Chard and fresh mozzarella tart with raisins and shallots

Chard and fresh mozzarella tart

Chard and fresh mozzarella tart

I always feel like I’m waiting for summer to start and then one day I’ll wake up and realize we’re already well into it. These days have been like that. It’s July! It’s sweltering! The boys are rolling around the house laughing and screaming and making each other crazy. We go to the river almost every day and have the most beautiful fresh herbs and vegetables to eat. We have arrived! It’s a funny thing because I generally approach summer with a slight feeling of dread. I’m nostalgic for spring, I miss walking Isaac to school, I miss the sense of purpose I had when I was working on my novel. And all of the fun things a person looks forward to in summer strike a chord of anxiety into my strange and always-anxious heart. I love to see Malcolm happy in the water, which is his natural element, but I worry about riptides and sharks and river currents and copperhead snakes. Sunshine makes me dizzy and more confused than usual. I’m scared of thunderstorms. It’s so stupid, I know! Sometimes I even miss the simple icy indoor days of winter. Crazy. But today I was thinking that I like my house in the summer, I like my town, I like my garden, I like being with my boys all day. I like just being here. I can almost imagine this place as our summer house, where we spend long lazy days swimming and reading and writing and cooking, drinking wine and talking. I like to think of it that way. In my imagination, our home is our home away from home, and I love it here. After all, summer passes so very quickly these days. We’ll slow it down by staying still.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love the combination of chard, pine nuts and raisins. And I’ll find anyway I can to combine them. Here they are in a sort of tart. I made a jam of shallots and raisins and garlic, and I spread this on a yeasted crust. Then I topped that with a custard made with chard, fresh mozzarella and pine nuts, and of course lots of fresh basil, which is one of the best things about summer. And I put some slices of fresh mozzarella and more pine nuts on top.

Here’s Summertime by Billy Stewart.

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Pizza with chard, golden raisins and pine nuts

IMG_3452“O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!”

“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.”

I love this exchange. It is, of course, spoken by Hamlet and his friend Horatio, and it is, of course, followed by “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I love the idea that a “stranger” is not just a new or unfamiliar person, but a wondrous strange person as well, and I love the implication that we’re all strangers. We’re all full of wondrously inexplicable ideas and emotions and inspiration. We’re all new somewhere, we’re all unusual to someone. And therefore we should welcome strangeness in others, even if they happen to be ghosts yelling at us from underneath the stage. Hamlet and Horatio are students of Wittenberg University, and are presumably deep in the study of rational thought, they probably both believe, as most students do, that it’s their job to understand everything and explain everything. But the ghostly visit teaches them that this isn’t possible for anyone. Nobody’s ideology is broad enough to hold everything on heaven and earth, nor even to hold dreams of everything. And this is why it’s important to welcome what you don’t understand, and make room for dreams of it in your own philosophy, because you’re asking others to make room for you in theirs.

Pizza with chard, pine nuts and golden raisins

Pizza with chard, pine nuts and golden raisins

This is my all-time favorite pizza! Why? Because chard, raisins and pine nuts is my favorite meal, and the only thing that can make it better is the addition of some melty cheese and a thin crispy crust, that’s why!

Here’s Stranger Blues by Elmore James

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Zucchini, walnut and raisin pastries

Zucchini walnut pastries

A few months ago, my friend Tony described something I’d written in these virtual pages as an “essay.” That idea was so pleasing to me, and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about since. I like the idea of writing essays. In school I used to love essay tests. I felt like I didn’t really understand whatever I was writing about until I started writing about it, and then connections would come flying out at me. I found it quite exciting (I was a weird kid). On the one hand, essays feel so substantial and victorian. Move over, John Stewart Mill, and make room for my landmark essay, “On beets.” Today’s essayists are serious people who write important words for the New York Times. Which obviously isn’t me (although, NYT, if you’re looking for somebody to write about zucchini, fireflies and hip hop versions of War and Peace, I’m your woman!) On the other hand – the smiling side of the janus face, if you will – is the fact that “essay” comes from the word “to try.” How lovely is that! You’re not succeeding (or failing). You’re not even worried about that! You’re just giving it a go. It’s all about the journey, man – process not product, man. According to the highly reliable dictionary that pops up on my computer when I press a button (definitive source!) the “try” in “essay” doesn’t just mean “attempt.” It also means “test,” or “weigh.” As in “I tried the strength of the rope bridge that crossed over the fiery ravine before I commenced my journey upon it.” Interesting! If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall my infatuation with the word Selah, which also meant “to weigh.” I think of selah as being about feeling the weight of the words, and valuing that, and essay as being about testing the weight of the words by sending them out there and watching whether they sink or swim. (“What is she going on about?!” you’re asking yourself. It’s 97 degrees here! My brain is all melting and wobbly!) One thing I’ve been thinking about essays, as it directly relates to this collection of recipes, is that cooking is like writing essays. You have an idea, you try it. You weigh the possibilities, you weigh the ingredients. (I’m almost done, I promise! I’ve nearly followed this unravelling line of thought to its illogical conclusion.) You don’t know how it will turn out, and that’s why it’s fun to try. If you think that it might not come out well, you’ll won’t make the attempt. And there’s so much joy in trying!

I have a lot of zucchini from my CSA, and I’ve been thinking for a while about combining it with raisins, walnuts, goat cheese, cinnamon and basil, in some sort of dish. I thought I’d try (segue!) rolling it into a pastry, because a crispy layer would be so pleasant with the soft zucchini and goat cheese. I put a bit of lemon zest in the pastry dough, for piquancy. And I wanted to have a couple of sauces to dip the pastries in, so I decided to shape the pastry like little christmas crackers, so that when you broke it in half, you have two little tabs to hold onto, while you dip, and then you have a nice, buttery-lemony crispy bite to end with. I think it turned out well! I’m going to make other stuffings for this shape of pastry, because it’s so much fun to eat with your hands and dip things! For dipping sauces I used two leftover from a takeout Indian meal (lazy, I know, but they’re so good you can’t just throw them out!) That’s the sweetish tamarind one, and the cilantro mint one. And then I made some good old-fashioned basil/pine nut/garlic/parmesan pesto. I mellowed it out a bit by adding a teaspoon of honey, and by roasting the garlic.

zucchini walnut pastry

Here’s James Brown’s Try Me, one of my favorite songs ever!

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Chard & raisin tarts with almond topping

chard, raisin and almond tarts

Last night was something of a momentous occasion here at the test kitchens of The Ordinary. If you’re following along at home, you may remember that I recently made some forays into the experimental realm of savory almond custard. I lay awake thinking “if it doesn’t have sugar in it, can you still call it frangipane?” (I wish this was a joke!) And my first effort, though tasty, didn’t really let the savory almond custard shine. Well…last night I made these little tartlets. They have chard and raisins (big eye-roll – again, Claire? Oh, yes.) they have rosemary, they have garlic. They have mozzarella (secret melty cheese!!). And they have this almond custard – ground almonds, butter, eggs, a smicker of balsamic, a smicker of white wine. It turned out so nice! Crispy on top, soft in the middle, and very delicious! I’m sorry to sound so pleased with myself, but I am quite proud, because I really didn’t know how it would turn out. It could have been a completely disaster. I hate when dinner is a complete disaster. You could bake this as one large tart, if you preferred. And you could really use any kind of cheese you like (or not cheese at all) I thought about using gruyere or goat or cheddar. But I wanted something mild and salty to balance the sweet strong flavors, and mozzarella filled the bill.

cross section of tart

Here’s Joe Strummer with Digging the New. The new culinary technique, that is! (Unless people have been making this for hundreds of years. Won’t I feel foolish!)

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Kale, sweet potato & chickpea stew with cumin, paprika & lime

Kale :& chickpea stew

Kale is not one of those shy and retiring greens that wilts away to nothing at the first sign of attention. I admire that quality. The presence of kale in this dish is probably what makes it a stew rather than a soup. The kale retains its curly, assertive texture to make this thick and hearty. The sweet potato and golden raisins add a touch of sweetness, and the chickpeas – well, you can’t go wrong with chickpeas, can you? The broth of this stew is a lovely mixture of flavors…it’s the broth that transforms humble, potentially stodgy ingredients into something exciting to eat. Smoky paprika, earthy cumin, spicy red pepper, and bright, tart lime. We ate these with pumpkin popovers.

Here’s DJ Food with Stealin Stew

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