Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bookending Summer: Eggs and Blueberries

When I first arrived in Little Compton this year, I was treated to a tour of the hen-house of the ex-husband of one of my best friends from college. He had dropped some eggs off to her house while I was there, and I said I’d love some too. So on my way out from her house to my little cottage in LC, I stopped by and met the girls. They were of assorted colors, ages, and sizes—a real harem to the large and pompous rooster who strutted about like he owned the place, such as it was. 
Henhouses are not the most lovely places, but the eggs one finds still-warm in the nests sure are. A skilled water-colorist could scarcely match that palette of soft greys, greens, and blues, and no coffee with cream or perfect suntan can rival the warm brown hue of a RI Red brown egg. They are such a delight to behold, sitting on the counter, lined up in their cartons, ready to be as simple or as exotic as you choose. The perfect food, but also the perfect companion for any mood, space of available OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         time  (eggs are the ultimate, satisfying quick supper), or season. Wouldn’t we all like more of those? Or even one, let alone a dozen?
Eggs are always in inventory, and so when it was time to leave LC—yes, I am back in Tucson, and the semester starts Tuesday—there was no question of throwing them out. It was still blueberry season, and so I wanted to do something that would showcase both the eggs and the berries—the bookends of my summer. This custard tart, a more contemporary version of the pie my grandmother made frequently because it could be so quickly whipped up with what was on hand, is delicious plain, of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         course. But it takes nicely to ornament, as pairing it with a little quickly cooked blueberry sauce proves on first bite.
Custard Tart with Blueberry Sauce
Use an all-butter crust for this, and please use whole milk. Serves 6-8.
For the tart:
Pâte Sucrée for a 9” tart, here.
3 fresh large eggs
Scant ¾ c sugar
Big pinch salt
2 ½ c whole milk, scalded
1 tea vanilla
A little freshly grated nutmeg (optional if using sauce)
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and salt with a whisk. Scald the milk and remove from the heat; add the vanilla and the nutmeg if using. Set aside.
Roll out the pastry and fit it into a tart pan with a removable bottom, trimming the edge. Brush the bottom with lightly beaten egg white. Give the custard mixture a stir and pour it into the tart pan; I prefer to open the oven door, pull out the rack and put the pan with the pastry on the rack, and pour the custard in right there. You may have a little extra; pour it into a custard cub and bake it alongside the tart as a treat for the cook. Bake for about 30 min, until lightly golden on top and a sharp knife inserted half-way to the center comes out clean. Blueberries
For the blueberry sauce:
1 pt blueberries, washed and picked over
¼-1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, to taste
2-3” piece cinnamon stick
Dash salt
¼ lemon
Put the first four ingredients in a medium-size aluminum or stainless steel pan; squeeze the juice from the quarter lemon into the berries, then toss the lemon into the pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce, stirring, for 5 or 10 min, til it is thickened but still fluid and the fruit remains largely whole. Cool. You can also serve it over ice cream, of course.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunny Squash Blossoms

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         For better or worse (often worse), I am one of those over-tolerant people. I am open-minded. I accept things. I make do. I forgive (except the unforgivable—yes, there is such a thing). I eat squash.
No, it’s not a favorite. But my Pollyanna tendencies, catholic as they are, are wide-ranging and expansive. As with a lot of things, and a lot of people, I look for the best in them. Surely the very best a squash has to offer is its flower.
To begin with, squash blossoms are as irresistibly sunny as Pollyana herself. They are pretty but fragile, so use them as soon after you buy (or if you are lucky, gather) them, before they wilt. Despite putting them in water (if on stems), they will fade fast, so stuff them right away even if you are going to cook them later. Naturally, I like to fry them. But you can poach or steam them, stuffed or not, if you insist.

Fried Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Mexican-style
They’re only Mexican-style because of the cheese and the beer. Treat zucchini flowers as their delicate nature demands: minimally. Serves 4 as an appetizer or a side to plain grilled chicken or fish.
One dozen fresh picked zucchini flowers, preferably with stemsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
½ cup queso fresco (or use farmers cheese, ricotta, or goat cheese)
1 ear corn
¼ tea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, beaten and divided
½ cup flour
3 oz, approx, Corona™ or other lager, enough to moistenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
olive oil for frying
lemon or lime (optional)
Gently separate the leaves of the flower and, using your finger nails, clip off the pistil of the flower at the base of the stem; you should be able to see the hollow of the stem. If your flowers are dirty, wipe them carefully with a paper towel so as not to tear them; do not wash.
In a small bowl, cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife, then scrape the cob to extract any milk; as mentioned last week, the corn is a little dry this year, so not to worry if there isn’t much. Add the ½ cup of cheese, crumbled well, and the salt and pepper; stir/break up with a fork. Add ½ the beaten egg, reserving the rest for the batter, and stir.
Using a small spoon—an iced tea spoon works very well, but so does a plastic picnic spoon—open the flowers with your fingers and spoon some of the corn-cheese filling into the cavity: how much will depend on the size of your flowers, which may vary. Fill them to the top of the cavity, where the blossoms separate into the darker petals. Pull the petals together into a point or, on smaller flowers, fold them over a bit. Set aside on paper towels.
In another small bowl, mix the flour and a little salt, and stir in the egg and beer until you have a batter about the viscosity of thick heavy cream.
Choose a heavy frying pan and pour in about ¼” of olive oil. Heat to medium high; you can also use an electric frying pan heated to about 360F, and if you can fry outside, do: these spatter. Holding a flower by the stem, put it head-first into the batter and twist/twirl it to cover; place it in the pan. Repeat with additional flowers, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry the flowers until they are golden brown, turning once or twice; remove to paper towels to drain, and salt. Serve at once, as is or with a squeeze of lemon or lime, with a glass of white wine.
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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Late Corn, New Potatoes, Early Chowder

As it was two years ago, the corn was late. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a little dry. It’s good, mind, but not iconic. When you go to scrape the milk from the cob after cutting off the fresh corn, there’s very little there. As I said, dry.
So the corn is not as good as I would prefer for fritters or other things where I like all that corny milkiness; I made some corn pancakes, and they were good, but not as infused as they might be. Still, the cobs boiled up into a pretty creditable corn stock, though I did cook them a little longer than usual to extract their flavor.
This week, following on the record-breaking heat that the East Coast and much of the country has experienced, has been rather cool—more like a nice June than a peak-summer July. I don’t know if it is a sign of a shift toward the end of a short summer. I did notice that the Joe Pye-Weed has appeared at the side of the road, always an omen. There was one night when I wished I had some socks. Perhaps I am just talking myself into end-of-Little-Compton-summer to ease myself out, heading as we are toward the start of another academic year. All good things. . . .OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
While the corn was late, the potatoes were, I think, a tad early. How I love them. I culled all the tiny ones to make cocktail potatoes (can I reiterate how much I love these and  how perfect they are with a crisp white or champagne?), and have been making lots of potato salad as well. A few extras are just enough to combine with the stock to make a chowder.
Corn Chowder

This is a simple, straightforward soup. I like my chowder thin, not thick and pasty. Serves 6.
3 oz salt pork, chopped, or 2-3 T lard or butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 medium red skin brand new potatoes, diced
2 T finely minced celery
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 qt corn stock (follow instructions here)
2 ears corn
1 ½ c heavy cream
1 c whole milk
1 medium-large ripe tomato, seeded and chopped

½ tea Aleppo pepper (optional)
Dozen or so Ritz crackers, ground with a rolling pinOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Chopped fresh cilantro or basil for garnish
Cut the salt pork into small dice and cook over medium heat to render the fat. Turn the heat up a little and add the onion, sautéing until translucent, then add the potatoes  and cook, stirring from time to time, until they and the onions begin to brown. Add the celery and garlic, tossing for a few minutes; add additional fat if needed (lard or butter) to keep it from sticking. Season with salt and pepper.
Cut the corn from the cobs and add to the potato-onion mixture. Add the stock, cover, and bring to a boil; remove the cover and cook, skimming until clear, for about 5 minutes; the potatoes should be crisp-tender when tasted. Remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes. Add the tomato, cream, and milk; taste for seasoning, adding the Aleppo pepper now if using. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, reheat almost to a boil; serve in soup plates, garnished with a big tablespoon or so of the Ritz crackers, which thickens the soup just a little, and fresh herbs.
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Blogging Blunder: Comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Here I am again having to apologize about comments on the blog. This time, though, I don’t think it is quite my fault. I mean, yes, I deleted about 30 comments, maybe more, but I think it was due to a change in the way blogger works since the time I started. Used to be, you could delete comments from the comment moderation page after they’d been published, and they would stay published. I liked that, because then you could always see what you had published, and which comments remained to be read and posted.  So in a move I thought was equivalent to cleaning out my in-box, I deleted a lot of comments from the moderator page and, yikes, they disappeared—forever—from the blog itself. Can’t recover them (the system asked me if I was sure I wanted to delete the comments from the moderator page because it couldn’t be undone and I, of course, said “Yes!”  And  no, it didn’t mention that already-posted comments would be deleted as well. This is my third problem with comments.
So: racheld, louise, dave, Megan, Chio, Alison, and others (I deleted so many, I can’t recall all…), I am sorry. You may remember, since I’ve talked about this before, that most of my readers email me rather than post comments, and I like that, but I also love getting the comments and posting replies. There were a few first-time commentors who were deleted, and a few long-time readers (especially on the recent peaches, sour cherries, and beets posts); to both, please don’t take the non-appearance of your comment as a sign that I am not listening and responding. I am.  As the song says, try me again.