Friday, August 28, 2009

Tomato and Onion Tart

Apparently, people to whom I am not related nor did I go to high school/college with read this.  This post is for you, your reading, and your encouraging me to get off my rear and cook/write!

So, last week I was possessed with the urge to make tart dough.  My friend Zac and I made plans, oh, many weeks ago, to have a quiche night, and the tart tease has since left town for the salmon and Starbucks of Seattle.  Sad face, for his Memphis presence is missed.

Ignoring the gnawing cravings for crust-y things was only making it worse, so I went ahead and made enough dough for two tarts last weekend.  Saturday I made quiche for lunch, and Sunday I made this tart for dinner.  It smelled pretty amazing while baking---all warm and buttery.  Making tart dough is not really that time consuming.  I should do it more often.  

The tomatoes and the basil taste really green and light against the richer cheese and onions.  Perfect summer-fall bridge! 

Tomato and Onion Tart
From Gourmet, May 1995 (via Epicurious)

Tart dough, instructions here
2 large onions, sliced thin (Bennett-Burke Farms has delicious sweet onions)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb Swiss or Gruyere cheese, shredded
1/2 lb plum tomatoes, cut into wedges (mine came from Donnell Century Farms)
1/2 lb medium yellow tomatoes, cut into wedges (which I didn't have; I used two large red slicing tomatoes total)
1/4 cup Nicoise olives, pitted

In a large heavy skillet, cook onions with salt to taste in oil, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally (every 5 minutes, unless you like your onions a little burnt) until softened, every 20 minutes.  Remove lid and cook onions, stirring occasionally, until golden and liquid has evaporated.  Remove skillet from heat to allow onions to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 375.  Roll out your tart dough and pre-bake according to the instructions in the link above (same basic technique).  

Spread the onions over the dough and top with the cheese.  

I drained the tomatoes briefly before using them.  Because why go through all the effort for soggy crust, I ask you?

Arrange the tomatoes and olives prettily on top of the cheese and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour, until the pastry is golden.  

Commence yumm-ing.

Other things going on besides class, law review, job hunt, etc:

Chewie being unbearably precious.  I know, I know.  But I am limiting myself to one cute kitten picture a week.

Is there anything more thrilling than the first tomato?  I grew that from a tiny seed!

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Asceticism done; I went shopping this morning.

2 pints of grape tomatoes - Lor's Produce
snap beans - Vang's Produce
7 sweet onions - Bennett-Burke Farms
4 Fairy Tale eggplants (really their name) - Tims Family Farms
4 globe eggplants - Donaldson Farms
4 lbs tomatoes (Jet Star, maybe?) - Donnell Century Farms

All for under twenty bucks.  Genteel poverty has never tasted so good.

Surely more cooking to come, but now---to supper club!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eating the Pantry: Purple Hull Pea and Sage Fritters

The project continues apace.  Guys, listen to me: stock your pantry with plenty of dried pasta and dried beans and you'll always have something cheap to eat.  (She says, while mentally reminding herself to put a cup of dried canellini beans in the Crock-Pot tonight for tomorrow's lunch.)

Despite the fact that their name gives these little snackers an unhealthy reputation, there's nothing bad here.  The purple hull peas came from Mama L's garden and the onion is a Florida sweet.  Paired with a tomato-basil salad (both from Whitton Farms), they make a very nice, light lunch.

I've also made these several times before with variations--- the canellini bean-rosemary combo is yummy.  But the time I used lupini beans I couldn't even finish them because the beans were so bitter.  Is there any trick to taking the bitterness out of lupinis?  There's still half a bag in my pantry and I can't bring myself to chuck 'em.  Deborah says black-eyed peas are good, too.  Purple hull, black-eyed... kind of the same, right?

Purple Hull Pea and Sage Fritters
Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

These are the original amounts the recipe calls for; halved, it makes about 10 little fritters

1 cup dried canellini (soaked overnight) or 2 cups fresh black eyed/purple hull peas
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup chopped sage, plus extra leaves for garnish (I used rubbed sage from Maggie's Pharm)
olive oil
sea salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
1 white onion, very finely diced

Place the beans in a pot and cover with plenty of fresh water.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Add the garlic, a few sage leaves, a tablespoon of oil, and 1 1/2 tsp salt.

Cook until the beans are tender (1 1/2 hours or so if you used dried; maybe 25 minutes if fresh).  Store in their cooking liquid until ready to use.

Place the flour in a bowl and gradually add enough water to make a thick paste, gently working the mixture with a wooden spoon.  

Add the beans, drained of the liquid, plus the onion, and the chopped sage.  

Mix together as well as you.  Cover and let stand for at least 30 minutes.  The batter should be pliable but not runny.  (It may not look very promising at this point.) [Loving Deborah for her parentheticals]

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Have ready an ovenproof platter and a plate lined with paper towels.  Heat 1/2 inch olive oil in a heavy skillet.  When hot, drop in the batter by spoonfuls.  Fry over medium-high heat until golden on the bottom, then turn and fry the second side.  When golden, drain briefly on the towels, then transfer to the oven to keep warm.

If you've got sage leaves, garnish with those, but I think these are delicious with just a little sea salt or kosher salt.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eating the Pantry: Blue Potato, Roasted Red Pepper and Sausage Frittata

Subtitled:  How have I not written about frittatas yet?

Okay yall.  School.  It has commenced, and as Jessica notes over at Waves and Wires, that means thoughts and posts might be scattered for a while as life transitions yet again.  But in honor of my groaning back-to-school Visa bill, I've turned my attention to what I have on hand:  for a week I am not allowed to eat out/buy any fancy extras (i.e. lemons, Goldfish, cream).  I can just eat what's already in my pantry and fridge.  I might delve into the freezer a bit, but I'd prefer not to, as that's stuff I've put up for the winter.  Saturday might find me eating Publix boxed Garlic Mashed Potatoes, but it's good to have a little financial cleansing.  Part of the point of this blog is, after all, to show that you can eat well on a meager grad student budget.

My brother, Alex, was visiting this past week and helped me make this frittata.  Frittatas!  How I love thee when all else fails.  It is a crustless quiche, or a really big omelette, however you prefer to look at it.  Mix eggs with milk, cook whatever vegetables/meats/herbs you want, and a filling, cheap meal you shall have.  They are also super easy to make when you need to cook for a crowd, perhaps for a brunch, if you are so inclined to brunch.

Anyway, Alex is 18 and is content, for the most part, to live off PopTarts and pizza.  But even he pronounced this creation tasty and satisfying, if not the most inspired of combinations.  For living off what I had, though, it services nicely.

Blue Potato, Roasted Red Pepper and Sausage Frittata

4-5 True Blue potatoes (from Tims Family Farms)
1 red pepper (from Mai Vue farms; green peppers are awfully inexpensive right now, and you can let them turn red on your counter)
1/4 lb sausage (homegrown; Alex once knew it as a pig for the county fair)
3 eggs and some milk---about 1/4-1/2 cup
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter

First, slice your potatoes thinly and set aside.

Next, roast your red pepper.  I have a gas range, so I just hold the pepper directly over the flame until the skin bubbles, blisters and chars all over.  You can also roast peppers under the broiler:  cut them in half and place them flesh side down on a cookie sheet.  But make sure you check in frequently so you don't overcook them.

We also roasted some potatoes.  Because why not.

To make it easier to peel off the blackened skin, you can place the pepper in either a plastic or paper bag and seal.  I prefer to sweat mine in a bowl topped with a plate---less waste.  Let it sweat for about 15 minutes and the skin should peel off easily.  Don't drive yourself crazy, though---you'll never get all the black off.  I've also seen some guides that say you can run the pepper under tap water to peel the skin off, but that seems like it would remove all the flavor.  Much like kneading bread, I say, use your own wo/manpower.  (PS Many thanks to Alex for taking the pictures of my demonstrating hands!)

Then de-seed, de-rib and de-stem the pepper and cut it into small dice.

Cook your sausage in a skillet and set aside to drain on a paper towel.

Wash the skillet.  Then melt the butter in it over medium-high heat.  When the butter gets all foamy, drop in the potatoes and saute until they get tender/crispy.  Salt and pepper them to taste.  

Add in the pepper and sausage and stir until it all gets hot.

Then pour in the 3 eggs you've whipped with a fork into the milk.  

The eggs will start setting right away.  Immediately use a wooden spoon or spatula to pull away the set edges of the frittata from the side of the pan.  Go around the pan, gently pulling and tilting the pan, and letting the uncooked egg run into the pulled-back space.  This allows most of the frittata to cook.  

You can finish cooking it on the stove top, but the bottom of your frittata might burn.  I like to put mine in a 250 degree oven for about 10-15 more minutes to set the top and finish cooking.  When it's all puffed and set, it's ready to eat!  Frittatas are also VERY good with cheese.  I just didn't have any.  And, you know.  The rule.

I had a WONDERFUL time hanging out with you, Alex!

Trip to Mud Island River Park

Chewie is awfully curious about what this new toy is all about.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Use it Or Lose It Challenge: Baba Ghanouj and Pita Bread

Oh my.  So bad with the blogging.  Have been housesitting, beloved friends are in town, school is uncomfortably close and I'm still kind of in denial about that.  But my Visa bill isn't.  New editions of textbooks so insanely expensive and questionably necessary.  Also cat*.

Anyway.  I've been feeling it lately---the sense that almost nothing cooking-related truly is insurmountable.  A year of learning to make it or learning to live without it, for both my wallet and waistline's sakes, has yielded a surprising benefit: I find myself almost without fear in the kitchen.  It's a powerful feeling, one which, if most Americans felt, would surely cause them to believe in their own resourcefulness.  We might not actually need everything sold to us.  What we need is a little confidence, some whole ingredients, and the conviction that it is worth it to take the time to cook from scratch.  Michael Pollan wrote an essay that ran in the New York Times that travels along these lines as well.

This feeling really hit me the other day when I found myself with two eggplants from Mama L's garden that were pretty much on their way out.  The last time I was up at her house in the country, we challenged each other to make baba ghanouj, the smoky, delicious eggplant spread that I have had few qualms about paying (albeit infrequently) over $3 for a tiny plastic tub of.  But, it turns out, I can make many times that amount in not much time and for not much cash.  It's ridiculously easy.  What will you do with the rest of your afternoon?  Make pita to go with it, obviously.  

Baba ghanouj has also become so commodified and omnipresent in supermarkets, like hummus, that when I tasted my own homemade spread, I was taken aback by how vibrant the eggplant flavor was.  Duh.  Mama L didn't grow "natural smoke flavoring" in her garden.  Or preservatives.  Anybody else out there feeling particularly reclamatory these days?

So it doesn't taste the same as the grocery-store stuff.  But it tastes pretty darn good, and it makes enough to snack on or spread on sandwiches for weeks.  I bet this would freeze well, too.  Tonight for supper club, my roommate, Kevin, is making lamb curry and re-creating this pita recipe, and I've offered the leftover baba ghanouj up to the wolves.  If there's any left over, I'll let you know.

Baba ghanouj
From Bon Appetit, September 2002

2 one-pound eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tahini (Mediterranean Grocery: between tahini and tonight's lamb, you never fail)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 medium lemon?)
1 garlic clove (USE MORE)
Pita bread wedges

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  To roast the eggplant, you can either cut Xs in them or halve the lengthwise.  In any case, rub a little olive oil on them and roast until they are soft and somewhat deflated-looking.  45 minutes-1 hour.

While this is happening, skip down to the pita bread and start that, because it's got to rise for an hour and a half.  

When the eggplant is done roasting, let cool, then scoop out the pulp and let it drain in a sieve over the sink.

Transfer the pulp to a food processor/blender.  Add  the oil, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, and blend until almost smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Yes, it's that simple.

Onward!  To Pita-Bread-Land.

Pita Bread
From NPR's Kitchen Window Series

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups AP flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (for what it's worth, I use King Arthur flour because it's one of the few unbleached flours I can find.  Because the thought of bleach in my bread freaks me out a little.  I've never had a bad KAF experience)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the yeast, sugar, and water together until it just starts to foam.  Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  You can do this in a fancy KitchenAid stand mixer (with a dough hook!) if you have it.  I don't, so I mix with a fork, then by hand (which is arguably more fun).

Add the all purpose flour and mix with your hands/paddle attachment for 2 minutes.  

Add whole-wheat flour, salt, and olive oil and mix til combined.  Then switch to a dough hook/continue using your hands and knead for 5 minutes until the mixture is homogenous and a little bit tacky.

Remove from the bowl and knead by hand for a few minutes.  Form into a ball.  Here, I put mine into a larger mixing bowl, because I've made this before and I know it will double in size and I wanted it contained.  Cover and allow it to rise for about an hour and half, until doubled.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to its highest setting.  If you have a baking/pizza stone, preheat that as well, or, failing that, an oven-proof skillet.  Enter trusty vintage Macy's cookware in Harvest Gold.  

Gently punch down the dough and pull off small amount at a time---about the size of my fist was how I measured.  Roll the dough out into a circle, as thin as you can get it.  

Place the dough circles onto the preheated pizza stone/skillet, 1 or 2 at a time, and bake until all puffy but not crispy, about 2 minutes.  Wrap them in a kitchen towel as you cook the rest.  Cut into wedges and serve with the baba ghanouj.  Also good the next day brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and baked until crunchy.

Pretty good, not hard, plenty of noms left over for lunch.

*I have adopted a kitten with objectionably sharp claws and a propensity to entwine herself around my feet while I am cooking.  Her name is Chewbacca and she would prefer that I be cooking sausage instead of this wimpy veggie stuff.

She is also seemingly too lazy to walk to her water bowl.  I think we are going to make a good pair, Chewie and me.