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
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.