Monday, August 13, 2018

The Pleasure of the Annual Tomato Glut...and a Recipe for Tomato Fondue

It happens every year about this time.   Whether you shop at a Farmers' market or have your own garden, beautiful, ripe tomatoes start piling up on the kitchen counter faster than you can consume them.  I always eat as many of them as I can raw...sprinkled with salt, drizzled with olive oil...sometimes enhanced with a bit of vinegar.  But inevitably there are just too many to eat.  Even though I regularly cook with them too, I almost always have so many that they decay faster than I am able to use them up.  

When it reaches this point of overabundance I begin to consider ways to preserve the harvest.  I almost always try to make tomato sauce for the freezer (in fact, I often purchase extra tomatoes for just this purpose...summer tomato sauce is a wonderful thing to have on hand during the fall and winter months).  And some years I make slow-roasted tomatoes (which turns them into concentrated flavor bombs for pastas, pizzas, pilafs, etc.).

Last week as I was considering the mountain of tomatoes on my counter, I remembered something we used to make way back in the early days of my cooking career at The American Restaurant: a delicious preparation called "Tomato Fondue."  

Contrary to what you might think, there is no cheese involved in this fondue.  This fondue is all about the tomatoes...tomatoes that have been cooked in an abundance of olive oil until the juices and pulp have melted (hence the term "fondue") into a jam-like substance of tangy tomato deliciousness.   There is also a bit of onion and garlic...  and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, and/or winter savory).  But not too much of any of these things.  Tomato fondue should be all about the tangy and sweet flavor of summer tomatoes.

Tomato fondue has a myriad of uses.  It can of course be used to finish a soup (stirred in, or served as a drizzle or dolloped garnish)...or to enhance a pasta sauce.  But my favorite way to use it is as a condiment—dolloped onto a piece of baked or sautéed fish

As a topping for pan-seared halibut..with a bulgur pilaf with corn and zucchini....

...mixed with a little more olive oil and drizzled over a grain bowl

The leftover pilaf from the previous photo...topped with an egg...

...extended with stock or water (and/or more oil) and used to dress vegetables.  

Romano beans...dressed with tomato fondue, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts and parsley....

You could also use it for oefs en cocotte (just use a small spoonful of the tomato fondue in place of the cooked leeks).  It would also make a delicious instant appetizer—on a crostini smeared with fresh cheese or bean purée, or spooned over a round of baked goat cheese and served with crackers or crisp toasts.  

And it could be used to enhance a spread/dressing of some kind (like mayonnaise, for example).  Once you make it (and taste it!)...and have it on hand...I'm certain it will catch your eye every time you open the refrigerator to gather inspiration for what to make for dinner. It is amazingly versatile.

Since I mentioned preserving the harvest at the beginning of this post, I hope it goes without saying that tomato fondue can be frozen.  The flavor is so concentrated that you can freeze it in small portions (rather than the larger quantities that you might opt for when freezing a less concentrated tomato sauce).  I think ice cube trays would probably be perfect.  Either line the trays with plastic wrap...or purchase trays designated for your tomatoes (the oil in the fondue will color and imbue every plastic surface it touches with its orange-y gold color).

I have to admit though, that I haven't frozen any yet this year.  Part of the beauty of tomato fondue is that it reduces a mountain of tomatoes down to a very manageable...and consumable...amount.  I have made two 1 pound batches so far and have managed to eat it all.  I'm so glad that it popped into my mind after all these years. After having it around for a couple of weeks and finding so many ways to use it, it is on its way to becoming a summer staple in my pantry. 

Tomato Fondue

1 lb. Vine Ripened Tomatoes
1/2 c. finely diced summer onions
1 t. (heaped, if you like) minced garlic
3 to 4 T. olive oil
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano and/or winter savory—leaves picked and minced

Halve the tomatoes horizontally (vertically if using Romas).  Holding the tomato halves over a sieve set over a bowl, scoop out the tomatoes (using your fingers).  Set the de-seeded tomato halves aside for a second while you stir and press the seedy juice around in the sieve (with a rubber spatula) until all the juices have gone through the sieve.  Discard the seeds.  Using a large-holed grater set on a plate or pie pan, grate the tomatoes by holding the cut side of the tomatoes against the grater and grating until just the skin remains in your palm.  Add the grated tomato pulp to the tomato juices.  (See note.)

Warm the oil in a medium sized sauté pan or shallow sauce pan set over moderately low heat and add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook gently until the onions are softabout 10 minutes for juicy, summer onions.  Add the garlic and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.  

Add the tomatoes and herbs to the pan 

and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally and regularly (carefully scraping down the edges of the pan as the fondue reduces) until the mixture is thick.  If you draw a spatula through the fondue, a path will remain (see picture at top of post).  You will also be able to mound the fondue on a spoon.  

(This will take about 20 minutes or so.). Taste and season with salt ti bring out the brightest tangy flavor.

You will have 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of tomato fondue.  Store in a Tupperware or covered jar in the refrigerator.


  • The original recipe called for the tomatoes to be peeled, seeded and cut into a fine dice.  Since the tomato flesh breaks down as it cooks, it seems easiest to me to simply grate the flesh as I have done.  You may of course peel, seed and dice if you like.
  • We made the fondue in very large quantities at the restaurant—a batch made with four pounds of tomatoes would have been typical.  You may multiply this into any sized batch you like, just remember to use a wide (as opposed to deep) pan.  A large surface area will encourage the tomatoes to reduce and concentrate more quickly.  Large batches will still take longer, but the fondue will cook better in a wide pan.  When I make this in large batches, I multiply every thing but the bay leaf. I find bay to be quite strong and even if I were making a four pound batch would still use just one leaf.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Salad…with Judy Rodgers' Torn Croutons… and Roasted Corn

Last fall…towards the end of tomato season…I made a Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato (BLAT) Salad.  It was so good.  I had already shared several salads over the course of the latter part of the summer…and tomato season was winding down…so I decided not to post the recipe.  Then, a couple of weeks ago when tomato season really hit its stride (as in—they are so beautiful and abundant that I buy way too many at the market…), I remembered that salad.  I ate it twice this past week.  I’m sure I will make it a few more times before the end of tomato season.  Now seemed like a good time to share the “recipe.”

The “recipe” is truly simple…little more than a deconstructed BLT with avocado.  It is actually a bit like Panzanella in that there is much more bread than one finds in a typical salad.  I wanted to keep the ratios of the ingredients like what one would find in the classic sandwich.  Besides lots of toasty bread, this translates into loads of bacon and tomato…and just a little bit of lettuce.  The result is sort of like a BLAT sandwich that exploded artfully on your plate…and since eating a good BLT/BLAT sandwich involves dripping juices and a stack of napkins, the salad is frankly much easier to eat. 

I am particularly enamored with the croutons in this salad.  Rather than uniform cubes of crunchy bread, these croutons are randomly sized and present the eater with a variety of textures—from crunchy to chewy...with even a few soft bits.  I have borrowed the method for making them from Judy Rodgers’ famous Roast Chicken Salad.  I don’t think she calls them anything in the recipe, so I’m calling them “Torn Croutons.”  To make them, remove the crusts from a chunk of day-old baguette or peasant bread.  Cut the crust-less bread into largish chunks, brush them all over with olive oil, 

place them on a sheet pan and run them under the broiler.  Watch the bread carefully and turn it as it colors until all the surfaces are by and large a light golden brown.  There will probably be a few charred bits which may be scraped off—or left on, if that’s how you like it.  

Tear the now golden and toasty bread into bite-sized chunks.  You may have some larger pieces…and some “fat crumbs” (to quote Rodgers)…but this will just add more texture and variety to your salad.  A half pound chunk of bread (weighed before removing the crusts) should produce about 4 cups of croutons.

I have never made these ahead, but Rodgers mentions that they may be made a few hours ahead.  (If I made them too far ahead there probably wouldn’t be any left by the time dinner rolled around…they are quite snackable…).   I think they will be delicious anyplace you like to use croutons (salads, soups, pilafs, pastas, etc).  In a salad they are particularly delicious when dressed with some of your vinaigrette—which not only adds flavor, but will soften them slightly. 

One note:  You can control the ratio of crunchy bits to softer/chewier bits by altering the size of the chunks of bread to be broiled.  If the chunks you begin with are large, you will have lots of softer/chewy interior.  If they are smaller, you will have mostly crunch…with just a bit of chew.  For this salad, I like them somewhere in the middle.  (In her chicken salad, Rodgers leaves them larger…and softens them further by adding pan drippings from the roast chicken.)  After you make them a time or two, you will get the hang of it and find how you like them best.

The only addition to my BLAT salad that might seem surprising is the roasted corn.  Corn is—to me at least—an obvious partner for tomatoes…  and bacon…  and avocado….   (If you follow me on Instagram, you will know I eat corn, tomato and avocado salads all summer long.)  I have made this salad without it, but much prefer it with.  Good, fresh, summer corn adds texture, pops of sweetness and moisture…and turns this salad into something out of the ordinary. 

As I said, you don’t really need a recipe for this salad.  In fact, I hope you will just gather your ingredients they way you would if you were making a sandwich:  in quantities to suit your taste.  But since I know many people like to have a recipe for a starting point, I’m including a recipe for the vinaigrette and crouton… as well as estimates of how much of each ingredient I used for each person.  Enjoy!

Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Salad with Sweet Corn

For two salads you will need:
1 medium ear of corn, roasted in the husk
3/4 lb. mixed tomatoes (vine ripes, multi-colored heirlooms, cherry, etc.—anything you like as long as they are deliciously ripe)
Salt & Pepper
1 ripe avocado
A handful (about an ounce) of arugula (or any favorite salad green—tear large leaves into bite-sized pieces)
3 or 4 T. Red wine-shallot vinaigrette
2 to 2 1/2 cups Torn Croutons
6 to 8 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and each slice broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Cut the corn away from the cob.  You can put as much as you like on each salad, but I think a third cup per person is about right.  Most local corn in my region yields at least a cup of kernels per ear during the height of corn season.  Any corn you don’t use in your salad may be stored in the fridge for several days (for salads, pilafs, etc.).  Place the corn to be used in the salad in a small bowl

Cut the tomatoes:  Halve any cherry tomatoes.  Large tomatoes should be cored and then cut in a variety of shapes—fat slices (half moon or round) and wedges.  Spread the tomatoes on a platter, the cutting board or a sheet pan and season with salt and pepper.

Halve and pit the avocado (but don’t peel).  Season the cut surfaces with salt & pepper

Place the greens in a small bowl (if you want to use fewer bowls, add the arugula to the bowl with the corn).  Season and dress the corn and the arugula with a small amount of vinaigrette (don’t use too much—you can always drizzle more over the salad at the end).

Dress the croutons with some of the vinaigrette (a tablespoon of vinaigrette for a cup of croutons is about right).  Taste and season with salt & pepper if necessary.

Build the salad in layers:
Arrange half of each of the tomatoes, bacon, croutons and corn on a platter or two individual plates.  Take an avocado half and using a spoon, scoop bite-sized portions of avocado, arranging them in and among the ingredients already on the plate(s) as you scoop.

Scatter all but a few leaves of the greens over all (see note).  Repeat the first layer with the remaining ingredients and top with any remaining greens.  Drizzle with more vinaigrette (and/or pass more separately).  Finish the salad with a good grinding of black pepper and serve.

Note:  If you dress the corn and arugula together, you will obviously be adding the corn to the salad in one layer…when you add the majority of the greens.   

Red Wine-Shallot Vinaigrette:
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 medium shallot (about an ounce), peeled and finely diced
1/4 t. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, shallot and salt in a small bowl and let macerate for 5 or 10 minutes.   Add a few grindings of pepper.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.   Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside.  Store covered, in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.  Makes a half cup of vinaigrette

Torn Croutons:
Cut the crusts away from a chunk of day old baguette (or peasant bread...but nothing too grainy or hearty).  Cut the bread into large chunks.  Brush the chunks of bread all over with olive oil and place on a small sheet pan.  Place the pan under the broiler.  Watch carefully, turning the bread as it browns.  Your goal is surfaces that are crisp and as uniformly golden as possible.  When done, scrape away any bits that are too charred for your taste.  Tear the toasted chunks of bread into bite-sized pieces—you will have larger pieces as well as big crumbs.  Set aside until ready to use.

A half pound of bread (weighed prior to trimming away the crusts) should produce about 4 cups of torn croutons.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Plum Upside Down Cake

When I decided to teach a plum upside down cake in a recent class, I didn’t think I would write a blog post about it.  There are loads of recipes for plum upside down cakes on line.  Beyond that, I had already posted a recipe for individual plum upside down cakes a few years ago.  There just didn’t seem to be much to add to the conversation.  But when I started testing recipes, I discovered that the way I think one should put plums on top of an upside down cake is entirely different from what everyone else seems to be doing. 

If you look at my recipe for individual plum upside down cakes, you will notice that the top is covered with thin, shingled slices of plums. The fanned look of the arcs of the dark skins of the plums is gorgeous.  For this reason alone I expected that this was the way most people would do it on a large cake as well.  Instead, I found that most recipes simply direct you to cut the plum into wedges…and to lay them in the pan in concentric circles…sometimes directing you to overlap the wedges slightly…sometimes not.  

The first time I made my cake, I decided to follow suit (surely everyone couldn’t be wrong…) and cut wedges.  Because I already knew how beautiful the top of the cake could be if the edges of the skins were visible on the finished cake, I tried to shingle my wedges by overlapping the inner edge on top of the out edge as I placed each successive wedge.  As should have been obvious, this was almost impossible to execute.  I was only moderately successful at placing them…and the result was a cake that was so unstable that the outer circle of plums slid off the cake when I turned it over.  (There are mercifully no pictures to record this disaster.)

The second time, I tried wedges again and just arranged them in slightly overlapping circles in the most natural manner—with the fat edge/skin side of the wedge resting on top of the inner edge of the previous plum.  This of course looks beautiful in the pan but is not especially beautiful on the reverse side—which is of course what you see when the cake is flipped.  

It is not unattractive…  And it doesn’t fall apart when flipped…  But I think there is a better way.

So in my third and last run at the recipe, I did what I thought I should have done from the start:   cut the plums into thin, half circle slices.  

These can be successfully shingled so that the beautiful arcs of the skin are visible when the cake is flipped.  Furthermore, since the slices are thin, you can lay them in quite snuggly, which in the end, not only creates a lovely fanned plum effect, it results in a solid layer of cooked plum on top—rather than discrete wedges of plum surrounded by cake. 

Laying the slices of plum in this way is not intuitive if you have difficulty visualizing things spatially…and in reverse.  If this is you, then work it out with a real plum on your cutting board.  

Lay a plum half cut side down and slice it thinly. Then, fan it on the counter the way you want it to look on the cake (on the right, in the picture above).  Slide a spatula underneath the fanned plum and gently flip it over (on the left, in the picture).  The way it looks when flipped is how it should be placed in the pan.  Basically you will be placing each successive slice with the inner edge (where the pit was) on top of the outer edge (the skin side) of the previous slice.  It will not look nearly as attractive as the concentric circles of wedges in the pan—but when the cake is finished…and served upside down…it will be spectacular.    

Plum Upside Down Cake

4 1/2 T. (64 g.) unsalted butter
3/4 c. (150 g.) packed brown sugar
4 plums (about 1 lb.), halved and pitted

1 1/2 c. sifted cake flour (150 g.)
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
9 T. (125 g.) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. (150 g.) sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk (70 g.), at room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (120 g.) sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter the sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with 2-inch high sides.

Place the plum halves cut surfaces down on a cutting board.  Slice the halves thinly (about 3/16-inch) and evenly lengthwise.  Discard the “end” pieces of each half.  (You should be able to get about 10 slices out of each half, excluding the little end bits.)

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a sauté pan/iron skillet set over medium-low heat.  When the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes together in a thick, smooth sauce.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.  Tilt the pan and spread as necessary so that the bottom of the pan is covered with the sugar mixture.  Arrange the plums in overlapping concentric circles on top of the butter/sugar mixture (see note).  Set aside. 

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside. 

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy—this will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium-high speed using the paddle attachment.  Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides.  Whisk together the egg, yolk and vanilla.  Add this mixture in two or three additions, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  When all of the egg has been added, beat briefly to restore the creamed mixture to fluffiness.  Fold in the dry ingredients in 2 additions alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread the batter evenly over the plums in the prepared pan. Bake in a 350° oven until the cake is springy to the touch, has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 40 to 50 minutes.  Let the cake rest for 25 to 30 minutes in the pan.  Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan.  Place a cake plate upside down on top of the skillet and holding the cake plate firmly to the skillet, quickly flip the cake over.  Leave the pan over the cake for a minute or two and then carefully lift up and away.  Allow the cake to cool for a couple of hours before serving.  Use a thin sharp knife, with a gentle back and forth sawing motion to cut through the plums and down into the cake. 

Serve the cake warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  Serves 10.

Note:  When building the fruit portion of an upside down cake you have to remember that you are working in reverse.  To get the look you want, you may need to shingle a few slices of the fruit on your cutting board and then use a wide spatula to flip it over so you can see how it will look on the finished cake.  For plums my experience is that the top looks best if the outer curve, or the skin side, of the plum (not the pit side) is what is visible.  So, when laying in the plums, lay down the first slice and then lay the next slice with the “pit side” of the plum shingled over the “skin side” of the first one…and then repeat this pattern for each successive slice, creating a spiral effect with the skins on the side you can’t see now…but which will be visible when the cake is turned out. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Fritters…a delicious way to enjoy the abundant greens of early summer

When I was planning the class I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to make sure I included a recipe that used loads of greens.  The goal of the class was to teach recipes that use things that are abundant during the late spring and early summer months.  If you are a member of a CSA…or you choose to purchase most of your produce from a farmers’ market during the growing season…up until about mid-June, an awful lot of what you have to cook with are greens.  In addition to wanting to teach something that used some of those greens, I wanted to choose a recipe that would be a nice accompaniment to the vegetable curry that Nancy was planning on teaching. While brainstorming with her about it, it occurred to me that a Swiss chard fritter I had made for dinner recently would fill the bill nicely.

The fritter I ended up making for the class was a blending of that first one I had made (a recipe I found at Delicious Magazine) and a recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook Vegetable Literacy. Some might not call Madison’s recipe a fritter because it is many ways similar to a ricotta pancake.  But since the batter is quite thick—almost as thick as the actual fritter recipe I made first—I’m calling it a fritter.  I loved the seasoning in the first recipe…and the texture of the latter.  Combined, it is just about perfect.

I have made these fritters with both Swiss chard and a combination of Swiss chard and Tuscan kale.  I’m certain they would be delicious with all kale, beet greens or spinach.  Beet greens can be substituted in the exact same quantity as the chard.  For kale, you might need slightly less…and for spinach, slightly more.  If you want to try and be precise about it, in the body of the recipe I give a volume and weight of the cooked greens.  But in practice, if you have a little more or a little less, I think the recipe will still be successful.

As for an accompaniment, I think a creamy-tangy yogurt or sour cream based dressing is essential.  It adds an important flavor counterpoint.  Although, you could probably sever them with a nice, tangy, fresh summer tomato sauce too.  If you want to make little one- or two-bite sized fritters to serve as an appetizer, the only adornment you might want (other than the sauce) would be a sprig of dill…or maybe parsley.  If you want to make large fritters to serve as an entrée, in addition to the tangy sauce, I think a chunky vegetable salad would be delicious.  Roasted beet, fresh tomato, roasted/grilled corn, shredded carrot, and cooked chickpea salads all sound pretty good to me. 

I admit to being partial to the combination of this fritter with beets.  The first time I made them I made an accompanying arugula and beet salad.  Recently, I served it with another beet salad (with mint, cumin and walnuts) and a quick tomato and cucumber salad from the cookbook Zahav.  It was delicious.  If you happen to purchase a bunch of beets with a large bunch of greens attached, you would pretty much have dinner.    

One of the things I love about teaching is that I have gotten to know…and make friends with…so many of those who have attended regularly over the years.  Among these are a father and daughter (Ed and Emma) who both happen to be accomplished cooks and bakers.  Ed is particularly knowledgeable about flours.  I share this because during this class I mentioned that I suspected that chickpea flour would make a nice substitution for the all purpose flour I chose to use in the recipe (Deborah Madison used white whole wheat flour).  Ed spoke up when I said this, saying that he thought the chickpea flour was a great idea, but that it should be substituted for only half of the all purpose.  About a week after the class, Emma relayed to me that they had tried it and that it worked perfectly.  So, if you want to bump up the protein and the substance of these fritters, I’m happy to report that the chickpea flour would be a great option.

I also want to mention that should you have any fritters leftover, they reheat beautifully.  I have reheated mine in the microwave and Ed shared that his reheated very nicely in a skillet.  They are also astonishingly good at room temperature (or even cold) if you just want to grab a few for an afternoon or mid-morning snack…or want to take them to work for lunch. 

All things considered, these fritters were a super addition to the class.  They went well with Nancy’s curry and they provided a versatile recipe (working well as an appetizer, entrée or lunch…) that exploits the early summer abundance of greens from the farmers’ market.  They were a hit with the class… and they have earned a permanent spot in my repertoire.

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Fritters

3 to 4 bunches of Swiss Chard, ribs removed and discarded or reserved for another use—you should have 454 g/1 lb. of trimmed leaves
120 g/4 oz/1 c. all purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
250 g/1 c. whole milk ricotta
3/4 c. whole milk
30 g/1/3 c. finely grated Parmesan or more
2 eggs
3 T. olive oil, plus more for frying
Zest of 1 small lemon
1 peeled clove of garlic, finely grated using a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne (to taste)
1 recipe dilled yogurt sauce or plain yogurt or sour cream
Dill sprigs to garnish

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the chard leaves and cook until just tender—about five minutes.  Lift out the cooked leaves and spread on a baking sheet to cool.  When the leaves are cool enough to handle, use your hands to squeeze out as much of the excess water as you can.  Chop the dried greens finely.  (You should have about 1 3/4 c./180 g. prepared greens.)

Place the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, Parmesan, eggs, olive oil, zest, garlic and cayenne and whisk until smooth. 

When you are ready to cook the fritters, whisk the greens into the cheese mixture.  

Add the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are absorbed. 

Heat a non-stick or cast iron skillet over moderate heat.  Film the pan with olive oil.  Dollop in the fritter mixture using a spoon or a small ice cream scoop (you can make the fritters any size that you like—I like them made with a generous tablespoon of the mixture—for appetizers and a three or four tablespoon scoop when serving as an entrée).  As you add the fritters to the pan, use the back of the scoop/spoon to barely flatten the batter—resist the temptation to spread the fritters out.  The fritters should sizzle gently in the oil.  

Cook on the first side until they are golden brown and have puffed—about three minutes.  Carefully turn the fritters over and cook for another three minutes.  They should be golden brown on both sides and springy to the touch.  

Transfer to a platter or baking pan and keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the mixture.

Serve the fritters hot with the yogurt sauce and a scattering of dill sprigs.

Makes about 36 appetizer-sized fritters (serving 8 to 12) and 16 to 18 large fritters (serving 4 to 6 as a light entrée)

(Recipe adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison)

Dilled Yogurt Sauce:  Combine 1 cup of thick yogurt (strained or Greek) with 1 T. minced fresh dill, a small clove of garlic (finely grated with a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt) and salt and lemon juice to taste.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Sweet Summer Treat from the Garden: Lemon Verbena Ice Cream with a Blueberry Swirl

One of the happiest plants in my garden this summer is my Lemon Verbena.  Not only does it not seem to be fazed by our extreme heat and humidity…it is thriving.  I have never grown it before, so its resilience and determination have been a surprise.  Its perky presence on my patio is a welcome sight…  Even if its use were only ornamental, that would be enough for it to have earned it an annual spot in my garden.  But of course, this lovely herb has other uses as well…many of them culinary.

Prior to this summer I was familiar with Lemon Verbena because of its popularity in France (where it goes by the name of Verveine).  It is a favorite there—in both its fresh and dried form—for making tisanes (or herbal tea).   If you have a plant, you can make a tisane to enjoy this evening:  simply snip off a sprig (or two) and place in a cup or mug.  Add water that is just off the boil.  Let steep for five minutes or so…  Then enjoy.  There is no need to remove the leaves before you sip.  The flavor will continue to get stronger as it sits…but not unpleasantly so.

I have enjoyed tisanes made at the home of my best friend from college (a Francophile for as long as I have known her—and who seeks out a Lemon Verbena plant every summer to make her beloved tisane de verveine), but had never considered getting a plant of my own.  But this year, I scheduled a joint cooking class featuring the abundant produce of midsummer with my chef friend Nancy.  Nancy planned to prepare an Italian jam tart and I wanted to make something—preferably ice cream—to go with it.  As I thought about possible flavors, lavender honey came to mind…but I have already taught that.  It was a short leap from lavender (an herb forever associated with France, in my mind) to verveine. 

Lemon Verbena is often used to flavor desserts—either by steeping a liquid (as for the tisane) or infusing some sugar.  To infuse sugar, simply put some bruised leaves in a jar with some sugar, cover tightly and let sit for a couple of weeks—shaking every few days to break up clumps that will begin to form as the sugar absorbs the moisture in the fresh herbs.  When the infusion is done, strain out the herbs and store the sugar tightly covered.  Deborah Madison in her book Local Flavors recommends using about a quarter cup of leaves to infuse two cups of sugar.  The sugar is especially nice used in something simple like a pound cake or shortbread cookies.

Nancy chose to use blueberries (from a local patch) in her jam tart.  The combination of the blueberry tart with the lemon verbena ice cream was fantastic.  I’m guessing that the combination would have been pretty fine with just about any jam made with the abundant berries or stone fruits of midsummer.

Because I liked the combination of the blueberries with the lemon verbena so much, the recipe I’m sharing today is the Lemon Verbena ice cream that I made for class…with a blueberry swirl.  You can of course make the ice cream without the swirl and serve it with any number of the jam and summer fruit based desserts I have posted over the years (jam tartjam barsmixed berry crumble bars…)…but I have been enamored by the idea of a marbled lemon verbena ice cream ever since I ran across a lemon verbena and raspberry swirl ice cream while I was working on my recipe.  You could of course make that exact flavor with some homemade raspberry compote.  I also think blackberry (if you strain out the seeds) would make a great combination with the lemon verbena too.

As far as the ice cream itself goes, I used the standard formula that I use in all of my ice creams.  I use half milk and half cream and for every cup of cream/milk I use 2 egg yolks and 50 grams of sugar or honey.  I usually only incorporate a small amount of honey (mostly because I like the way an invert sugar gives a softer and smoother texture to the finished ice cream), but for this ice cream I used half honey so that you can actually taste the honey…it is delicious in combination with the floral taste of the lemon verbena. 

Finally, I have given the amount of lemon verbena leaves by weight.  It is my habit to cook and bake this way and it is a much more accurate way of measuring something like leaves that are kind of difficult to quantify (I’m guessing that one person’s “packed cup” of leaves would not weight the same as another’s).  But since a lot of American bakers still don’t have a scale, I’m including a way to measure without it.  Simply cut the leaves in rough 1/2 inch lengths and then drop them lightly into a 3/4 cup measure.  When you get to the top, you have enough. 

But having said all that, I think you would end up with a pretty fine ice cream if you just grabbed a nice big handful of leaves.  Your plant will be very happy and grow bigger after you have “pruned” it to make ice cream, too.  So much so that you will just have to acquire an evening herb tea habit …. or make some infused sugar (so you can have cake or cookies with your tea) …and of course, make more ice cream.

Lemon Verbena & Honey Ice Cream
with a Blueberry Swirl

1 1/2 c. (225g.) blueberries
1/4 c. (50 g.) sugar
1/2 T. lemon juice

2 c. milk
Pinch of salt
10 g. lemon verbena leaves, cut cross-wise in rough 1/2-inch pieces (you should have about 3/4 c. loosely layered cut leaves)
2 c. cold heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. raw honey (4 oz.)

Wash the blueberries and place them in a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.  Set the pan over moderately high heat and cook, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the blueberries begin to simmer.  Cook at an active simmer/low boil, stirring occasionally (and mashing the berries as you do), until you have a thick, syrup-y compote.  This will take about 7 to 10 minutes and you should have 3/4 c. compote when you are done..  Cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a covered container and chill until cold.  (Compote may be made several days ahead.  Store in the refrigerator.)

Place the milk and salt in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan.  Heat to just under a simmer.  Remove from the heat, add the verbena leaves, cover and let steep for an hour to an hour and a half (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be).

When ready to make the ice cream base, strain out the verbena, pressing hard with a spatula or ladle to extract as much of the liquid as you can. Discard the verbena. Place the chilled heavy cream into a large bowl and place the strainer used to strain out the verbena over this bowl.   

Return the infused milk to the heat and bring to a boil. While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and thick. When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks by gradually whisking in about half to two-thirds of the hot milk. Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened and forms a path when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon (if you like. you may check the temperature with an instant read thermometer—it should be about 170° to 175°). 

Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream. Add the honey and stir until the honey has melted. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (eight hours or overnight).

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When finished, transfer the ice cream from the churn to a chilled container.  Choose a 1 1/2 to 2 quart container that is shallow and wide. Working quickly, layer in a quarter of the verbena ice cream (smooth it out into an even layer).   Dollop and drizzle a scant third of the blueberry compote.  

It is not necessary to marble it in (it will marble naturally as you scoop it to serve it).  Repeat this layering of a quarter of the ice cream and a scant third of the compote two more times.  Add the remainder of ice cream, once again smoothing it out.  You should have a tablespoon or two of the compote left.  Dollop this over the surface of the ice cream, marbling it in a bit, if you like.  Cover the container and place in the freezer.  Freeze for at least an hour or two before serving.  

Makes about a quart and a half of ice cream.

Note:  My original idea for this ice cream was to just use a homemade blueberry jam for the swirl.  All of the jam makers out there know that this basically means using a substantially higher quantity of sugar (for this quantity of blueberries, around 1/2 cup plus 2 T.).  The texture of the frozen ribbon of blueberries when made with this higher quantity of sugar is quite smooth and suave.  Unfortunately, the overall effect on the ice cream is one of tooth shattering sweetness (at least to my palate). If your berries are very tart, you might consider increasing the sugar in the compote.  For moderately tart blueberries though, I love the counterpoint of the sweet, floral ice cream with the slightly tart swirl of fruit, and I am not bothered by the slight frosty-ness of the swirl when the blueberries are cooked with the lesser amount of sugar. 

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