/3 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup honey or golden syrup or corn syrup or combination.

½ tsp salt

Simmer together (low heat, uncovered) for 20-25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

In food processor, combine:

1 ½ cups raw cashew pieces or almonds or combination (12 ounces)

1 cup candied orange rind chopped into one-inch or smaller pieces (8 ounces) (I make my own from organic citrus in the winter and keep it in the refrigerator for this and other uses.

Drops of citrus essential oil if you like–I usually add 10 drops of tangerine oil.

Pulse/chop the nuts with the citrus rind until pieces of both are about the size of grains of rice.

Stir fruit/nut mixture into the cooled caramel mixture.

Drop by half teaspoons on parchment and pat with a finger moistened in water to a circle. Cookies will spread to about 2 1/2 inches, so space them generousl Bake at 350 or 360 (if you are impatient) for about 15 minutes or until evenly brown. Cookies will firm upon cooling. Once the cookies are cool, brush the back of each one with a thin layer of tempered bittersweet chocolate (you’ll need about a pound, or maybe more!) I use a silicone brush which is easy to clean. To temper 72% chocolate, melt it to 105 degrees, then let cool to 80 before brushing. This assures a crisp snap and a shiny look. It also helps preserve the cookie.

simmering caramel

midstage caramel

Summer Fruit Sparkling Wine Gelatin

I had a bottle of sparkling riesling wine not good enough for drinking and wanted to serve it with summer fruit…but wondered how to make it more substantial, more dramatic? Gelatin! Not good for vegetarians (next time I’ll try agar agar, which has a different texture) but easy. Put 3 packets of unflavored gelatin in a cup of sparkling wine. Heat another cup of the wine to boiling, then add a couple tablespoons each of honey and lemon juice (or a teaspoon of TruLemon powder). Mix the gelatin-wine mush with the hot wine and then add the remaining cup of cold or room temperature sparkling wine. Taste. It might need more honey or lemon. Let the wine-gelatin mix cool, then pour it over 6 cups of washed, cut fruit in a large bowl. I used sliced strawberries, halved cherries and cantaloupe balls–but you can use any summer fruit: halved grapes, honeydew melon, plums, apricots, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, etc. Make sure the pieces are bite-sized. Refrigerate the bowl for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days (maybe longer? will the fruit begin to weep through the gelatin?). To unmold, briefly set the bowl in a larger basin of hot water and invert on a serving plate. Or place the bowl upside down on a serving plate and then cover the bottom of the bowl with a hot wet cloth (use the microwave). The sparkling aspect of the wine comes through in a subdued way and the fruit is enhanced without being overshadowed. The dessert feels very light (after all, it’s mostly fruit) but still festive. You could cut it into wedges or serve with a spoon. Serves about 8.

Crunchiest Almond Cookies

Pains d’Amande  (adapted from Flo Braker) 40 1×3 inch cookies

Crisp cookies often involve rolling and cutting the dough—time consuming and fiddly. Here is a recipe for a thin, crunchy cookie that is not fiddly. In fact, the recipe and the process are easy, and the cookies, despite being very thin, are not fragile.

1/3 cup water

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 tsp salt

250 gr. Turbinado  or other natural, highly flavored sugar (Demerara, Hawaiian washed, etc.) (about 1 cup) Do not use ordinary brown sugar (which is just white sugar with molasses) as the molasses will prevent the cookies from being crisp. (I tried!)

325 gr. all purpose flour (approx. 2 cups) (It’s OK to substitute gluten-free flour by weight: I used 2/3 fine white rice flour, 1/3 starch–tapioca, corn, or potato, ½ tsp xanthan gum. Note that GF will be more delicate and liable to break.)

¼ tsp baking soda

1 scant tsp cinnamon 

¼ tsp cardamon

4 ounces sliced almonds 

Melt butter in water, then add sugar and salt. Don’t let the mixture boil—it makes the cookies more crunchy to have some of the sugar remain unmelted.  Add other dry ingredients (which have been whisked together) all at once and blend thoroughly. Then stir in the almonds.

Let cool. Pack into rectangular tin (loaf pan, etc.) lined with plastic wrap. The dough will be like fudge. Freeze or chill until very firm. Unmold on cutting board. With a large, very sharp knife cut slices as thin as possible—1/16th inch—either rectangular or square. (The size of the pieces will depend on the size of your pan, although you could cut them in half.) Bake spaced apart on parchment at 325 for 10 minutes. Then take out of oven and let cool until you can turn them easily with your fingers (without burning yourself or breaking the cookies) and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes. A small angled spatula is useful for turning, too.  Let cool—cookies should be very crisp when cool. Packed together like cards in a deck, they are sturdy enough to mail.

The recipe can be made with different flavoring—½ teaspoon of almond extract to intensify the almond flavor, or 1/4 teaspoon of citrus essential oil, or different or more ground spices. The next time I make it, I’m going to use sesame or flax seeds instead of almonds.

Asparagus, Asian Style

My favorite Asian restaurant in Salt Lake City (Takashi) serves a warm asparagus dish that I love. The first time I had it, I went home and made it in so many variations I got tired of it. But that was three or four years ago, and it’s now spring asparagus season and I want to share it–as an anti-recipe. I don’t think you can ruin this as long as you don’t overcook the asparagus and keep tasting the sauce. To make the flavorful sauce, sauté pieces or slices of shiitake or maitake or any kind of mushroom in toasted sesame oil until the mushrooms are brown. At this point you can add minced shallot or garlic and/or ginger, tamari or soy sauce or miso, and something acid: balsamic or rice vinegar or mirin or citrus juice. In the version in the photo I used a dash of yuzu hot sauce and a splash of balsamic vinegar. You can steam or blanch the asparagus separately, or simply add it to the pan in which you have browned the mushrooms, cover, and let cook a few minutes. Add enough water to deglaze the pan and make a sauce. Maybe add more sesame oil? Keep tasting! Combine with bean thread/glass noodles that have been hydrated in boiling water. Garnish with chopped cilantro or chives or toasted sesame seeds. (I forgot about this for the photo.) If you want protein, serve with roasted tofu cubes or steamed shrimp. The dish is still delicious the next day, although I would let it come to room temperature before serving.

Five Minute Chocolate Pudding

When I was a child and my father travelled for work, my mother sometimes made chocolate pudding, from a boxed mix, as dinner for the two of us. It represented freedom from meat and potatoes and the luxury of suiting our sweet tooth. These days, “Does someone need some chocolate pudding?” is the response when either my wife or I are strung out, stressed, and in need of solace. We like eating it warm, in which state it resembles European hot chocolate. I like it as much as mousse, maybe better. There are only a few tricks to the recipe below–the first is to use good ingredients–high quality cocoa, chocolate, and turbinado sugar. The second is to mix the ingredients in a blender before cooking, which pre-empts lumps. The recipe makes about two cups–to serve 2-4, depending on your level of stress.

3 Tbs. good cocoa powder (I like alkaline treated, i.e. Dutch process)

3 Tbs. turbinado sugar (you could substitute brown sugar, but turbinado is worth the trouble)

2 Tbs. cornstarch

1 3/4 cups whole milk plus 1/4 cup heavy cream (you can change the proportions if you want it richer, to total 2 cups)

1/4 tsp. salt

3 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate (I use our “house” brand, Trader Joe’s 72% Belgian pound plus) in smallish pieces

1 tsp. vanilla extract (added after cooking to prevent evaporation)

Whir everything except the chocolate and vanilla in a blender. Dump into a heavy saucepan, and cook at medium heat until thickened, 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Off the heat, whisk in the chocolate to melt it, and then the vanilla extract. Voila! If you want to serve this chilled and don’t like the “skin,” place plastic or wax paper on it.

Potato Tart

Now that Trader Joe’s has all-butter puff pastry back in stock, it’s a snap to make this tart, 1/4 of which is pictured above. That’s how fast we ate it before I realized I should take a photo.

Roll out the defrosted pastry (8 or 9 ounces) on a silpat or parchment or directly on a baking sheet to almost double the original size. (I like my pastry really thin. If you want it thicker, roll it out more moderately or not at all. If you don’t roll it out, the potato and onion mixture will be piled really high, and I can’t vouch for how it will bake…let me know?) Fold over the edges to raise them and pinch or seal with a fork. Prick the middle well with a fork. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Thinly slice and coarsely chop one yellow onion (1/2 lb.) and caramelize with a bit of fat. (15 minutes). Peel and thinly slice (on a mandoline) 2 large yellow/gold potatoes (1 lb.) Toss the potato slices with 1 scant Tbs. minced fresh sage, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1-2 ounces of shredded gruyere. Stir in the caramelized onions and heap this mixture onto the prepared pastry. Bake on the lowest rack of the oven for about 45 minutes. The potato slices will cook into less than half volume as they bake, without becoming mushy. Lift the bottom of the tart with a spatula to see if it is baked enough–the bottom should be golden brown and crisp. You could add cooked bacon or substitute other herbs, say rosemary or thyme. The second time I made it I forgot the herb, in case you notice in the photos below. This tart would make a great cocktail bite, cut into pieces, if we were still having those kinds of parties. And a nice dinner for 2 or 4, with the “crisp green salad” you might crave after something brown, carbohydrate-laden, and rich.

Frangipani

When I hear “frangipani,” I smell a waft of orange and almond blossoms and I’m transported to the island of Majorca, where I stayed for a few weeks when I was 22. I’d heard about two villages, Fornalutx in the mountains and Deìa on the coast, as idyllic places for artists. A room with a view and breakfast cost $15 a night. On the overnight ferry from Barcelona to Palma, watching the sun rise as we approached the island, I was both lonely and entirely happy to be alone. On the old, wooden train to the town of Sóller, I saw my first citrus trees—by June laden with fruit, yellow and orange globes shining out from glossy dark green leaves, easy to pick. 

I would like before I die to walk once again that stony path from the Deia village hilltop to the tiny blue harbor below, hardly bigger than a pool. So safe it felt to swim there, the walk made fragrant by olive and almond trees, musical from the tiny bells on goats, occasionally the chime of churches or the buzzing of honey bees. No one I knew knew where I was. No keys, no work, no plans. What did I do with my time?  One day I trudged along the one road through town in the hot sun and hitchhiked to Valldemossa, where in 1839, George Sand and Frédéric Chopin wintered in the charterhouse, an attempt to treat his tuberculosis. A tourist notes on TripAdvisor that the monastery was  a “real disappointment.” I don’t remember being disappointed, perhaps because I had no expectations. “Expect Nothing” is the title of a poem by Alice Walker that ends, “live frugally on surprise.” Everything about that time was a surprise, perhaps because everything was new for me.

I gorged on ensaimadas, yeast-raised coils of dough fried in lard and dusted with powdered sugar, lighter than doughnuts and barely sweet.  They were served as breakfast in my pension but I went to the bakery to buy more. I treated myself to fish cooked at the little shack overlooking the swimming harbor. I ran out of books in English. 

The Deìa expats could be well off or poor, they spoke fluent Spanish, and they hung out together at the cafes. In one of Deìa’s two cafés, I met the poet Robert Graves, Alzheimer’s-addled but still regal in his black hat, on the arm of his twenty years younger wife Beryl. Norman was a painter who talked fast with an accent and smiled with toothless charm. “Hey, honey, woodya like to see my etchins?” In his room a few steps away from the café, I acquired a watercolor of a bullfight: his black pen hadn’t left the paper. Man and bull awash in yellow. The color of plumeria blossoms. Back in the café, Norman savored a steak in exchange for that art while he told me his story of leaving New York and an advertising job in the sixties for the paradise of Deìa.

Ripe pears smell like frangipane sounds. Frangipane literally means “breaking bread” in Italian, but is also the name of a noble family from the Middle Ages. They might have acquired their name from Eucharist liturgy or from their practice of distributing bread to the poor.  But “Frangipane” is also an almond filling around fruit, usually in a crust.  One member of that noble Roman family supplied perfumes to Louis XIII. 

The Latin name of frangipani is plumeria, in homage to the seventeenth century Frenchman, Charles Plumier, who “discovered” them. The  five-petaled velvety pastel flowers look simpler than orchids. Plumeria is related to dogbane and the euphorbia (myrtle spurge) that has taken over my hillside here in Utah. Hard to imagine the spurge whose sap irritates my skin related to those creamy plumeria flowers. The  trees grow in Central America, notably not on Majorca. Plumeria is the most common flower of Hawaiian leis,  but is not indigenous to Hawaii.  

It’s a trick of memory for me to align my time on Majorca with a flower that doesn’t grow there. 

Plumeria flowers have a heavenly scent, but no nectar, so they trick nocturnal sphinx moths into pollinating them. Was I tricked into thinking that long-ago state of unrootedness, a leisure as shallow as the waters below the village of almond and olive and lemon trees, could last? 

My version of frangipane tartlets has no crust.  I like to suggest plumeria blossoms by adding flowery essence—a drop of fiori di sicilia or bergamot oil—to the almond and vanilla, which make it taste a bit like a creamsicle or panettone or like the air in Deìa in May forty years ago. The following recipe for frangipane tartlets is light and rich.

4 ounces salted butter (1 stick) (use the best quality as you will taste it)

1.6 ounces sugar

6 ounces cup finely ground almonds (almond flour). You can also use pistachio or hazelnut flour.

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract, a few drops almond extract, two drops bergamot, orange or lemon oil, or some fiori di sicilia flavoring.

1 ounce flour (I use chestnut flour or corn flour and thus make the tarts gluten-free. You could use a blend of tapioca starch and sorghum flour or white flour.)

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 ripe pear, cut into quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the tartlets, sliced thinly and fanned

Cream the butter, sugar and almond flour until smooth (I use a food processor). Add eggs one at a time, then the flavoring and the flour.  Taste the mixture: the flowery-citrusy notes should be pronounced as they will lessen in the baked product and over time. It will be the consistency of cake batter. Spray muffin tins or tartlet pans with Baker’s Joy or thoroughly grease and flour or use paper cups. Fill each pan about 2/3 full and place into each a fan of sliced pear. Red pears are particularly beautiful although their color fades a bit after baking. You can also use apricots or other fruit, but be aware that the batter is moist and some fruit will make it too soggy. I used pitted chokecherries for the batch in the photos.

Bake at 375 until puffed, golden and set, about 13 minutes for small tartlets. Let cool for a few minutes and then tip out with an angled spatula. They might fall a bit upon cooling.  You can whip the egg whites if you want a lighter product (or add ½ tsp of baking powder.) Dust with powdered sugar. The tartlets will keep for two days at room temperature and up to a week in the refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature to serve.  This recipe will serve six to eight, making about 24 one-inch tartlets. It is easy to double and also easy to vary the size of the tarts.