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.
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.