It’s been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I’d planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting “Pies for Dinner” cover, and I started to think about how long it’s been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I’m often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it’s a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I’d say that this savory tart is right up there.
The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it’s so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I’ve used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you’re looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
Speaking of my cookbook, I’ve been getting quite a few questions lately about writing a second book and I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself but I’m also trying to honor the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year to just have a few dedicated months of quiet time without shaking things up on the work front. I’m almost done with my first quilt (I’m hand sewing the back right now, and it’s coming together pretty darn well if I do say so myself) and just learned how to use my new sewing machine this week. I’ve managed to weasel myself into a book club that I’m really excited about, and have been starting to push myself in running distances again. So yes, while I’m definitely thinking about what book 2 will hold and have started to make lists and draft ideas, I’m trying to take some time to not push, push, push too quickly as well.
In fact, I just finished a book that talks about that constant push, push, push forward that so many of us do (whether it’s in regards to work or family or personal goals) called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. This little book of essays is the first I’ve read of Solnit’s, and I ended up doing a lot of underlining and note-taking; there’s some good stuff in here. The sections I was most struck by were in “The Blue of Distance” when Solnit describes that longing for the future that we all tend to actively do or experience at some point. She uses mountains in the distance as a metaphor, describing “the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away … the color of where you can never go … the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in.”
It’s the inverse of “wherever you go, there you are”: However far you go, the distance (and its allure) is still…distant. As soon as I’d written a book, I discovered I was 0% of my way through Book 2, and then there are the dreams of buying a house or eventually starting a family with Sam. And so forth, and then a few more still.
To this Solnit notes, “For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints to the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs. Something is always far away.”
If you’re like me, you often can’t stop yourself from running out to one horizon or other, trying to reach it by making these fantastic lists of the things you want to achieve and putting them in their right order. There’s an allure to the blue, a call toward that horizon that’s actually pretty hard not to heed. I’ll probably be bad at ignoring it tomorrow, I’m sure that I’ll spend much of next week running like Kip Keino out to some horizon or other, but today I’ve somehow managed to be pretty happy to look out at it all from inside my own windows, to put out of mind (for now) the Next Big Thing that I can already hear calling, and just appreciate as it is, and where it is, that singularly beautiful blue (with, yes, a little bit of Seattle grey).
There will be time to strike out again for those faint shapes on the horizon, but this afternoon is going to be given to hand-stitching the back of a quilt, drinking homemade hot chocolate, and taking just a minute to talk about how delicious this tart was. It’s something worth going back to.
Minor note: As written in my cookbook, I pre-bake this crust for 15 minutes before adding the filling but when I made it this time around I forgot and it was completely fine, so I’ve removed that step from the recipe below. Now, an even easier tart!
Regarding the whole wheat flour in this tart, you can use virtually any flour you have at home. I often use spelt flour, but I’ve used everything from barley flour to white-whole wheat flour with great success; this is a very, very forgiving recipe.
From: Whole Grain Mornings
Butter a 9-inch tart pan with 1-inch sides and a removable bottom. Using a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (alternatively, you can use a pastry blender or your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to look like wet, clumpy sand. It’s ready if a small piece holds together when pressed between your fingers. If it still seems too crumbly, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough out into a large bowl and mix in the millet using a fork. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
In a bowl, whisk together the milk, crème fraîche, eggs, capers, dill, salt and pepper. Spoon the shallot mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the crust; arrange the salmon across the top evenly. Pour the custard mixture on top.
Bake until the top is golden brown and the filling is set, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool 15-20 minutes. Unmold the tart onto a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.