summer vegetable gratin

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Can I talk about my garden some more? I’m sorry, I’m just really excited about it. I’m finding that I get nearly the same enjoyment from my vegetable garden as I do from cooking lately. I can’t stop myself from wandering between the beds, just looking at the plants; looking for new fruit growing, checking on whether anything is ripening, plucking weeds, crushing stinkbugs.

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I’m so proud that I grew half of the vegetables in this dish. Despite my hit or miss success with gardening, the tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, and basil in this dish all came from the backyard (or the basil would have if I’d remembered to use it).

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It’s one of those dishes that toes the line between being healthy and feeling indulgent. I brought it to a comfort food-themed potluck where I knew there would be a lot of (really delicious) cheesy baked pasta, hoping that a second helping of vegetable gratin would keep me from a third helping of macaroni and cheese. It didn’t work – I had both a second helping of gratin and a third helping of mac and cheese – but at least only my healthy-ish gratin leftovers came home with me. My favorite part of gardening is the part that involves eating, and this combination of summer vegetables and herbs is exactly why that is.

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Summer Vegetable Gratin (from Cook’s Illustrated)

6-8 servings

I didn’t use this much oil. I sprayed the pan with cooking spray instead of using a tablespoon of oil, and then I used less with the garlic, maybe just 1 tablespoon instead of three.

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 pound summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons table salt
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced ¼-inch thick
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 medium shallots, minced (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.

2. Toss the zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Let stand until the zucchini and squash release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Arrange the slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with another triple layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Place the tomato slices in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Place a second double layer of paper towels on top of the tomatoes and press firmly to dry the tomatoes.

4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set the onions aside.

5. Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, remaining ½ teaspoon pepper, and thyme in a small bowl. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and summer squash in half of the oil mixture, then arrange in the greased baking dish. Arrange the caramelized onions in an even layer over the squash. Slightly overlap the tomato slices in a single layer on top of the onions. Spoon the remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over the tomatoes. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes are starting to brown on the edges, 40 to 45 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, process the bread in a food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds. (You should have about 1 cup crumbs.) Combine the bread crumbs, remaining tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in a medium bowl. Remove the baking dish from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of the tomatoes. Bake the gratin until bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

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meatball-stuffed zucchini

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I joke about not being good at gardening, but the truth is, it’s no joke. I am not good at it. Every year, at least half of what I plant is a failure. This year, in fact, in one raised bed, it’s exactly half, with two tomato plants and one pepper plant doing quite well, and two tomato plants and one pepper plant not doing much of anything at all.

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This year, I’m having more success with my zucchini plant than ever before. (Keeping with the theme, the beans in the same bed aren’t producing at all.) Maybe the disgusting and destructive squash bugs will move in eventually, but so far, so good. I get about three zucchinis each week, which has been just right for making old favorites like these enchiladas and this pasta, while also providing an opportunity to try a new favorite.

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This has become my go-to zucchini recipe this summer. I like it as a first course, maybe with a pasta dish served afterward, but it would work well as a main dish too. If things keep going well with my zucchini plant – and in my garden, that’s not a guarantee – I might just make this once a week until the season is over.

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Meatball-Stuffed Zucchini (adapted from Dominica Cooks and Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 4-6 first course servings or 2 main course servings

I’ve used ground lamb for these (which is what the pictures show) because we love it, and I’ve used ground venison because someone gave us a bunch that we need to use up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped with scissors in the can
salt
1 slice white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
¼ cup buttermilk or 3 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
pinch ground black pepper
½ pound ground beef or lamb
2 large or 3 small zucchini or summer squash, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and discarded

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the oil and 1 clove of garlic to an 8-by-8-inch (or equivalent size) baking dish; transfer to the oven until the garlic is sizzling, 5-8 minutes. Stir the tomatoes and a pinch of salt into the oil; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the bread and buttermilk or yogurt and milk; set aside for 10 minutes for the bread to soften. Stir in the cheese, parsley, egg yolk, remaining garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper. Using your hands, evenly mix in the ground meat.

3. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the halved and cored zucchini. Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the baking dish. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the zucchini is softened and the meat is cooked through, 30-40 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. To serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the zucchini and top with parmesan cheese.

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blackberry cake with raspberry filling

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I require a weekend for my birthday. Not a week, certainly not a month, just two days and one evening to do as many as my favorite things as possible and as few of my least favorite things. So wine and a new novel are in; laundry is most definitely out.

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Baking and eating my birthday cake is in, but I was really on top of things this year and did all the steps I don’t like so much beforehand. That includes digging around in the messy, nearly unreachable cabinet for pans, lining the pans, and pureeing and straining the fruit. All that was left to do on my actual birthday was add things to the mixer and nibble on frosting while assembling the cake.

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I’d originally made this cake for a friend’s bridal shower, but there were two issues: 1) I only got one piece, and 2) I didn’t save any for Dave. He’s pretty adamant about not being a dessert guy and even less so a cake guy, but our friends had such good things to say about the cake after the party that he was sorry he missed it.

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So choosing this year’s birthday cake wasn’t a hard decision. Making the cake wasn’t hard either, since I’d left only my favorite parts of baking for my birthday itself. I made a small cake, but I had just enough to last for my entire birthday weekend. Cake everyday is definitely on the list for an awesome birthday.

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Blackberry Cake with Raspberry Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting (cake adapted from Cook’s Illustrated White Cake recipe; filling is just barely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Raspberry Coulis)

The bride’s wedding colors are Tiffany blue and red, so I originally made a blackberry cake hoping that it would turn out blue, like Elly’s, with raspberry filling as the red. I ended up with a purple cake with pink filling, but no one complained. However, you could mix this up with other berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries can be used in both the cake and the filling. Fresh or frozen and thawed berries can be used.

I made a three-layer cake for my birthday, and a four-layer cake for the shower, which I preferred. I love the raspberry filling, so an extra layer of it is very welcome.

For heavy decorations like the roses, increase the frosting recipe by 50% (using 12 tablespoons butter, 12 ounces cream cheese, and 6 cups powdered sugar).

Cake:
¾ cup pureed and strained blackberries (from 8 ounces of blackberries)
⅓ cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ (9 ounces) cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites, at room temperature

Raspberry Filling:
6 ounces fresh raspberries (or thawed if frozen)
2½ to 3½ tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar

1. For the cake: Heat the oven to 350F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray (or grease and flour the pans). Line with parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.

2. Using a blender, puree the blackberries. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl; use a spoon or rubber spatula to press the liquid through the strainer, discarding the seeds. Measure ¾ cup of puree. Stir the milk and vanilla extract into the blackberry puree. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.

3. Place the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the blackberry mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the blackberry puree, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on medium-low speed for 15 seconds longer.

4. Divide the cake between the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Invert and turn out onto wire racks and peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least one hour.

5. For the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring the raspberries, 1 teaspoon water, 2½ tablespoons sugar, and salt to bare simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally; cook until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are heated through, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the mixture to the blender; puree until smooth, about 20 seconds. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl, pressing and stirring the puree with a rubber spatula to extract as much seedless puree as possible. (there’s no need to wash either the blender or the strainer between the blackberries and the raspberries.) Stir in the lemon juice and additional sugar, if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour. Stir to recombine before serving. Can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 4 days.

6. For the frosting: Place the butter, cream cheese, and salt in the (clean) bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium speed until smooth. Switch to the whisk attachment; on low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until it’s just incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

7. To assemble: To make the cakes easier to handle, wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or up to overnight. Working with one cake at a time, unwrap it and use a serrated bread knife to cut the cakes horizontally in half. If you’re using a cake board, put a small spoonful of frosting in the center of it to glue the cake to the board; if you’re not using a cake board, line the perimeter of your serving dish with strips of wax paper, then put a small spoonful of frosting in the center of the serving dish. Center a layer of cake over the frosting, cut side down. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting over the cake layer. Spoon 3 tablespoons of raspberry filling over the frosting, spreading it to within about an inch of the edge. Center another cake layer over the filling, cut side-down. Repeat the layering of frosting, filling, and cake twice more. Spread a thin layer of frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake to seal in crumbs. If the layers slide around while you’re spreading the frosting, push wooden skewers from the top to the bottom of the cake in three places to secure the layers. Chill the cake, uncovered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours to set the frosting. Remove the skewers if necessary, then spread the remaining cream cheese frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake, decorating as desired. Either transfer the cake on the cake board to a serving platter, or carefully remove the strips of wax paper to leave a clean serving platter around the sides of the cake.

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pan-seared halibut in white wine sauce with green beans and tomato-scallion relish

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I have found the perfect single-person dinner. Not because it’s easy, although that’s nice. Not because it only uses one pan to cook, although I’m not complaining about less dishes to wash. Not because it tastes good, because of course it tastes good or why would I be talking about it?

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No, the key for bachelor(ette) meals is that they don’t leave you with half a can of tomatoes or beans, or half a cucumber or pepper, or the vast majority of a roast leftover. If you’re cooking for one, this recipe uses one fish filet, one tomato, one scallion, and a handful of green beans.

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Because I have been cooking for one a lot lately, while Dave travels for work, I’ve been making this dish often. The original recipe instructs that the green beans be steamed in a separate pot, but that seemed like a lot of hassle and dishes just for me, so I saute them quickly in a skillet, then add just a bit of water to cook them through. Any remnant green bean bits are scraped up with a glug of wine. I like to transfer the green beans to a pasta bowl and cover them with a big plate while the fish cooks in the same skillet. The fish gets laid over the green beans, the pan is deglazed with wine again, then a simple relish is heated briefly in the pan before it’s time to eat.

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I don’t know if fish served over green beans (although you could put yours on the side if that’s more your thing) sounds weird. The relish really brings everything together, since it’s so bright and flavorful, mixing perfectly with both the beans and the fish. It’s an easy, healthy, one-pan, delicious meal that won’t leave you with a bunch of half-used ingredients, and one of my newest favorites.

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Pan-Seared Halibut in White Wine Sauce with Haricots Verts and Tomato-Scallion Relish (adapted from Alfred Portale’s The Twelve Seasons Cookbook via epicurious)

4 servings

Regular green beans work just as well as haricots verts in this recipe. I’ve also successfully made it with both halibut and mahi-mahi. The pictures show mahi-mahi.

It’s easy to adapt for one person; just divide all of the ingredients by four and use a small skillet.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 ounces haricots verts or green beans
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons white wine, divided
4 halibut or mahi-mahi fillets, each approximately 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
4 small roma tomatoes, diced fine

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the beans, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are spotty brown, 4 minutes. Add the water, cover, and cook until the beans are bright green and still crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the cover, increase the heat to high, and cook until the water evaporates, 30 to 60 seconds. Divide the beans between four plates or shallow bowls. Add 2 tablespoons of wine to the pan, swirling it around and scraping the pan with a rubber spatula to dissolve any stickiness on the bottom of the skillet. Transfer to liquid to the dishes with the green beans; cover set aside.

2. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the fish for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the fish, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes longer, until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides. Put the fish over the green beans in the bowl; cover again.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons wine and the lemon juice to the pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits with a rubber spatula. Stir in the butter. Add the scallions, capers, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, and pour over the fish in the bowls. Serve immediately.

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blueberry pie

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The two weeks a year when blueberries are reasonably priced are almost a tease. Blink and you miss it! Down here in the desert, some years it doesn’t happen at all (or maybe I blinked). They went on sale recently, and I loaded up my cart. I didn’t know what I was going to make for dessert that weekend, but I knew it would have lots of blueberries in it.

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Pie. Pie is so classic, and like I recently said, I don’t get many opportunities to make it. While pies aren’t the easiest desserts to make, at least blueberries don’t require any tedious prep like most other fruits – that is, unless you choose a high-maintenance Cook’s Illustrated recipe for blueberry pie.

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I did, because I hate soupy pies enough to pre-cook the filling and peel and grate an apple into the mix. And clean out the coffee grinder to powder the tapioca when the grinder I keep in the kitchen for non-coffee things broke. All the cleaning, dough-rolling, pre-cooking, and apple-shredding was worth it when I was rewarded with a flaky crust over a juicy but not soupy filling of my favorite summer fruit.

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Blueberry Pie (pretty much straight from Cook’s Illustrated, except for I don’t use their crust)

CI notes: This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1¼ cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons.

dough for double-crust pie (I always make this one)
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar (5¼ ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (see note)
pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

2. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

3. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about ⅛ inch thick. Using 1¼-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1½ inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least ½-inch overhang on each side.

4. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving ½-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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mixed berry buttermilk bundt cake

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If Labor Day is the last hurrah of summer and fall officially starts September 23, what does that make the rest of September? It’s getting darker, but the leaves aren’t changing yet, and tomatoes are really picking up this time of year. Plus, there was a 2-for-1 sale on berries at the grocery store this week!

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I didn’t intend to add even more berries than the recipe calls for, but I confess I got carried away by the sale. Somehow, I ended up with at least three times more berries than this cake required. Adding an extra cup to the cake didn’t make a dent in the excess, but I couldn’t resist.

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And then I was at the store a few days later, and they announced that berries were on an even better sale! It was so hard to resist, but we hadn’t finished the last batch!  Maybe I need to make more cake, before the last vestiges of summer are gone.

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Mixed Berry Buttermilk Bundt Cake (adapted from Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson’s Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More via Smitten Kitchen)

Cake:
2½ cups (12 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 to 4 cups (12 to 16 ounces) mixed berries

Glaze:
1½ cups (6 ounces) powdered or confections’ sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very soft

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan or spray with baking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.

2. Place the butter, lemon zest, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Mix in the eggs one at a time, until incorporated, then add the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer. Carefully fold in the berries.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

4. Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and butter; whisk until smooth. Spoon over the cooled cake.

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pasta with zucchini cream sauce

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I love love love Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pastas of Italy. Although it isn’t my newest cookbook, it’s still the one that gets me the most excited to cook. But somehow I’d convinced myself that it was a cookbook for winter, full of baked pastas and braised meats. A recent perusal through the book proved me wrong. Not only are there four soups specifically designed for each season, there was this recipe, based on zucchini, the butt of everyone’s summer garden jokes.

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I’ve never been presented with the problem of too much zucchini, but while I happen to love the vegetable, this might be more because I’m a terrible gardener. Regardless, this is yet another great way to use it.

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Summer squash can be difficult to cook without it getting mushy, but this recipe solves that problem for you. It’s supposed to be mush; the vegetables cook down into the sauce. There’s still toothy bites, but this isn’t pasta with zucchini; it’s pasta in sauce made from summer squash. Everything else is just playing a supporting role, with savoriness from the pancetta, body from the cream, and salty richness in the cheeses. It’s a great new way to eat this summer vegetable and a perfect example of why I love this cookbook so much.

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Pasta with Zucchini Cream Sauce (adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pastas of Italy)

Serves 4 as a side dish or starter course

I made this once without checking the recipe before shopping and had to substitute prosciutto for pancetta, skip the basil, and double the parmesan because I didn’t have pecorino. The dish was still delicious.

I’ve reduced the cream a bit, but the only major change I’ve made is to drastically reduce the amount of pasta, so every bite of pasta gets some creamy zucchini with it.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, cut into narrow strips
2 cloves garlic, cut into paper-thin slices
6 to 8 small to medium zucchini or other summer squash, sliced into thin coins
salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
8 ounces dried pasta
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
5 large fresh basil leaves, cut into narrow strips (chiffonade)

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the pancetta; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the garlic; cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper; stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash breaks down, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cream.

2. Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions; drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

3. Add the pasta, ½ cup of the reserved water, and the cheeses to the zucchini mixture. Cook and stir until the pasta is coated, adding more water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Stir in the basil and serve immediately.

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cherry tomato cobbler with gruyere biscuits

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I couldn’t figure out what wine to serve with this. On the one hand, it’s just vegetables. On the other, the gruyere and biscuits would make it pretty rich. A medium-bodied red would have been perfect, but all I had was chianti, which seemed too Italian. A rich white would have worked too, but I didn’t have one. In the end, I went with zinfandel, slightly worried that the wine would be too rich for the food.

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It wasn’t. It wasn’t just the gruyere with enough flavor to stand up to the deep wine, it was the tomatoes themselves. They might just be vegetables (fruit, whatever), but after roasting in the oven for half an hour with shallots and thyme, they were sweet and tart and jammy all at once.

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The original recipe calls for leaving the grape or cherry tomatoes whole before baking, but I dislike the saggy pouches of scalding mush that whole tomatoes become once cooked. By cutting them in half, the juice can mix with the other flavors, as well as reduce into a rich, flavorful sauce. It had so much flavor, in fact, that sips of rich wine and bites of earthy spinach was absolutely required between bites. It was a perfect combination.

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Cherry Tomato Cobbler with Gruyere Biscuits (adapted from Martha Stewart via Pink Parsley)

6-8 servings

I used a mix of all-purpose white flour and of whole wheat pastry flour in the biscuits.  I only made a third of the recipe.

For the filling:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 shallots, diced
salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

For the biscuit topping:
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (2¼ ounces), plus 1 tablespoon, for sprinkling
1½ cups buttermilk, plus more for brushing

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray.

2. For the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook just until the shallots begin to brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper, and flour. Remove from the heat; set aside.

3. For the topping: Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the food processor. Add the butter and pulse until it is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the cheese; pulse to combine. Pour in the buttermilk; pulse just until the dough is evenly moistened but still looks crumbly.

4. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and pat into a ball. Knead the dough a few times. Use a large spoon to arrange mounds of dough about ¼-cup in size over the tomatoes. Brush the biscuits with buttermilk and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon grated cheese.

5. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the biscuits are browned on top and the filling is bubbling, 35-45 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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berry tart with mascarpone cream

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In late August, I always start to get a little bit panicked about the end of summer. This, despite the long six months of summer we get in southern New Mexico and despite the months of temperatures reaching nearly 100 degrees. This, despite the breathtaking beauty of upstate New York’s fall, despite the pumpkins and apples, football and fall fairs that I loved when I lived there.

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But for me, fall can’t beat summer. I love being not just warm, but hot. The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. Homegrown tomatoes are my favorite food. I love wearing skirts and hate wearing pants.

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I love peaches and zucchini and berries. I already made Dave’s favorite pie once this summer, not that it isn’t good enough to have more often. But I was hosting an Italian-ish dinner party so wanted an Italian-ish dessert. This was perfect. A sweet cookie crust, a simple mascarpone-based creamy layer, lots of fresh berries, and none of that gelatinous shellack that fruit tarts often include. The custard layer was similar to pastry cream, but it required just a few minutes of mixing instead of egg-separating, heating, tempering, whisking, straining, and cooling.

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It’s been a long, hot summer here. My tomato plants haven’t done well, although I’m grateful for the occasional fruit they do give. But I’m as ready as I ever am to move on to fall. I’m thinking about braising and roasting. But I can’t quite shake that tug of dread to say goodbye to my favorite season, and fresh berries are just part of the reason.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream
(crust rewritten from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours; filling adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Crust:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Filling:
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
⅓ cup well-chilled heavy cream
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1½ cups raspberries
1½ cups blueberries
1½ cups blackberries
2 tablespoons red currant jam or raspberry jelly
2 tablespoons dark berry liqueur such as blueberry, blackberry, or cassis or port

1. For the crust: Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut, with some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk with a fork and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Process in long pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds; the sound of the machine working will change. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl to incorporate any unmixed dry ingredients.

2. Grease a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking.

3. Center a rack in the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

4. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and fit the foil, oiled side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

5. For the filling: In a bowl with a whisk or an electric mixer, beat together the mascarpone, cream, and sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Spoon the mixture into the shell, spreading it evenly.

6. In a large bowl, combine the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. In a small saucepan, simmer the jam and port, stirring, until reduced to about 3 tablespoons; pour over the berries. With a rubber spatula, gently stir the berries to coat evenly. Mound the berries decoratively on the mascarpone cream. The tart may be assembled 2 hours ahead and chilled; bring to room temperature and remove the sides of the pan before serving.

cornmeal pancakes with cherry compote

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I haven’t forgotten my New Year’s resolution this year. I haven’t done a very good job following it, but at least I haven’t forgotten.

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I simply wanted to use my cookbooks more often. I love buying cookbooks, and I love looking through them, and I love the cookbook shelf I had built in my kitchen, but when it comes time to choose recipes, I default to my database and the internet all too often. The spreadsheet I made to track cookbook usage this year was neglected.

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Until one night recently when, for no special reason, I sat down with a pile of cookbooks and started flipping. Other favorites got set aside as I put breakfasts, dinners, and snacks on the menu, all from one book, Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen. Something snagged me about her cookbook that night, probably the healthy, quick, interesting meal ideas. Interesting, like adding thyme to cherry compote. Interesting, like making pancakes with cornmeal and honey.

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I should let this be a reminder of why I need to pull out my cookbooks more often. Such undiscovered treasures are hidden on those shelves! I loved the extra cornmeal crunch in these pancakes, along with the honey notes. The cherries make these a summer reminder of a winter promise I made to myself.

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Cornmeal Pancakes with Cherry Compote (slightly adapted from Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook)

Cherry compote:
1 pound Bing cherries, seeded and quartered
2 sprigs thyme
¼ cup water
¼ cup honey
pinch salt

Pancakes:
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup boiling water
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 tablespoons brown or turbinado sugar
¾ cup buttermilk (or ½ cup plain yogurt and ¼ cup milk)
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for cooking the pancakes

1. For the compote: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cherries, thyme, and water, stirring occasionally, until the cherries start to break down, about 3 minutes. Stir in the honey and salt; set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, honey, and boiling water. Let sit 5 minutes to soften the cornmeal. Meanwhile, in a separate small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together, the egg, sugar, buttermilk, and oil. Whisk the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture until thoroughly combined, then gently fold in the flour mixture. Let set 5 minutes.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet or a griddle over medium heat. Add a few drops of oil and spread it over the bottom of the pan. Using a ¼ cup measure, pour the pancake batter onto the hot griddle. When the pancakes are golden brown, after about 2-3 minutes, flip to cook the other side another 2-3 minutes. Keep warm in oven heated to 200 degrees.

4. While the pancakes are cooking, warm the compote; remove the sprigs of thyme. Serve the pancakes topped with compote.

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