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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.