Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tarts on a hot day

Don't ask what came over me. It's hot. It's even humid for San Diego. But every year, my friend Kathye holds her annual "Sunday In The Park With Kathye". We claim a bench by the large reflecting pool in front of the Botanical building in Balboa Park to use as a table, and we all bring something to share. She's making some tri-tip and a roast chicken. Other people are bringing dips and salads and desserts. For whatever reason, I've been thinking that a savory tart would taste good, and this picnic seems like the perfect "excuse". So even though the oven has been on, I'm feeling cool here in my home office with my overhead fan going, and the second tart in the oven. Only the second one isn't really a tart, it's a pie. But more about that later........
One of the things I love about tarts is their versatility. I've made fruit tarts and savory tarts, and I love them all. The savory ones make great lunches, especially if you've got some fruit or salad on the side. The sweet ones are the most perfect way to bake fruit for me, as I am not a true baker. The only successful baking I've ever perfected was 100% whole wheat sour dough bread. But that was when I lived in New Mexico, where I shopped at a health food store that both sold organic wheat berries AND would grind them into flour for me. Now I live several blocks from a fabulous bakery that specializes in bread - good, crusty bread. So I no longer bake.

Except for tarts. On a hot summer day.

For those of you who are lucky enough to be able to grow a real vegetable garden, tarts are a perfect solution to all that produce. The ones I'm making right now use tomatoes, chard and herbs, as well as other ingredients. But substituting zucchini is a godsend for that part of the season when the zucchini plants take off and you find yourself overwhelmed by zucchini.

I got both the recipes from Epicurious, although I used to subscribe to Bon Appetite, and I made one with chard years ago from the recipe in that magazine. It was an issue on the foods of Tuscany, with fabulous photos of the hillside towns and people enjoying mouth-watering food al fresco. Balboa Park isn't exactly Tuscany, but we can all travel easily these days through the foods we eat.Tomato, Goat Cheese and Onion Tart

1 (9-inch) prepared pie dough, thawed if frozen (not pie shells)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
6 oz crumbled goat cheese (1 1/3 cups)
1 lb plum tomatoes, thinly sliced crosswise

Garnish: fresh basil leaves
Special equipment: a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom; pie weights or raw rice


Preheat oven to 375°F.

If necessary, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch round and fit into tart pan. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang inward and press against side of pan to reinforce edge. Lightly prick bottom and sides with a fork.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake in middle of oven until pastry is pale golden around rim, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil and bake until golden all over, 8 to 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack.

While tart shell is baking, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook onion with salt and black pepper to taste, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat broiler.

Spread onion over bottom of tart shell and top with 1 rounded cup goat cheese. Arrange tomatoes, slightly overlapping, in concentric circles over cheese. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil. Put foil over edge of crust (to prevent overbrowning).

Put tart pan on a baking sheet and broil tart about 7 inches from heat until cheese starts to brown slightly, 3 to 4 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Swiss Chard and Herb Tart

1 pound Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed


Cook chard in large pot of boiling salted water until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Squeeze out liquid. Chop chard.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; saut
 1 minute. Add chard; sauté until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard mixture to large bowl. Cool slightly. Mix in ricotta and next 7 ingredients.

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 375°F. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 14-inch square. Transfer pastry to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges, leaving 1-inch overhang. Fill pastry with chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with pastry brush dipped into water. Roll out second pastry sheet to 13-inch square. Using tart pan as guide, trim pastry square to 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges and fold in.

Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Remove pan sides from tart. Transfer to platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

Makes 8 appetizer or 4 first course servings.Notes: I used the pre-made pie shells for both tarts. I've used the phyllo dough before, and while it's tasty, it seemed a bit too rich for a hot summer day. Besides, the pre-made pie dough comes 2 to a box, so I just went with the flow, as it were.

Also, I used carmelized onions on the bottom of the chard "tart", because when I looked at the recipe it seemed like it would have been too bland without them. Besides, I was in the business of carmelizing onions today, so whaddaheck.......might as well make a few more!

And lastly, as I only have one tart pan, and as there seemed to be waaaaay too much filling for one measly little tart, I decided to make the second one in a pie pan instead of a tart pan. I'm on my way to the park now.......we'll see how they go over.

Post Script:
Well, the picnic's over and the votes are cast. Both tarts were supreme hits, but the tomato one ruled. People were drawn to it visually more than the other one, which is understandable. How can one resist such a red? Especially when put next to Kathye's fabulous marinated tri-tip!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't visit my other blog:
Second Opinion

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peach Season

Ahh is hot! Hot and humid, in fact. I find that I can deal with heat as long as I don't have to deal with the humidity. But this summer has been unusual here in San Diego, and it has made it clear to me how very far I've come from my roots on the east coast. While I will always love New York and Boston and points in between, I'm no longer interested in living someplace with that much humidity. It makes me lethargic. I make tea in the mornings in my kitchen. I eat cereal. I buy sandwiches from the local bakery. I have cheese and crackers for dinner.

I got an email last week from a friend who used to live in Julian - a small town in the mountains east of San Diego. In the summertime, she helped out at a local fruit stand called Meyer's Orchard. Mr. Meyer gets up at around 2am each morning at this time of the year and drives for several hours to his orchards. There, he picks the peaches which are ripe for that day, as well as the ones which will be ripe within the next 4-5 days. Anyway, this friend told me that she was making a "peach run", and would I like any?

Is this actually a question? Of course!

The peach (prunus persica) is native to China. The word "persica" is indicative of the fact that early Europeans believed that the peach was native to Persia, but modern botanical consensus is that it originated in China and was brought to Persia along the Silk Road. There are several different crops each season, and this is the first one. This particular variety is called "Fair Lady." As the season goes on, the peaches get larger and sweeter, so by the end of season, it becomes difficult to bake anything with them. They are so incredibly sweet and delicious, it almost seems a travesty to be doing anything but eating them.
I am gobbling up this first batch as fast as I can, and haven't made anything with them yet. I will include Mrs. Meyer's recipes for peaches here. To me, they are reminiscent of the recipes from the 50s - they're so....Donna Reed. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Mrs. Meyer has been using these recipes since Betty Crocker was in full swing.

What do you like to do with fresh peaches, other than eat them fresh or on top of your cereal? Do you have a favorite recipe? A grandmother's pie or crumble?

Helen Meyer’s Peach Recipes
Meyers Orchard, Julian, Ca.

Glazed Peach Pie

Make a regular single pie crust.


1 1/2 cup sugar
1 ½ cup COLD water
3 oz peach jello
¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon corn starch
Slice peaches 1/2 inch thick (use your prettiest ones)
Let crust cool.

Mix cornstarch, sugar, jello.
Add cold water
Bring to boil and stir often til thick (est 3-min)
Lay peaches in crust, pour ½ glaze over all.
Refrigerate until firm.

Save remaining glaze for next pie.

Peach Pie II

Need peaches, pie crust, sugar, corn starch, water, powdered sugar.

Bake a pie crust

Mix in sauce pan:

1 cup puree peaches (use the ones with blemishes for this)
¾ cup sugar
2-3 Tablespoons corn starch
½ cup water

Use a slow heat to the boiling point

In baked pie crust, layer:

3-oz softened cream cheese
2-3 Tablespoons of powdered sugar
Sliced peaches
Peach puree

Angels with Peaches ‘n Cream

1 baked Angel Food cake
1 small package of instant vanilla pudding
Fresh peaches cut into small chunks
8-oz sour cream

Pull apart the cake into bite size pieces and fill a cake pan (12x12 or 9x13)
Mix the pudding by the box directions, let set til it thickens.
Mix sour cream into thickened pudding.
Add cake, peaches – mix.
Cover and refrigerate.

And, don’t forget, peaches….

…over ice cream
…under peach schnapps
…over pound cake
…on cereal
…at lunch time.

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't visit my other blog: Second Opinion

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Risotto With Shrimp, Bay Scallops, Morels and Asparagus

It all started with the morels. I stood there in Whole Foods, and lifted one big, beautiful, lacy one to my nose and inhaled deeply. Suddenly I was in the country, and smelling the slightly damp earth on a summer day. I knew I needed a somewhat neutral palette as a background for this scent, as well as something I could pair with it that would contrast - in color, texture, scent, and yes, in taste. I turned the corner and spied a forest of young asparagus bunches, all standing at attention. Yes, this was what I needed as a counterpoint. But what was the background going to be? As I continued through the aisles, I spotted the bulk grains, and knew immediately that risotto's creamy texture would balance the earthiness of the mushrooms perfectly.

I would have stopped there, but I found myself walking by the seafood counter and spied these large white shrimp and tiny, tender looking bay scallops. Most people here in California ignore bay scallops, but where I grew up on the east coast, we used to incorporate them into lots of dishes - sometimes even in the starring role. I found myself asking for a handful of each.


I've made risotto before, and understood the principle of adding liquid in batches, stirring until it's absorbed, and repeating the process until the risotto reaches it's rich, creamy, perfect texture. So the only question I had was how to deal with the rest of the ingredients. I scored one hit and one miss, but learned something in the process. And fortunately, the final result turned out to be pretty good in spite of my bumbling. My final result would feed three people easily as a main course.

1 1/4C risotto
3 good sized morels, sliced crosswise
2 small shallots, diced
1 handful of asparagus - about 18 - washed, patted dry and cut into 2" pieces
1 handful of raw shrimp, rinsed, peeled and deveined
1 handful of bay scallops, rinsed.
1/2 C white wine
2C chicken broth, heated
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Take about 1TBS of butter, add around 2tsp of olive oil and melt. Toss the sliced mushrooms and asparagus in this mixture, spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until it's slightly toasted - about 15-20 minutes.

While the asparagus and mushrooms are roasting, dice the shallots. Put a chunk of butter into a heavy skillet, add shallots and saute over medium heat until tender. Add risotto and stir until all kernels are coated with butter. Add wine and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add heated chicken broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until all the liquid is absorbed. After the first 1/2 cup of chicken broth has been absorbed, add the shrimp and scallops. Continue adding liquid and stirring until risotto is creamy and soft. Turn off heat and add the asparagus and mushrooms.
Notes: If I did this again, I would add some lemon zest to the mixture. I would also cook the shrimp and scallops separately, as they took much longer to cook this way. My instincts would be to saute them in a little white wine and some truffle oil. In fact, I intended to use truffle oil for the asparagus and mushrooms, but when I opened my pantry I discovered I was out! (Gasp!)

Note to self: Buy some more truffle oil next time you're in Trader Joe's!

Have you ever cooked with morels? What did you do with them? Are they not the most decorative of mushrooms, especially when sliced across? Like lacy rings....

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to discuss which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog:
Second Opinion

Sunday, August 5, 2007


It's been a time for visitors: a cousin from Chicago, a friend from Portland.........a barbecue at a friend's house, and an invitation to get some appetizers at a new wine bar. My kitchen has been quiet. Which is why I've gone missing from my blog. When I looked up and noticed it was summer, I suddenly found the time for that book, ("The Namesake"), and for a walk in the park, and yes, actually taking time to go to the beach to do nothing.

But on my way to the farmer's market this morning, I found these morels at Whole Foods:
Sadly, I've actually never eaten morels before. They've been one of those mythical ingredients, belonging - in my mind, at least - to restaurants with linen tablecloths and crystal wine glasses. But there they were at Whole Foods - outrageously expensive and completely irresistible. So what was I to do?

As I wandered through the produce section, the morels became the seed of an idea, which then required asparagus and shrimp. Check back to see what these fragments became.

What have you been doing this summer, besides cooking? What have you been reading?