Gougere ring filled with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella

Gougere ring

There’s this strange thing that happens sometimes – a poignant shifting of time and memory, that leaves you feeling an instant nostalgia. This happens a lot when you have children. You’ll watch them do something beautiful – they don’t even realize how beautiful – you’ll want to find your camera, but you know you can’t capture the moment, and in an instant it’s passed. It’s the past, and you think about yourself much older, remembering that moment. You’ll think about your children when they’re older, which is something you can’t know. It’s not unpleasant, not painful, exactly, but you very nearly regret the instant that you’re living in now, as it passes. It’s not the big events that people pose for and record, but the small, ordinary things your children say, their characteristic gestures, that you can’t be sure you’ll remember, because they’re so dear and familiar you almost forget to notice them. This time of year is ripe for these sea-shifting feelings. It’s pure summer – we’ve had such a spate of perfect summer days – but part of you misses all the summer days leading up to this one, and part of you anticipates autumn on its way.

I just learned that “poignant” meant, archaically, strong smelling or tasting, which seems sort of perfect, because taste and smell are such triggers for memory. If one vegetable was the embodiment of this ripe, sweet, late summer anxiety, surely it would be the tomato. You have almost more than you know what to do with, and they’re plump and perfect now. You want to can them and freeze them and save them to warm you in the middle of winter, but you know they won’t be the same! I feel the same way about basil – we have a garden-full. I made some pesto and froze it, but it’s not the same as picking up a ball the boys have kicked into the basil patch and being enveloped in basil-fragrance. Not surprisingly, these tastes are famously perfect together. I made a ring of gougeres – cheese-tinted choux pastry balls – as a crown for my tomatoes and basil. Gougeres are actually quite simple to make, and they’re very comforting and pleasing – soft and eggy. They deflate fairly quickly (at least mine did!) but they’re still plenty tasty. Served like this, they soaked up some of the lovely tomato & olive oil juices, which is one of my favorite parts of eating tomatoes!!

Here’s Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.

1 cup flour
1 t salt
freshly ground pepper
3 T butter
3 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup mixed parmesan and cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400

In a medium-sized saucepan bring the water and butter to a boil. Once it’s boiled, take it off the heat and beat in the flour, salt and pepper. Keep beating till your arm is tired, and till the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the pan. (A few minutes) Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes (you don’t want to cook the eggs when you add them!)

Beat in the eggs one at a time. It will be hard to incorporate them at first, but it will get easier as you go along. Stir in all of the cheese.

Lightly butter a baking sheet. Drop the batter by large tablespoonfuls into 8 even piles, just touching each other and forming a ring.

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, till they’re puffed and golden.

Let them cool for a minute or two. (They’ll probably deflate a bit.)

In the center of the ring pile a mixture of fresh, roughly chopped tomatoes, fresh, roughly chopped basil, roughly chopped fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of good olive oil and good balsamic.

Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper over everything.

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