This time of year always comes quietly. I call these weeks “bridge weeks”: it’s warm during the day and tomatoes and corn are still at the markets, but the light is a touch more golden and it’s chilly enough in the mornings and evenings to grab your closest sweater. While fall is my favorite season, I find myself going inward a bit in September, wanting to experience the change of seasons without the Internet or TV forcing it upon me, or Starbucks announcing what seasonal drink I’d likely crave at any given time. We’re fickle people, aren’t we? One week eating stone fruits and discussing the dog days of summer and the next diving head-on into pumpkin breads and cookies. This is why I don’t read many food blogs at the very beginning of fall because I’m not quite ready to jump right into pumpkin breads and cookies. Here at our house, there are still tomatoes to slice, warm walks to take, and backyard picnic table with my name on it.
I recently picked up the most recent (Fall 2012) issue of Gastronomica while playing hooky at Elliot Bay Books with Sam last week. There is a lot to think about in the issue, from articles on food blogs and feminism to an exploration of the cultural significance of lard in the Ukraine, but there’s also a sweet little poem called “Sharing Mason Jars” by Dee Hobsbawn-Smith that touches on those quiet moments between friends in the kitchen just sitting, catching up, “dividing the day, the peaches, the jokes.” The poem closes with, “Linking arms, we pour cream into each other’s coffee/and admire how we have contained/summer’s fading light.” It’s that simple, really: not letting the summer-ness of these days get away from us in the rush to welcome fall.
So here we have tomatoes. Perfect heirloom tomatoes that were begging to be folded into something substantial enough to have for dinner last weekend. It’s rustic, so don’t expect a savory pie with a crisp crust that slices into perfectly neat, upright slices. There will be messy tomatoes and gooey cheese, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. The crust is a little more puffy and biscuity than traditional pie crust thanks to the leavening and the buttermilk. I’m actually so looking forward to using the same exact crust for a quiche or tart very soon — it’s delightfully soft on the bottom yet crisp around the edges. I played around with the flours, using a good amount of rye flour which I love for its dark earthiness. If you haven’t tried rye flour in pie crusts or scones yet, it’s relatively easy to find in well-stocked grocery stores and bakes up a mean, tasty pie or gallete, as the case may be.
A few quick notes on the recipe: Because the dough has more liquid than other doughs, it can be a little tough to handle. The recipe says to roll it in between two pieces of plastic wrap, but I always find that fussy. I say to work quickly, use flour liberally on the surface where you work, and don’t be afraid to patch away when little (or big) cracks or holes emerge as you’re laying the round of dough into the pie pan. It happened with me here, and you’d never know. Just snip a little piece of extra dough and lightly press it into a spot that needs it. This is such a rustic pie, it really doesn’t matter so try not to stress about the dough on this one. It’s not supposed to be perfect. For tomatoes, I used heirlooms but they do have more moisture than, say, a Roma tomato so do slice them relatively thinly and don’t skip the step where you let them drain. The bottom crust of the pie was pleasantly soft, but I could imagine it veering on soggy if you didn’t let the tomatoes drain well.
Quick Aside: If you’re curious about whole grains and whole-grain flours, it’s Whole Grain Week over on The Kitchn, and I’m focusing on a lot of breakfast-type things, so I’ll see you there. And hey, we’ll do something fall-ish soon. Until then, I’ll be donning flip-flops and working on the laptop in the backyard.
This recipe originally appeared in Bon Appetit last summer, and I’ve had my eyes on it ever since. I lightened it up this by replacing the mayonnaise with plain yogurt. I also swapped 1/2 of the all-purpose white-flour with the ever-wonderful rye flour, added a touch less sugar and a smattering of chives. The result is a savory, delightful mess of a tomato pie. I can’t help but think how wonderful this would be with fresh corn kernels from 1 ear of summer corn or quickly-sauteed zucchini slices. This pie has room for you to add a little of this and a little of that (sauteed kale or spinach would be nice, too)
Adapted from: Bon Appetit
For the Crust:
For the Filling:
To make the crust: Whisk first five ingredients together in a medium bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms and some small lumps remain. Using a fork, stir in buttermilk to ensure that all the dry ingredients have been combined with the wet. The dough will be sticky but should also be uniform. Form 1 single disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to one day.
To make the filling/pie: Lay tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with 2 layers of paper towels. Place another 2 layers of paper towels on top of tomatoes. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to drain away some of the liquid.
Preheat oven to 425 F. On a well-floured surface, roll dough out into an 11″ round. Try to work quickly as the dough will be more difficult the more it warms ups. Invert dough onto pie dish and nestle it in so the edges all but right up to the pie pan. Try not to handle too much. If the dough tears or develops snags, simply patch them and move on–it’s a rustic pie and no one will ever know.
Toss both cheeses in a medium bowl until evenly incorporated. Reserve 1/4 cup of cheese for the very top. Whisk scallion, yogurt, chives, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle cornmeal evenly over bottom of crust, then top with 1/2 cup of cheese mixture. Arrange 1/3 of tomatoes over cheese, overlapping as needed. Spread half of yogurt mixture (about 1/3 cup) over top as best you can. Repeat layering with 1 cup of cheese mixture, 1/2 of remaining tomato slices and remaining yogurt mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Fold overhanging crust up and over edges of tomato slices. Crimp as desired.
Bake until pie crust is golden and cheese has melted and turned slightly golden, 35-40 minutes. let pie cool at least 1 hour and up to 3 before slicing/serving. While the pie is best enjoyed the day its made, cover and refrigerate and serve the next da
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.